Aug. 6, 2021
Winter is a great time to take stock of your garden and plan for the coming growing season. This year there’s been plenty of rain, so whatever you plant in spring will be bursting with growth. We’ve prepared this simple guide to choosing beautiful garden plants that will help reduce the nasty symptoms of pollen allergy.
What’s the problem?
- Canberra is the “allergy capital”, with the highest rates of hayfever of any city in Australia – nearly a third of Canberrans suffer from some form of allergic rhinitis
- These allergies have huge impacts on people’s health, happiness and productivity, costing the ACT economy at least $170 million a year
- Many Canberrans’ allergies are caused by the pollen of grasses and certain exotic trees
- Canberra’s leafy inner suburbs are the worst for tree pollen allergies, while the outer suburbs are more exposed to grass pollen allergies… there’s no escape for allergy sufferers!
What are the worst plants in Canberra for allergies?
- Cypresses – planted extensively as windbreaks and hedges, they produce masses of allergenic pollen that spreads for kilometres
- Birch trees – despite having nice bark, these trees also bite with their highly allergenic pollen
- Elm trees – favourites in older suburbs of Canberra, these trees really get up people’s noses!
- Grasses – found everywhere from lawns to farmland, the worst offenders are introduced pasture grasses like ryegrass
What can I do about it?
First off, don’t cut down trees unnecessarily and don’t rip up your lawn. Trees and healthy lawns contribute oxygen, shade, wildlife habitat and improve air quality, liveability and urban character (more trees = better property prices). So it’s better to keep them. Some trees also have important cultural associations and sentimental value. However, if you need to replace a tree or plant a new one, then consider some of the suggestions below:
- Choose native trees like Eucalyptus instead of exotic trees like Elms
- If you want a deciduous tree, choose something that has nice flowers… plants with showy flowers are great for bees and don’t pose an allergy risk – check out the ACT For Bees website for their list of beautiful bee-friendly plants
- Instead of allergenic cypresses, consider other easy-care evergreens like bay trees, Portuguese laurels, photinias, wattles, hakeas, banksias and bottlebrushes
- If you have cypresses already, keep them clipped – this reduces flowering and allergy risk
- Some great alternatives to allergenic birch trees include certain maples and small eucalypts – these have beautiful pale bark, live longer and are less thirsty than birches
- Instead of allergenic elms, consider flowering pears and liquidambars with beautiful autumn foliage that doesn’t get destroyed by elm leaf beetles
- Avoid planting the same trees as your neighbours – this reduces the risk of allergy around your home and makes your street more diverse and appealing!
- Mow your lawn when you see flower spikes emerging from the grass in spring-summer. This can help reduce grass pollen on your property, though most of the grass pollen that causes allergies comes from the pastures around Canberra and you can’t mow those!
- Specialist nurseries have lots of really interesting and suitable trees, shrubs and groundcovers for your garden – it’s worth having a chat to an experienced staff member to choose a tree that will be appreciated for many generations!
Figure 1. Trees and shrubs* that can be planted as low-pollen allergen alternatives to those that cause severe allergens in your Canberra garden
What else might be causing my allergies?
- Pollen allergy is seasonal, so if your allergies are worse from late winter through spring and summer, you might have a pollen allergy
- Seasonal allergies in autumn might be related to Alternaria spores from allergenic fungi
- If your allergies are year-round, then you might be allergic to something in your home or office, such as dust mites, mould or pet dander – these problems can be made worse by smoke from cigarettes and air pollution from wood heaters and car exhausts
- A great way of recording your allergies is with the free CanberraPollen or AirRater apps, which track airborne allergens daily and let you monitor your symptoms
- The best course of action is to get tested by a specialist who can determine what you’re allergic to and prescribe appropriate treatment… you’ll save a fortune on antihistamines!
*Image sources and Creative Commons attributions: Luis Fernández García, Rudolphous, David Stang, David Stang, Guillermo César Ruiz Sabencia, 阿橋 HQ, Kurt Stüber, JJ Harrison, Danielle Langlois, pasa47, Derek Ramsey, Anna Anichkova