Allergies and Gardening

Allergy Plants
Robin Sweetser

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Allergy season started early for many gardeners this year and shows no sign of letting up.

Depending on what triggers your allergic reactions—tree pollen, dust, mold spores, grasses, weeds, or strongly scented flowers—there are irritants present from early spring until hard frost. As hard as we try to eliminate the offending plants from our own landscapes, many of the worst offenders are windblown pollens that can be carried from plants blooming far away from our backyards.

Help For An Allergic Gardener

There are many commonsense practices that can help lessen the chances of exposure to allergens.

  • Avoid working in your garden when pollen counts are high.
  • Stay indoors on windy days during peak pollen seasons.
  • Cover your body when gardening or mowing the lawn. Some really sensitive gardeners wear a dust mask to filter out pollen.
  • Shower well and wash your gardening clothes after you have finished working outside.
  • Don’t hang your laundry outdoors to dry on high pollen count days.
  • Close the windows when you or a neighbor mows the lawn and keep them closed for a few hours afterward.

Choosing Low-Allergen Plants

A general rule of thumb when searching for low-allergen plants is to look for showy or brightly colored flowers. These are usually insect or animal pollinated instead of wind pollinated. Some of the plainest looking plants, such as ragweed, are the worst offenders. Strongly scented plants can trigger an allergic reaction and are also, sadly, best eliminated from your garden. Some annuals that are good to use in a low-allergy garden plan are: snapdragons, impatiens, begonias, forget-me-nots, lobelia, petunias, phlox, salvia, pansies, nasturtiums, and verbena.

There are many perennials that are perfect for creating an allergy-free garden including astilbe, columbine, delphinium, daylilies, campanulas, peonies, Siberian iris, Oriental poppies, veronicas, hollyhocks, cranesbill, obedient plant, trollius, balloon flower, filipendula, meadow rue, and gentian.

Other plants to consider are clematis, hosta, forsythia, hydrangea, weigela, yucca, and ornamental cherries, crabapples, plums, and pears.

High-Allergen Plants

Some plants to avoid are: ornamental grasses, marigolds, yarrow, monkshood, daisies, asters, primroses, coneflowers, sunflowers, heliotrope, zinnias, dusty miller, sweet peas, cleome, and cosmos.

Trumpet vine, honeysuckle, and morning glories are climbers to leave out of your garden plan and steer clear of shrubs like elder, daphne, buddleia, mock orange, clethra, and lilacs.

Please share your thoughts about how to deal with allergies, especially in the backyard!

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

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Gardening and allergies

This may be an odd question. I have a severe nickel allergy, I break out if I even eat foods containing nickel. Lets take tomatoes as an example. My understanding is that they would get their nickel content from the soil. Is there any way to rid my soil of nickel content and if so would tomatoes still grow ok?

Sorry it took me so long to

Sorry it took me so long to answer you but this is a serious subject that I know little about. A heavy metal or micronutrient soil test can let you know how much nickel is in your soil. Different areas of the country have higher levels of this substance than others. I have found nothing about how it could be removed from the soil. It is usually recommended that you bring in new soil that is uncontaminated. Root vegetables and leafy greens are reported to draw up the highest concentrations of heavy metals like nickel or lead so tomatoes might not be as harmful to your system. That said, it is also recommended that people with severe nickel allergies try not to eat acidic foods and tomatoes are acidic. I hope this helps a little. I wish you luck with your quest.

same

Horace, I have the exact same allergy. It has been so bad that I pretty much lived in hospitals for the last 3 years before I found out what I have. The only way to lower the nickel content is to plant hydroponically. Also research aquaponics... same thing but even better because its done through fish. Hope this helps!

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