The Mountain Gardener: Allergy mitigation landscaping
According to historical records for our area, the pollen count in February is mostly moderate. Depending on the weather, Pollen.com and Pollenlibrary.com only show medium to high numbers for a few days this month. If you have allergies, you don’t need a website to list the number. Our native red alder is now blooming and, along with juniper and birch, is the main culprit at the time. Grasses, ragweed and other weeds and most trees bloom and shed pollen in March, April and May. Then comes summer, then autumn and with it other problems for allergy sufferers. To further complicate and worsen the situation for allergy sufferers, climate change is extending the pollen season through climate change. You can’t control what grows outside of your own garden, but here are some tips on what to and shouldn’t plant in your garden.
Everyone blames the acacia tree for their allergies, but they are not the real culprits for the allergy sufferer. I didn’t know how much redwood pollen was distributed at this time of year. Last year after terrible winds in late February and early March my decks were covered in 2 inch thick yellow redwood flowers. The flowers are actually the male cones, but young ones can clear the pollen. Ask a friend who is very allergic how much her life is affected by our lovely redwoods. And because redwoods live in such a narrow stretch of coast, there is no allergy for those affected. But back to what to do in your garden if you have allergies.
Yes, the acacia trees are in full bloom. As one of the first trees in bloom, we see that they grab our attention. Flowering acacias are often blamed as the cause of allergic reactions at this time of year, but acacias are largely pollinated by insects and their heavy pollen does not tend to get into the air. It’s the non-showy, calm plants that you need to watch out for. If you have allergies, some plants are worse for you than others.
About 25 to 30 popular landscape plants are responsible for the majority of plant-related allergies in California. During the peak of the pollen season – late February to June – there are often thousands of pollen grains in every cubic meter of air. Hundreds of them can be breathed in with every breath. Although pollen can travel many miles, most tend to stay in the general area of their origin.
Redwoods, oaks, alders, ash, and other wind-pollinated trees such as olives, birch, elder, cypress, elm, juniper, maple, fruitless mulberry, pine, walnut, willow, and privet are the main sources of spring pollen. Most of the native plants do well in the sneeze-free landscape, but if you have bad allergies or asthma it is best to avoid wind-pollinated ceanothus, elderberry, and coffee berries.
You may not be able to avoid these culprits growing on other plots, but you can get the most out of your own yard by creating a sneeze-free landscape. Replacing existing plants may be inconvenient, but planning future plantings with these aspects in mind will save you a lot of headaches later and let you enjoy the sunshine outside in your yard.
Flower type is a great way to judge plants. The best-looking flowers usually cause the fewest problems for allergy sufferers. Plants with bright, showy flowers are usually pollinated by insects rather than wind. These flowers produce less pollen, and their pollen is larger and heavier, clinging to the insect instead of being airborne, and causing sneezes, a runny nose, and watery eyes.
Some trees that are good for anti-allergy gardens are apple, cherry, dogwood, magnolia, pear, and plum. Shrubs like azaleas, boxwood, lilac, rose of sharon, hydrangea, and viburnum are also unlikely to cause any problems. Good choice of flowers are alyssum, begonia, clematis, columbine, bulbs such as crocus, daffodil, hyacinth. Dahlias, daisies, geraniums, hosta, impatiens, iris, lily, pansy, petunia, phlox, roses, salvia, snapdragon, sunflower, verbena and zinnia are also good. Perennial ryegrass, bluegrass, and tall fescue mixes are usually fine as they will only bloom if allowed to grow up to 12 inches or more. Bermuda grass, on the other hand, can pollinate if the lawn is very short, sometimes even a few days after it has been mowed.
We don’t know what will happen to us this spring in terms of rain. Symptoms can get worse for allergy sufferers as the body reacts to the pollen disappearing after it first appeared, only to have more of it later in the spring. According to Dr. Stanley Fineman, an allergist with the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic, “will make you aware of this. So if you … are exposed again, you can get an even more severe allergic reaction. “
A sneeze-free source for allergy sufferers.
Jan Nelson, landscape architect and certified kindergarten professional in California, answers questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email them at [email protected]or visit jannelsonlandscapedesign.com.