Allergic to pollen? Some plant ideas to ease your misery!

"Bless you!" If you've been hearing that a lot from your family and co-workers recently, maybe you're one of the millions who begin to suffer from allergies around this time every year.

It's not really practical to create a totally "allergy-free" landscape as part of your living space (not even with two or three acres of concrete) but you CAN take steps to put the odds in your favor.

A friend of mine, who suffers miserably from pollen-related allergies, asked me if there were any shrubs and plants that were ‘friendlier' to people like him. The answer is "Yes!"

One of the first things you need to know is that there is a difference between insect-pollinated plants and wind-pollinated ones. When plants rely on the wind to carry their pollen, that pollen, understandably, is small and light... and thus much more likely to be an irritant to those of us with allergies. Pollen from insect-pollinated plants is much heavier so it is far less likely to blow around and end up tickling your mucous membranes.

Examples of wind-pollinated (anemophilous) plants: ragweed, Bermuda grass, and sagebrush. Oak trees, being wind-pollinated, can cause an allergy problem, too. Interestingly pines are the exception to the airborne pollen rule because their pollen grains are resinous, making it difficult for mucous membranes in the nose to absorb them.

Examples of insect-pollinated plants: pansies, tulips, hostas, sunflowers and irises. However even some insect-pollinated plants can affect super-sensitive noses. If that sounds like description of your own nasal passages, you should avoid planting roses, star jasmine, and gardenias and other highly scented plants.

Of course, the examples I've given are just that: examples. Different people have different allergic sensitivity, and you might be fine with, say, oak trees but not with sunflowers. But choosing plants that are pollinated by insects rather than via the wind will certainly make your landscape a lot more "nose-friendly" for you!

 QUESTION: "I have 3 holly bushes about 6 years old that were doing great. This year they are full of brown leaves. Can you give me some tips to save them?" – Wendy Thomas

ANSWER: I just spoke with a grower in Massachusetts this morning. He said that he has a field full of large hollies that look like a fire went through them! He tells me that winter burn has been very bad this year. He and I agree that there is not much you can do but hope that they will bud out and regenerate again. In most cases they will, so this shouldn't be a "fatal" problem. And another holly question...

QUESTION: "When is the best time to cut back a holly tree? It is about 20 feet tall but rangy, and too close to a house. I thought if it were pruned back it might branch out, and needs to be cut away from the house anyway. Is it okay to cut branches back about half way?" – Jeanne Smith

ANSWER: Dead, diseased, and broken wood can be removed at any time of year. However, for general pruning the best time is in late winter or early spring just before growth begins. There is no big secret to pruning. When you are ready to begin you need to look at the bush and imagine how it will look each time you take off a limb. Don't be afraid to cut limbs. Just get an idea of how they will look as they fill back in. Any adjustments can be made during the growing season. There are many great sites on the net. Here is a link from the University of Delaware.