If you suffer from allergies you likely have a particular allergy season. For many it is certain times in the spring when pollen counts spike for any particular plant. For others (like me) it is fall and winter with mold and the pollutants of recycled interior air. Whatever it is, the more you can hone in on the culprit and eliminate or reduce these allergens from your garden and surroundings the better.
In his book, The Allergy Fighting Garden, Thomas Leo Ogren, lays out a ranking system for plants that he developed called OPALS. OPALS (Ogren Plant Allergy Scale) has been adopted by the American Lung Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Urban and Community Forest Service and is also being added to plant labels in the UK. If a plant ranks low (1-3) on the scale it is basically benign but if it ranks high (9-10) then it has an extremely high potential to allergic reactions. If you are suffering with allergies and making a garden - knowing a plant's OPALS score is helpful to make sure you aren't planting something problematic.
OPALS is a tremendous resource, but it isn't the only way to fight environmental allergies. Beyond OPALS, there are other practical steps you can take to reduce the allergy potential of your landscape and garden. Keep in mind that proximity matters, very much. A highly allergenic plant in your own yard, will expose you and your family much more than it will affect your neighbors.
5 Easy and Practical Ways To Reduce Garden Allergens
- If you have a male tree (Botanical sexism is real - male trees are typically more problematic than female trees), it is possible to top-graft it with a female version and essentially give it a sex change. In this way a tree in your landscape can become less problematic without being removed.
- You may not need to entirely remove offending plants but instead first aim to reduce or bring balance in your landscape. Allergists advise that most allergies are cumulative and it is only when a threshold of exposure has been surpassed that sufferers exhibit symptoms. Reducing exposure (rather than eliminating) very well may be enough to curb symptoms while also not radically altering your landscape.
- While male plants provide pollen, they generally do not provide much nectar, a major food source for bees and butterflies. Increasing the quantity of female plants will also help pollinators.
- If you have offending trees in your neighborhood, one of the best things you can do to protect yourself, is to plant a tall dense hedge on the windward side of your property that will reduce your exposure.
- There are other causes for allergies in your garden that are worth paying attention to, and include mold (often found in mulches, diseased plants, irrigation systems), pesticides and fungicides, and spores from plants like ferns. It is good to know what the cause of your allergies is, so that you can be most mindful of the right exposure sources.