Garden Forever
Asthma Friendly Gardens
by Thomas Leo Ogren

When you have asthma the typical garden is not a very friendly place at all. There are mold spores to contend with and worst of all is all that pollen. Typical gardens have pollen producing male trees and male shrubs. Almost anyone with asthma will tell you that their asthma can be triggered by a good number of things, but pollen is often number one for causing an attack. Garden allergies are common, but they need not be. Allergies from gardening could be largely a thing of the past if we’re willing to make some simple changes.

In 1999 in Richmond, Virginia the American Lung Association (ALAV) built a new Breathe Easy office and headquarters. They had this entire large building constructed with the latest innovations in green construction. No materials were used that would off gas any harmful or toxic chemicals, no materials were used that would trigger asthma or allergies.

The ALA decided it would make perfect sense to landscape their new healthy building (in some states these are now called Health Houses) with an allergy free landscape.OPALS(the plant/allergy 1-10 numerical ranking system) was used to select only those plant materials that were either very low pollen, low allergy, or that were totally pollen free, allergy free. In effect they created the first true asthma friendly garden in the US.

Health Houses in other states are now also adding pollen free landscapes to their green construction, green buildings. Schools too are getting into the clean air act, and in the city of Visalia, California, the Tulare County Asthma Coalition recently directed the asthma friendly landscaping of a newly built elementary school.

Twelve keys to building your own asthma friendly garden

  1. Plant lots of female trees and female shrubs.
  2. Use only low pollen or no pollen lawns.
  3. With OPALS 1 is best, 10 is worst. Use only plants with rankings of 1-5.
  4. Remove any trees or shrubs with rankings over OPALS #7.
  5. Replace any removed high pollen, asthma triggering plants with their opposite, female trees or female shrubs.
  6. Use only plants that are well adapted to your own area.
  7. Use a wide variety of plant materials; diversity is good.
  8. Avoid plants with strong fragrances or odors, as they can cause asthma.
  9. For mulch, use rock or gravel instead of bark to cut down on toxic mold spores in the garden.
  10. To further eliminate mold spores, encourage wild birds in the garden. Birds eat insects and insect damage triggers outbreaks of mold.
  11. Keep your plants healthy. This too will cut down on both pollen and mold. When it is hot and windy, do some irrigating. Fertilize everything in the garden spring and fall.
  12. If a tree, shrub, vine or any other plant always looks sickly, always attracts bugs, then dig it up and get rid of it. Replace it with something easier to grow. Don’t get caught up in having to spray insecticides all the time, as they too can cause asthma and allergies.
Make your garden a fun, stress free zone. Be sure to have a few comfortable garden chairs to sit in, and a little table of some sort is always good too. Wind chimes, bird feeders, and birdbaths can add greatly to your enjoyment and cost little. A beautiful, pollen free, allergy free, asthma friendly garden can be just the place for healthy children, and a place for anyone to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. For more advice on low allergen gardening, look up allergy free gardening on the Internet or go to your local library and read some books on this new subject.

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Asthma Friendly Gardens is a copyrighted article by the author, Thomas Leo Ogren, who has kindly given Garden Forever permission to publish it on our website. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of Thomas Leo Ogren is strictly forbidden.