For two million or so Australians, Spring heralds the onset of what can be months of misery, as their bodies defences react to the pollen grains of various plants. Reactions can vary from as little as sneezing, to itching, running or blocked nose, watery and itchy eyes, extreme fatigue and full blown asthma. All of these conditions cause discomfort, and asthma is of course life threatening, particularly if not properly managed.
The good news is that much of this discomfort can be easily avoided, as many of the plants that trigger these attacks can be found in one's own backyard, and sometimes even outside the bedroom window! Removing their presence from areas where you spend a lot of time, and avoiding them during pollen time elsewhere, may be enough to keep you symptom free, although of course any allergies should always be checked with your doctor.
There are a couple of golden rules to follow, the first of which is to try and avoid plants that are wind pollinated; i.e. they rely on the wind to spread the pollen through the air. Examples of plants that are known to be highly allergenic include many grasses (especially rye grass), Cypress (Cupressus), Plane trees, Liquidamber, Birch, Maple, Oak, Olive, and of course Privet. The dreaded Asthma weed, which has been colonising Sydney since the early 1900's in ever increasing numbers, is also highly allergenic, and you probably have some in your garden or nearby. If any of these plants are nearby to home, the bus stop or work, they may be the culprits!
Insect pollinated plants tend to be far less allergenic, as the pollen is carried by insects and bees, rather than through the air. Examples of low allergen plants are many and varied, and include most native shrubs and trees, as well as many exotic plants such as Azaleas, Prunus, Nandina, Jacaranda, Geranium, Rosemary, Rose, Camellia, Gardenia, Star Jasmine and most herbs. For further information, go to http://www.asthmaaustralia.org.au/Asthma_Friendly_gardens.aspx
The second golden rule is to avoid working in the garden on hot, still days, and very windy days. Early morning is best, before the temperature and pollen count rises.
Most lawns grow quickly and need frequent mowing, which stirs up the pollen and mould spores. Protect eyes, nose and face, but mow frequently to cut off the seed heads before the flowers open and spread pollen. The best grasses to use are couch (Cynodon dactylon) and Buffalo. Avoid any grass with Rye!
Weed control is always important in a garden, as weeds cause work and drain valuable resources from the garden! Many weeds also produce large quantities of airborne pollen, so it is good practice to eradicate them and grow ground cover in their place. Organic mulch and compost are wonderful for the garden, but need to be applied carefully, as they may harbour moulds that are allergenic to some people.
Strongly scented plants can bother some people, and cause symptoms similar to those already described. Plant such plants further away from living areas if possible. Be aware that plants such as the dreaded Rhus Tree are highly poisonous on contact and can affect anyone at all, not just people who regard themselves as being sensitive. Also note that sensitivity to various plants can worsen by the year, with a mild irritation at first possibly leading to severe asthma years later. Most people who are sensitive don't necessarily react to all potentially allergenic plants. In fact it is quite common that only one plant affects them.
Don't be too quick to blame the plants in your neighbour's garden. Many wind borne pollens travel only short distances, and it is more likely that you are effected by the plants in the immediate vicinity of where you live and work.
Remember if you show any symptoms, contact your doctor and take the prescribed medication to avoid more serious problems.
Copyright asserted by Peter Thorburn, Honeysuckle Garden. Not to be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission.