How to Grow a Low-Sneeze, Breathe-Easy Garden

This architectural yellow ribbon arbovitae makes a strong statement in the garden.  Unfortunately, it also creates problems for allergy sufferers.

This architectural yellow ribbon arbovitae makes a strong statement in the garden. Unfortunately, it also creates problems for allergy sufferers.

When gardening season rolls around, many of us feel like one of Snow White’s dwarfs—Sneezy or Wheezy.

According to the World Health Organization, allergic rhinitis (AKA hay fever) affects between 10 and 30 percent of the world’s population.  As for asthma, the Center for Disease Control indicates that, in the U.S., the number of people diagnosed with asthma grew by 4.3 million from 2001 to 2009.

Garden pollen, dust and fungi rank among major causes of nasal and respiratory problems.  Here are steps you can take to reduce allergens in your garden.

Hose down hedges.  Hedges are notorious for collecting dust and pollen that aggravate allergies.  So if you blast your hedges periodically with your garden hose, you’ll reduce your exposure to allergens.

Resist high-allergen plants.  Agricultural researcher Thomas Ogren has developed a 10-point allergy scale, rating plants from low to high in allergens.  He provides a digest of individual plants and their ratings in his book, Allergy-Free Gardening.  His research indicates that garden troublemakers in Colorado include oaks, arborvitae, birches, purple smoke bushes and Kentucky bluegrass, among others.

Give plants room.  Make sure your plants have plenty of air circulation to reduce the risk of powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that release harmful spores into the air.

Mind that mulch.  Don’t leave piles of wood mulch and other organic mulches sitting around.  They often attract mold and other fungi.  When spreading wood mulch, always wear a dust mask to keep spores out of your nose and lungs.  If you’re extremely allergic to molds, consider using pea gravel, landscape fabric and other inorganic mulches instead of organic mulches.

Keep weeds down.  Because weeds are often wind-pollinated, they release allergy-producing pollen into the air.

Can the chemicals.   Use organic pesticides and fertilizers instead.  You can use high-strength (20% concentration) vinegar, for example, to kill weeds.  Be sure to protect your eyes and skin when using it, however.  For fertilization, you can use fish emulsion.

By following these steps, you can create a low-sneeze, breathe-easy environment for not only you and your guests, but for your neighbors, too.  For more information on mulches and nonchemical disease control, visit the Colorado State University Extension website at


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