Got Allergies? These 10 Low-Pollen Plants Won’t Make You Sneeze
When spring rolls around, it's time to sneeze and itch—unless you've planted these low-pollen flowers (and grasses and trees). Imagine how much you'll save on Claritin!
– March 26, 2019
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These bright and cheerful members of the narcissus family are easy to grow. They are also what horticulturists call “perfect flowers.” Botanically speaking, this means that each flower can pollinate itself. Perfect flowers produce only a small amount pollen, and the grains they do make tend to be too heavy to float in the air and cause trouble for allergy sufferers. A flower that’s pretty and sneeze-free? Sounds just about perfect to us.
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Geraniums are tough plants, able to handle an occasional lapse in watering. And they come in so many varieties (422 species!) that there’s sure to be one that works in your garden. Many are scented, and all are thought to repel mosquitoes. Best of all, they keep their pollen to their (perfect) selves, and so are great for allergy sufferers.
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The instantly recognizable tulip is another flower considered “perfect,” and as such it doesn’t produce a high pollen count. What little extra pollen there is is usually snatched up quickly by birds and bees, who are always relieved to find this early-spring bloomer after a lean winter.
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4 of10Elva Etienne/Getty Images
These enormous happy flowers aren’t biologically perfect (though we do think they’re pretty great), but they are still a great choice for the allergy-prone. The reason? Sunflower pollen is particularly heavy, designed to be carried around by bees, not set afloat on the breeze—so you won’t be tormented by clouds of it in your yard.
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There are more types of viola than just about any other flower, but one thing the majority of them have in common is a low pollen count. Keep them in your garden (where they make great borders) or bring them inside in a container—they won’t fill the air with allergens.
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6 of10Rafael Santos Rodriguez/EyeEm/Getty Images
When you see a large, showy flower, it’s a pretty good bet that it has a low pollen count, because such flowers are as attractive to insects and hummingbirds as they are to us—and flowers that can count on pollinators don’t need to spew fine clouds of sneeze-inducing powder all over the outdoors. The iris is a textbook example. Its voluptuous petals direct bees deep inside the bloom where the pollen is stored safely away from sensitive noses.
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There’s a lot to love about the periwinkle: It’s a beautiful shade of blue, and because it tolerates both shade and sun it makes a great groundcover. A big patch of periwinkle won’t ruin a garden party for any allergy sufferers, either. Some varieties, like the popular Madagascar periwinkle, are self-fertilizing and therefore ultra-low in pollen. Even the ones that do make enough pollen to attract insects hide their wares deep within the flower—and the pollinators they attract the most are butterflies, which are a lovely addition to any backyard.
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This shrub, with its ample clumps of blooms that seem to last all summer, might look like an allergy sufferer’s nightmare. But in fact, the gigantic puffs of petals you see on most hydrangeas are infertile. The fertile flowers of a hydrangea are white and lacy, and nurseries breed most varieties to produce as few of those plain little appendages as possible. What little pollen is produced is sticky, and does not get airborne easily, so chances are you will tolerate any variety well. (If you have a choice, pick plants with as many big blue or purple puffs and as few small white flowers as possible.)
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It’s not just the flowers in your yard that you have to think about. Grass can be a significant source of pollen and irritants, but there are solutions. Buffalograss is a good choice for any yard, as it doesn’t get very tall and requires very little water. If allergies are a concern, choose cultivars ‘UC Verde’ or ‘609’. Neither of these varieties produces any pollen at all. Other varieties do, but if you’re willing to keep the grass mowed below about 3 inches, you’ll lop off the flowers before they reach maturity and they won’t produce any pollen, either.
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Like grasses, trees can produce a high pollen count, too. In fact, most deciduous (non cone-bearing) trees do. So if you’re allergen-conscious, choose your landscaping carefully. One easy way to make sure your tree doesn’t produce a lot of pollen is to make sure it’s a female tree. Male trees produce pollen, and female trees do not. So how do you tell if a sapling you’re considering is female? Look at the tree’s flowers. If some or all the blossoms have dust-bearing stamens, watch out. (That dust is pollen.) If the tree isn’t flowering, or if you aren’t sure what you’re looking at, acquire your trees from a quality nursery—staff can point you in the right direction.