While others are rejoicing at the warmer weather and the abundance of blooms, are you reaching for the antihistamines and hankies, wondering how you’re going to spend a day in the garden? Well you’re not alone. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy estimates two in every five Australians are affected by hay fever or some other environmental allergy. The main offenders are wind pollinated plants because they produce large amounts of pollen that are spread widely through the air that react with our eyes, nose, sinus and airways. By creating a low-allergen garden, you can more easily enjoy your outdoor activities this spring.
1. Plant non-allergenic trees.
If you plant non-allergenic trees around the perimeter or boundary of your garden, they can trap pollen blown in from outside, which will help to reduce the pollen count in your garden. Some low allergen tree varieties are bauhinia, eucalyptus and magnolia.
2. Learn about your lawn.
Most people don’t realise that often it’s not plants that may be causing an allergy but the lawn. If the lawn consists of rye grass, it will fill the air with huge amounts of pollen, especially when mown. Many low pollinating grasses are actually Australian because they grow slowly and don’t produce much pollen. Some low-allergen grass varieties for you to try are greenless couch, kangaroo (Themeda triandra), wallaby varieties, buffalo and rice (weeping). A word of caution though, while buffalo is one of the lowest pollen producing grasses, if you are prone to skin irritations, it may be better for you to try greenless couch. Other than replacing your lawn grass, you could also try replacing your lawn with an alternative ground cover like pebbles, native violets or kidney creeper.
3. Weed regularly.
Many weeds have high pollen counts so be sure to keep the garden weed free. Avoid pulling it out by hand as the roots often reshoot.
4. Know where mould flourishes.
Mould is one of the most common causes of garden allergies. Often the tiny mites that feed on the mould cause allergies themselves, not just the mould spores. If you can, avoid gardening in damp, shaded areas where mould thrives. The compost is one such favoured habitat so consider whether you can use non-organic mulch such as gravel instead or a native ground cover. At the very least, you should wear a mask when turning the compost heap or buy a pre-made organic mix or fertiliser and use that instead.
5. Choose your plants carefully.
This is really one of the most important things you can do to make your garden low allergenic and it definitely doesn’t have to be boring. Many northern hemisphere varieties are the worst offenders because they contain a huge amount of windborne pollen. The other botanical lesson to remember is that some trees are separate-sexed (dioecious), meaning only the males produce the pollen so the best plants to choose are the female ones. Problem plants to avoid include cypresses, maple, oak, birch and conifers. Luckily the list of safe plants is long and varied. Most people think they should avoid flowering plants but many of these plants don’t release their pollen into the air, instead they are pollinated by birds and insects. Camellias, hibiscus and citrus plants are usually good options and can bring an array of beautiful birds and butterflies in your garden. Many Australian native plants are also very low in pollen such as dwarf flowering gums, banksia, bottlebrush and tea tree. If your problem is more of a skin irritation such as contact dermatitis rather than pollen, you should avoid Australian grevillea (Robyn Gordon) and related hybrids as these are known offenders.