Do you love your garden but find yourself inside looking out at it, rather than spending time in it, thanks to allergies or asthma? The secret to enjoying being in your garden is to find plants that give you the look you want and that are also far less likely to cause problems.
Not everyone is allergic to the same thing, and allergic reactions can range from the symptoms of hay fever to rashes, hives and blisters. Some popular annuals, perennials and shrubs are more likely to trigger allergic reactions than other plants.
Below, we call out those plants and offer ideas for replacing them.
Look at a garden in full bloom, especially in spring and summer, and you might immediately think that all those flowers must mean an allergy nightmare. For most allergy sufferers, though, the flowers aren’t really the problem. Some of the most gaudy plants are the least likely to cause problems because their color is designed to attract insects, which then carry the pollen from plant to plant.
It’s often the less showy plants you need to watch out for. They’re more likely to rely on the wind to do their pollination, and pollen carried by wind is more likely to affect humans.
This approach isn’t foolproof, of course. Some familiar plants with favorite flowers are some of the worst offenders. Other plants, such as goldenrod, may be thought to be a problem but are actually a good choice.
Tip: Opt for female plants. Also, look for sterile or hypoallergenic hybrids.
Love-Lies-Bleeding - Amaranthus caudatus
Love-lies-bleeding is known for its drooping red flower clusters that grace gardens in fall and also stun in flower arrangements. The pollen from those flowers, though, can be a major irritant for hay fever sufferers.
Plant Alternative: Chenille plant-Acalypha hispida
If you’re looking for a replacement flower, consider the chenille. Its long, bright crimson flower clusters are equally dramatic. A chenille plant wants full sun or partial shade and regular water. In colder climates, grow chenille plant in a container and bring it in during the winter — it’s a favorite houseplant. It’s also a good choice for a greenhouse.
Castor Bean - Ricinus communis
The fast-growing castor bean has become a popular choice as a statement plant or an anchor in a tropical-inspired garden. It grows big, it grows quickly, and it can be treated as an annual. Unfortunately, all parts of the plant are toxic. The pollen can cause an allergic reaction, as can contact with the sap. It’s also very invasive, another reason to keep it out of your garden.
Plant Alternative: Hibiscus - Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
If you want something that stands out, with the added advantage of plenty of flowers, think about growing Hibiscus instead. It can reach heights of 8 to 15 feet and spreads 5 to 8 feet wide. You can also find dwarf varieties now. Flowers may last only a day, but it’s a prolific bloomer, and its flowers attract birds and butterflies. Provide full sun and regular water throughout the growing season. Pinch out the old wood in spring. Keep an eye out for aphids.
Chamomile - Matricaria recutita
A herb celebrated as a calming influence could be an allergy trigger. It turns out that chamomile’s pollen can contribute to hay fever symptoms, the leaves and flowers can cause skin reactions, and drinking it can also be a problem if you’re highly allergic. That’s because chamomile is related to ragweed.
Plant Alternatives- Woolly Thyme - Thymus pseudolanuginosus
If you want a ground cover woolly thyme, is a fast-growing option. It’s happy everywhere from underfoot to spilling over a wall, and it is known for attracting butterflies, bees and beneficial insects. Small pink flowers appear in summer.
Woolly thyme takes full sun, though you may need to provide some light shade in the hottest summer regions, and needs little water once established.
There are also two good options for those who want to brew herb-infused teas. One popular choice is English lavender - Lavandula angustifolia. There are any number of English lavenders, and they’re known for their purple flowers, fragrance and culinary use.
This evergreen shrub generally blooms from late spring into summer, but some varieties may have repeat blooms later in the summer. It attracts butterflies and birds.
Plant lavender in well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. It’s drought-tolerant once established, needing only moderate water.
You can also grow Mint - Mentha spp.. The problem with mint isn’t that it’s hard to grow; it’s that it’s a challenge to keep in check. If you decide to grow mint, plant it in a container without any cracks or in a location where you don’t mind if it spreads.
Two good choices for tea are peppermint - M. x piperita and spearmint - M. spicata, though other options are available. Plant in full sun or partial shade. They prefer moist and well-drained soil, though they can thrive in other locations. They need almost no care while growing. Pick the leaves before the plant flowers.
Daisies, Especially Oxeye Daisy - Leucanthemum vulgare, Chrysanthemum leucanthemum
Oxeye daisy (aka common daisy), another ragweed cousin, is one of the most popular summer daisies. It can also be a problem for allergy sufferers. People react to the pollen, leaves, flowers and even extracts derived from it, resulting in hay fever, rashes, hives and other unpleasant symptoms.
Plant Alternative: Phlox - Phlox paniculata
If you’re looking for white blooms in summer, fall phlox is a more allergy-friendly choice. Its fragrant flowers bloom throughout the summer in shades from white to pink, rose, red and lavender.
Once you’ve set out the plants, pinch back the tips to encourage them to branch. Provide good air circulation since fall phlox is prone to mildew.
Jasmine - Jasminum spp.
It’s hard not to love sweet-smelling jasmine, a fast-growing and rapidly spreading climber that’s filled with flowers — unless you suffer from allergies, that is. The fragrant flowers, thanks to the pollen, can cause sneezing fits that will drive you indoors.
Plant Alternative: Sweet Peas - Lathyrus spp.
If you want a fragrant climber but don’t want to risk allergies or a plant taking over your garden, try sweet pea. They don’t have white flowers and may not bloom for as long a stretch, but when it comes to announcing the arrival of spring and adding a sweet fragrance to the garden, they’re hard to beat.
Grow annual sweet pea - L. odoratus in all climates. Plant in full sun in well-amended soil; it can be fussy. Provide regular water and deadhead or pick for bouquets regularly to keep blooms coming. You’ll need to provide protection from birds and support for vining types. You’ll have an amazing choice of annual sweet peas to choose from: bushes, vines, heirloom, early-flowering, spring-flowering and summer-flowering.
You can also grow perennial or evergreen sweet pea - L. latifolius. It blooms all summer and can handle a more arid climate, even naturalizing. Provide moderate water.
Juniper - Juniperus spp.
Many people come back from a pruning session with their juniper bushes only to discover that their hands are reacting badly. This landscaping standby may be a favorite, but both its pollen and contact with the plant itself can cause hay fever and skin issues. If you are determined to grow juniper even if it bothers you, look for female plants.
Plant Alternative: Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis
This is a staple of Mediterranean gardens. It’s both fragrant and useful for cooking. Rosemary can be upright, bushy, weeping or creeping and it spreads readily. It can easily be shaped, and it attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Plant rosemary in full sun and in well-draining soil. Provide little to moderate water and not much fertilizer. Pinch back the tips to keep it in the shape you want.
Ragweed - Ambrosia spp.
Of course, most people would never knowingly grow ragweed. It deserves its reputation as the main cause of hay fever. All species can cause strong allergic reactions. Unfortunately, there is seemingly no place where it won’t happily grow.
It can be pretty, though, as it blooms in late summer and fall. So if you like the look, but don’t want the allergies, you do have a substitute.
Plant Alternatives: Goldenrod - Solidago spp.
Falsely painted with the same pollen-laden brush as ragweed, it’s since been proven that goldenrod’s pollen is carried by insects, and the plant is no more likely to cause allergies than many other plants recommended to hay fever sufferers. Plus, what other plant will give you those waves of yellow plumes in late summer and fall?
You can choose between native goldenrods and goldenrod hybrids, which tend to be shorter and bloom longer. They’re also happy in soils that are less rich, and they need almost no care once they’re established. They attract birds and butterflies. Goldenrods do best in full sun to partial shade with moderate water. They’re also seldom troubled by pests or diseases.
Deadhead often to keep plants from freely reseeding. Reseeding isn’t as much of a problem with hybrids, but they also won’t reproduce true to their parent plant and should be propagated by division or stem cuttings. Cut down foliage in the winter or leave in place for interest. Divide plants in the spring.
If you’re still unsure about goldenrod but love the idea of yellow blooms in the summer, why not try Daylilies - Hemerocallis hybrids. These adaptable perennials are hardy, take full sun except in the hottest climates and require almost no effort to grow.
Dayliles generally grow 2½ to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. Many are known for blooming in late spring and early summer, but there are later-bloom hybrids available as well. There are even reblooming types, such as the Starburst series. You can choose among evergreen, semievergreen and deciduous plants too.
Plant whenever the ground can be worked, including winter in mild-climate areas. They’ll do best with well-drained soil, but they can handle any soil type. Provide regular water from spring through autumn. Divide every few years in fall or early spring if they become crowded.
Sunflower - Helianthus annuus
These flowers of summer are also the allergy triggers of summer. Both the pollen and the seeds can cause problems, just as they do with their cousins chamomile, oxeye daisy and ragweed. Some people even react to the leaves when they touch them or brush against them.
Plant Alternative: You don’t have to give up growing these flowers as there are now pollenless or hypoallergenic sunflowers. Some of the best-known cultivars are ‘Apricot Twist’, ‘Infrared Mix’, ‘Lemon Eclair’, ‘The Joker’, ‘Moonbright’, ProCut Bicolor, ‘Sunbeam’ ‘Sunbright Supreme’ and Sunrich.
This annual can grow in all zones. As the name implies, it loves full sun, and the seeds attract birds, butterflies and people. The plant is fairly unfussy about soil but does need the soil to be loose enough to accommodate its deep taproot. It is also happiest with regular water but can handle drought. You’ll need to stake the larger varieties.
Wisteria - Wisteria floribunda, W. chinensis
No matter how much people gush about the romance of wisteria draping over patios and climbing up pillars in spring, if wisteria triggers your allergies, all you’ll be doing is removing yourself from the area as soon as possible. The pollen is a well-known hay fever trigger, and pruning or sometimes even touching the plant can cause skin reactions.
Plant Alternative: If you want a flowering vine, Evergreen clematis - Clematis armandii or clematis hybrids may be what you are looking for. These vines love full sun to partial shade.
Evergreen clematis, with its white scented flowers, can reach 15 to 20 feet tall. Deciduous clematis hybrids have large flowers in a range of colors, from white and pink to blue and purple, and can reach 6 to 10 feet tall.
Most kinds of clematis need about five to six hours of sun, but they don’t want to be too hot. The standard line is to keep their feet shady and their heads sunny. Plant in loose, fast-draining soil. They don’t do well in soggy soil, but at the same time, you do need to keep them moist and not let them dry out. Feed monthly with a balanced fertilizer while they’re growing and provide support.
They may be bothered by familiar garden pests and diseases; practice good gardening techniques, provide adequate air circulation, and remove any disease-infected parts of plants and dispose of them away from your garden.
Clematis has another advantage over wisteria: The blooms last longer.
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