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by High Country Gardens

Agastache Desert Sunrise.

The other morning took me by surprise. I woke up sneezing. And for several days more I continued sneezing. Even my new puppy was sneezing on a hike one afternoon. I was surprised for both of us because isn't it supposed to be winter? But it seems the juniper trees are at it again, and with the dry weather and wind the allergy season is starting earlier than usual.

Which, of course, is making me conscious of plants, especially since there is a new trend afoot to create allergy-free gardens. That's right. There is a way to do this. Author Tom Ogren has written a book called Allergy-Free Gardening (Ten Speed Press and available at general bookstores) and he says it is actually possible to reduce the number of plants in a garden that produce pollen.

"It all has to do with sex," he said from his home in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "It's the male plants that produce the pollen. So you need to plant female plants." Easily, he blames most of our allergy problems on male trees.

"They are the ones that pollinate," he said, siting Tokyo as a good example. Ten years ago, so much pollen hit the city that people had to wear facemasks. Forty years ago thousands of male cedar trees were planted. Those trees finally reached maturity ten years ago.

Because his wife has allergies, Ogren began studying the connection of allergies to plants about 20 years ago and delved into it seriously 11 years ago. His research found that allergies have increased 38 percent in the last 14 years. "I was able to trace it to the fact that many street trees that were planted years ago have finally reached maturity. And those trees are all male and now are overloading the air with pollen."

Sedum purple emperor.

Ogren has created an allergy index scale that rates plants from one to ten, with one being the best for not producing much pollen. Some of the Southwest's favorite plants are rated below:

Because female trees litter (fruit, seeds, flowers, cones, pods and cotton), city landscaping crews began planting male trees to reduce the cleanup. From his observations Ogren now believes that the reason so many butterflies are disappearing is because the nectar-producing trees were a major food source. "And they are disappearing because they are being replaced by the pollen producing trees," said Ogren.

But back to our gardens. Even though wind carries the juniper and pinon pollens a long way, we can actually reduce the pollen around our homes. Just consider the type of plant and if it's female or not. This is definitely sexist gardening, but I'll do anything to keep the sneezing down.

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