February 1, 2023

Allergy Suffering People Can Still Enjoy Gardening

gardening allergies
Allergies are having a negative impact on those who not only like plants but like to garden. Allergies have become an extremely expensive health concern especially since they can lead to dangerous asthma attacks. Thomas Ogren in his new book The Allergy Fighting Gardener firmly believes we have made this escalating health problem ourselves. He has found that we have disrupted nature by overplanting male plants. He has found that natural disasters such as Dutch Elm disease which wiped out vast urban plantings of sexually mixed low-impact trees helped shape our use of more toxic tree replacements.

Problems to Solve

To correct these and other problems Tom recommends starting with evaluating your own garden. Because we spend so much time at home we should first ensure our personal space is as healthy as possible. He recommends planting new plants in a way to blocks pollen drift from faraway locations. He recommends replacing highly toxic plants with others that are less challenging to those with allergy problems. Lastly, he urges his readers to become involved in local public site planting opportunities.

Too Many Males

Some time ago we realized that male trees and plants did not make fruit. This meant that they produced less mess that had to be cleaned up. Natural marketing activities quickly capitalized on this observation. They found that only selling male trees were good for business. Because these trees were tidier they HAD to be a better choice.

We as consumers listened to this advice and found it did require less yard work to plant these non-fruiting trees. We should have thought about this just a bit more. Unfortunately, it is the male trees that make pollen. Pollen can be moved to the female flowers through wind or insect action. Gravity allows fine pollen to travel long distances before falling to earth. While most of the pollen will stay somewhat local it can travel quite far.

What We Should Have Planted

We should have chosen the other sex. Female trees make flowers. If we had chosen to plant females en masse instead of the male we still wouldn’t have any mess because there wouldn’t be any males to fertilize the flowers to make the fruit. And, because the female flowers don’t make pollen our allergic reaction will be lessened.

Placement Helps

plant placement
The placement of our plants should be considered. Many like the look of a hanging basket. Unfortunately, the pollen produced will fall only to be breathed in while relaxing in a chair under the great-looking basket. Those with allergies will want to consider the placement of flowering plants so that gravity or wind will work for their benefit. Lower placements of plants mean less pollen will have an opportunity to travel to our noses much higher off the ground. Where we plant is as important as what we plant.

Pollutant Breaks

There are ways to discourage pollen from traveling from trees and other plants further away. This is to use large bushes or small trees as a wind block. Place these where your prevailing wind frequently travels. For example, if your wind is frequently from the southwest then this position in your yard is the logical choice to plant these fairly tall plants to hinder the movement of pollen from distant locations. They will help prevent pollen and other airborne allergens from penetrating your personal space.

Use the Book Resource Section

This simple strategy may mean you will need to remove and replant your outdoor garden. First, determine how toxic each plant’s choice is. Thomas’s vast reference section of plants lists a relative discomfort level for plants with a scale he developed. For the moderately irritating plants, a simple repositioning in the garden may be enough to help. Perhaps replanting so that the plant is not in line with the prevailing wind is all that is needed.

It is important to remember that some trees have flowers that have both male and female parts. Only some trees are separately sexed. The extensive resource will help you sort these out while making your decisions. Assess the relative level of discomfort using his ingenious scale. Each plant is rated on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is the least likely to cause an allergic reaction while 10 is quite toxic.

In fact, there are many flowers with less toxic fragrance, lower pollen dispersal and less chance for adverse dermatological reactions to sap one can substitute by choosing better with his reference guide. There are many colorful alternative annuals and perennials that can be chosen so that a beautiful garden can be enjoyed with a less physical reaction. Just because the neighbor grows particular flowers that produce allergic reactions doesn’t mean you do too.

Become Involved

Because you or your loved one suffers from allergies it is important to become active on committees involved in landscape design. Thomas found many schools where only male trees were planted. These public locations turned out to have some of the highest concentrations of air-borne pollen in their respective community as well. As a result, the number of students affected with allergies was higher. Public parks frequently consider new plantings whether trees, shrubs, annuals, or perennials.

Become involved. Volunteer to be on selection committees to help choose less toxic plantings for public areas. Encourage the choice of female over male trees. Encourage shrubs that produce more flowers with less pollen. At least encourage the use of equal numbers of male and female versions of the same plant selections. Part of our problem in the past was overplanting one sex.


The information in The Allergy Fighting Garden is of course quite a bit more specific. Thomas provides information on how plants bloom, the types of bloom, and how irritating the pollen or other toxic qualities for thousands of plants is presented. The botany of flowers is described. How and what types of flowers one can find on plants are also described. This will help the knowledgeable gardener make a relatively good estimate of toxicity for those plants one may find for sale that is not listed in the extensive plant reference section.

He highly recommends asking detailed questions of the nurseryman where you buy your new plants. Remember, while not part of the book, that experienced and knowledgeable nurseryman needs to be sought out. You may have trouble learning about the sex of a tree from a large box store since the employees are there for sales and not consultation. Seek out local growers with sufficient knowledge. Local garden clubs can be of use as a resource.

This new book by Thomas Ogren is a valuable and important book for any with allergies. Why imprison yourself in your tightly closed-up house when you can enjoy the great outdoor advantages like your friends? Learn which plants cause you the most problems so that when you are attending an outdoor social event you can position yourself so that plant impact can be minimized. And, learn to speak out on committees for public land use. This book will become a valuable resource for any with allergy problems. It will make a great gift for friends or family with problems too.

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