Tag Archives: garden allergies

Ogren’s ‘Allergy-Fighting Garden’ Can Help You Breathe Easier

The reddish-gold leaves of the low-allergen Regent serviceberry brighten a garden in the fall.

The reddish-gold leaves of the low-allergen Regent serviceberry brighten a garden in the fall.

When I consult with my landscape design clients, I typically ask if any family members have allergies. Over the years, I’ve learned that landscaping with low-allergen plants can improve an allergy sufferer’s quality of life considerably.

For a reference guide, I’ve used Thomas Leo Ogren’s Allergy-Free Gardening: The Revolutionary New Guide to Healthy Landscaping. This week, Ten Speed Press released Ogren’s latest book, The Allergy-Fighting Garden, and I like it even better than his earlier book.

In The Allergy-Fighting Garden, Ogren again includes his Ogren Plant Allergy Scale (OPALS) for ranking various plants. He has updated the rankings since publishing Allergy-Free Gardening in 2000. He also devotes a chapter to eliminating mold spores, a major source of allergic reactions. Then there’s his chapter on allergy-blocking hedges.

Ogren rates plants on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being lowest in allergens, and 10 being highest. Using Ogren’s rankings, what low-allergen plants might you install in your Colorado garden?

For ground covers, you could use prairie winecups (Callirhoe involucrata), veronica, soapwort (Saponaria), orange carpet hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii) and cranesbill geraniums, all of which I’ve grown successfully in my Denver garden. They rank from 1 to 3.

Blue iris and pink allium add beauty to your garden without producing masses of allergens.

Blue iris and pink allium add beauty to your garden without producing masses of allergens.

As for taller bulbs and perennials, try iris, allium, tall garden phlox, geum, Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus ruber), hummingbird mint (Agastache), sea lavender (Limonium), wild indigo (Baptisia australis), Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus).

Then of course, there are trees and shrubs to consider. They’re particularly important because the males (who are the pollen producers) generate significantly more allergens than smaller plants do. Good choices include hawthorns (Crataegus), barberry (Berberis), butterfly bushes (Buddleia), red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), deciduous viburnums, serviceberries (Amelanchier), and some maples, such as Acer rubrum ‘Autumn Glory’, ‘October Glory’ and ‘Red Sunset.’

Avoid most grasses, especially Kentucky bluegrass, whose male cultivars carry a 9 rating. But be aware that the female cultivars (if you can find one) carry only a 1 rating. A good choice for turf grass is tall fescue, which Ogren ranks at 3.

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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 www.ext.colostate.edu.

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Get a Jump on Gardening with Free Library Programs

Crocodiles enliven this shady "pond" in one whimsical Denver-area garden.

Crocodiles enliven this shady “pond” in one whimsical Denver-area garden.

If you’re eager to get a jump on the gardening season, you’re welcome to attend one of my talks at the Denver Public Library in March and April.  The programs, which are free and open to the public, include:

  • Add Whimsy to Your Garden for Next to NothingTimes and places: Wednesday, March 6, at 6pm at the Smiley branch; Saturday, April 13, at 1pm at the Ross-Cherry Creek branch; and Saturday, April 27, at 2pm at the Bear Valley branch.
  • How to Grow a Low-Sneeze, Breathe-Easy GardenTime and place: Saturday, March 30, at 2pm at the Ross-University Hills branch.
  • 12 Gorgeous Groundcovers for Preventing Weeds. Times and places: Wednesday, April 6, at 6pm at the Ross-Cherry Creek branch; and Sunday, April 14, at 2pm at the Schlessman Family branch.

For details and branch locations, pick up a Fresh City Life brochure at your Denver Public Library branch or visit denverlibrary.org/fresh/mybranch.  The programs run from 45 minutes to an hour.

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