Choosing Less Allergenic Plants for Your Yard

When people with seasonal allergies are looking for relief, they usually think about what's in their medicine cabinet — not their backyard. A new workgroup report published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice called, "Landscape plant selection criteria for the allergic patient," guides both patients and doctors on how to reduce allergen exposures around their home and, in turn, reduce their symptoms.

The report lists criteria for plants that are less likely to cause allergic reactions, gives tips for people working in the landscaping industry with allergies, and contains a brief sample of trees, shrubs and perennials that may be more appropriate for allergy sufferers.

Plants to Avoid

What to Avoid When Renovating Your Outdoor Space: Trees and shrubs are a great way to add privacy and shade to a landscape, but also can release massive amounts of pollen. When making properties more allergy-friendly, they are as important to keep in mind as weeds and grasses. Maple, ash, birch, elm, oak, cottonwood, cedar, pine, willow, sycamore, walnut and box elder trees, along with juniper, hawthorn and mulberry bushes are all listed as species to avoid.

What to Plant Instead: When looking for alternatives, consider planting flowering dogwood, saucer magnolia, persimmon, common sassafras and Japanese pagoda trees. Smooth hydrangeas, bumald spirea, burkwood viburnum, blue false indigo, Lenten rose, coral bells, black-eyed Susan, New England aster or beardtongue also make good backyard additions.

While there's no such thing as an allergen-free environment, there are steps people can take to improve their environment and, in turn, experience a few less symptoms according to Warren V. Filley, MD, FAAAAI, one of the authors of the report and former chair of the AAAAI's Aerobiology Committee.

"Unless they live in a plastic bubble with filtered air, the best a person can hope for is to have a low-allergen landscape," said Filley. He went on to say that patients can use a short checklist to determine if a plant is a good fit for their home. All they have to do is determine:

1. Does the plant have insect or wind pollinated flowers?

If the plant you're considering growing in your backyard is wind pollinated, you may want to reconsider.
"As a general rule, many of the plants that give us allergenic trouble are wind pollinated plants," said Filley. "For example, an elm tree can put out a billion pollen grains when it pollinates and an oak tree can put out 500 billion. Almost all of that pollen stays local, with around 90% of it being deposited between 300 feet and two miles from the tree."

Insect pollinated, also known as entomophilous plants, release far less pollen into the air and are considered a better choice.

2. Is it invasive to your environment or does it cause any adverse reactions?

Do a little research to ensure that the plant is not invasive to your area, is not poisonous to people or pets and does not cause stinging or itching when touched.

3. Will it grow well in your area?

Lastly, make sure the plant is well suited for the average temperature, altitude, rain levels and sun in your backyard.

Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. "Landscape plant selection criteria for the allergic patient" Work Group Report. Aug. 7, 2018.

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