Are you an avid gardener who needs to hang up the gloves when pollen season comes around? We know for gardeners with asthma or hay fever, plants and gardens can bring about endless sneezing, itchy eyes, congestion, scratchy throats, or asthma flare-ups.
But you shouldn’t have to sacrifice a beautiful garden! We have called in our botanical expert, Dr Ed Newbigin of the School of BioSciences at the University of Melbourne, and put together the Golden (or should we say Green) Rules of Thumb to help you have allergy-friendly gardening experience.
When considering plants for your garden, choose plants pollinated by birds and insects. Their flowers are pretty and obvious, features that are used to attract pollinators.
Dr Newbigin says: “There is an abundance of plants out there that are either pollinated by flying animals, or sterile and propagated by cuttings or grafting, so you shouldn’t have to miss out on having a stunning garden because of your allergies! To protect your allergies, go for:
In temperate southern areas try Apple Berry (native), Dusky Coral Pea (native), Crimson Passionflower (native) and Ivy Leaf Geranium. In northern areas try Kiwi fruit, Passionfruit and Wonga Vine (native).
In temperate southern areas try Roses, Kangaroo Paws (native), Kangaroo Lobelia (native), Snapdragon, Native Fuschia (native), Begonia and Nemesia. In northern areas, try Cut-leaf Daisy, Fan-flower, Dendrobium Orchid, Nodding Blue Lily and Billy Buttons (all natives).
In southern and northern areas try Twiggy Heath Myrtle (native), Banksia (native), Bottlebrush (native), Weigelia, White Correa (native), Guinea Flower (native), Tea-tree (native), Bracelet Honey Myrtle (native), Callistemon (native) and Common Heath (native).
In southern and northern areas try Lilly Pilly (native), Willow Myrtle (native), Coastal Banksia (native), Citrus, Old Man Banksia (native), Cabbage Palm (native), Peppermint Gum (native), Scribbly Gum (native), Orchid Tree and the male Maidenhair or Gingko.”
You should also check the suitability for your area and weed potential of any plants with local authorities and garden centres.
What to Avoid
It’s important you can identify and keep plants out of your garden that are bothersome to your asthma and allergies. Trees/shrubs that are high in pollen and rely on wind include Cypress, Box Hedges and Pine Trees.
“I would recommend avoiding trees such as Alder, Birch, Ash, Willow, Elm, Olive, Mulberry and White Cedar. Annuals like Daises can also make you sneeze. Pollen from Perennial Ryegrass is very problematic,” says Dr Newbigin.
Wind-pollinated plants – grasses, weeds and certain trees – are often the biggest culprits when it comes to allergies and asthma in the garden. They use wind to carry pollen from plant to plant – and many of them flower during spring. This type of pollen is light and can travel long distances depending on the wind conditions and other factors.
“Plants that have non-obvious flowers, called cryptic flowers, they are (typically) the ones to avoid. Birch is a good example. You may not notice the flowers at the time, but they release a lot of pollen into the air when they are flowering,” says Dr. Newbigin.
This makes wind-pollinated plants ones to watch out for when looking to reduce pollen in your backyard.
Unfortunately, you can’t control what pollen gets blown into your yard, so no matter where you live or what’s in your backyard, it’s important to keep up with your preventative medications.
For more tips about managing your asthma and hay fever over spring, visit our Asthma and Allergy Hub.
Other Helpful Hints
WHAT GRASS ARE YOU CUTTING?
As a starting point, choose a low-pollen producing grass that does not need frequent mowing. When it does come time to mow the grass, ask an allergy-free member of the family or a friend to handle it. Make sure you close all the windows of the house prior to the mowing and keep them closed for a few hours afterwards.
“There are a few grasses you can choose that either only require mowing around three or four times a year or that don’t produce much pollen. Sometimes both! I’d recommend you go for some of the native grasses like Weeping Grass or Kangaroo Grass.” says Dr Newbigin.
Ask About Species
You should ask your local garden centre about the sex of the trees or shrubs you are interested in. Some species have separate male or female plants – the male plant produces pollen, and the female plants present fewer allergy problems. Always check though, because for some species (e.g. Gingkoes, also called Maidenhairs) the reverse is true, and you should avoid the female trees because the fruits can have a nasty smell.
You can run into problems when weed species flower or seed. You can avoid this by making sure you weed often. Reduce weeds by using inorganic mulches, such as pebble and gravel, and plant low maintenance ground cover plants. If you do choose to use organic mulch, avoid digging wherever possible.
“Ground covers can reduce the lawn area, meaning less pollen from grasses. There are plenty to choose from, but some I would recommend include Snow-in-Summer, Rosy Baeckea (native), Thyme, Prostrate Rosemary, Pratia (native) and Native Violet,” says Dr Newbigin.
GARDEN IN THE MORNING
If you garden when the dew is still on the ground, the grass will not have dried out and the pollen will still be where it should be.
CONSIDER THE WEATHER
When the pollen count is high, or on hot and windy days when dust and pollen are blown about, try to stay indoors. Not sure where to find your local pollen count? Check out our pollen monitoring page here.
LEAVE THE GARDEN OUTSIDE
When you have been out in the garden, allergens will stick to the clothes you are wearing. Swap into your “house clothes” before coming back into the house to avoid spreading the allergens indoors. It’s also a good idea to have a shower after your gardening session to be extra sure you haven’t brought any nasties inside.
BE ASTHMA EMERGENCY READY
Carry your reliever with you at all times, follow your written Asthma Action Plan and make sure you know what to do in an asthma emergency.
TAKE YOUR PREVENTER
We know the most important approach to managing and preventing asthma symptoms during spring involves using an appropriate inhaled preventer medicine. Asthma preventer medicines need to be used for around two to three weeks before they are effective at preventing symptoms and reducing sensitivity to triggers like pollen so if you aren’t already using one, the time to start is now. If prescribed a preventer, it needs to be used daily, and as prescribed, to maintain the anti-inflammatory benefit.
We hope these tips help you spend more time in the garden working on that green thumb of yours!
We are very thankful to Dr Ed Newbigin of the School of BioSciences, the University of Melbourne for his advice and assistance with the development of this guide.
Asthma Australia represents and supports the 2.7 million Australians living with asthma. To speak with an Asthma Educator call 1800 ASTHMA (1800 279 462).
Flo, White Magic and echamber are campaign partners of Asthma Australia and have not been involved in the development of this webpage