Pollen Allergies and the Landscape

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Did you know that allergies affect up to 30% adults and 40% of children? Every year, thousands of people suffer from allergies, a condition known as seasonal aller-gic rhinitis caused by exposure to substances such as mold, pet dander, dust mites and today’s topic, plant pollen. Symptoms may include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, itchy and watery eyes and more.

Western North Carolina known for it’s diverse range of plants, trees and shrubs also has a wide range of pollen prevalent for 9 to 10 months of the year! Most allergy sufferers attribute their discomfort to plant pollen but the truth of the matter is, not all plants have the same likelihood of causing allergies. Plants that are wind pollinated have the highest potential to produce allergens impacting individuals on hot windy days while less so on wet rainy ones. Trees with allergen producing potential in-clude oaks, walnut, poplar and sycamore to name a few while other plants such as Kentucky bluegrass (if allowed to flower), orchard grass, pigweed, ragweed and lamb’s quarter are problematic for others. People’s sensitivity to certain plants can vary widely so always discuss your allergies with your health care professional.

Since many of these plants thrive throughout WNC, it’s impractical to completely eliminate the source of pollen. However, with careful consideration of each plants allergy potential, new plant selections can be established to alter a landscape set-ting. Plants with colorful or fragrant flowers, usually insect pollinated, are consid-ered “safe,” non-allergenic plants because they produce large, heavy pollen grains in relatively small amounts. Typically pollen are covered with a sticky substance and are not usually carried by wind. Some insect-pollinated plants do, however, produce pollen in amounts large enough to cause allergic reactions, such as Rus-sian Olives and Willows.

To minimize your exposure to pollen in the home landscape, several steps can be taken. Individuals can make informed decisions about plant materials choosing “safe” plants that have large or sticky pollen grains reducing the likelihood of trans-portation by wind and female cultivars which do not produce pollen at all. Allergy sufferers should avoid garden chores that aggravate their symptoms such as toiling in the com-post pile, working with mulch or straw, raking or mowing the grass. If unavoidable, then reduce your exposure by wearing gloves, a long sleeved shirt, hat, sunglasses or goggles and a pollen mask. Afterwards follow-up with a shower and a thorough washing of cloths. Keep grasses mowed at appro-priate heights (pre-seed) to decrease pollen production. Weeds, molds, and mildews should also be controlled. If there is an existing pollen problem in your landscape, replace that


plant with a less allergenic selection.