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Also please read:
to Eliminate Allergenic Mold Spores
(C) Thomas Leo Ogren
There are many
things we can do in our gardens and landscapes to eliminate
allergy-causing mold spores. All molds produce tiny reproductive spores
and the trick is to find ways to get rid of the molds themselves.
What we plant, and
where, has a large influence. I continually see the flat out dumb practice
of planting tall evergreen trees and shrubs on the South sides of house.
In the winter the sun is low on the horizon and we get most of our light,
and warmth, from the sunlight that shines from the South. Our warm morning
light comes from the East and it is never a good idea to block that with
tall evergreens either.
The best place for
tall evergreens is on the North side of our houses. There they can act as
a windbreak and not rob us of any needed winter sunlight.
A house with tall
evergreen trees on the Southeast side, is one that will always be cold,
and damp, in the winter months. And cold and damp is exactly what mold
Recently I was at a
store, standing outside waiting for a friend of mine to finish up inside.
It was a cool winter day and I was in the full, deep cold shade of a very
large Canary Island Pine tree. I walked over about thirty feet and stood
in a spot, in between the trees where the sun was shining through. There
it was nice and warm. To my left was the big pine shading that store, and
just to my right was another huge evergreen tree, a Ficus retusa, the
Indian Laurel Fig.
The big fig cast a
shade even deeper, and colder, than did the pine. I looked down at the
sidewalk to my left and right, and sure enough, you could see mold growing
in the cracks and along the edges. The north side of the trees, where I
was, also had a good deal of mold growing on the tree leaves themselves.
Deciduous trees are
perfect for these locations. In the hot summer they will be all leafed out
and will cool down the buildings behind them. In the cold winter months
they will be bare of leaves, and the low sunlight will come through and
warm things up. In this day and age of exploding energy costs, it is just
plain ignorant to plant evergreens where they don't belong. For stopping
mold spores, deciduous trees on the South-Eastern exposures is the only
way to go.
Many people seem
unclear on just exactly what is a mulch. Very simply, a mulch is anything
that covers the soil. They can be made of old leaves, straw, rocks, bark,
gravel, boards, bricks, even plastic.
Mulches are almost
always a very good idea but when it comes to mulches and molds, they
aren't all created equally. Bark is a very good material on which to grow
mold. Gravel mulches are good because they don't encourage mold growth. I
like smooth gravels, river gravel, and please! No white gravel.
Flat stones and
pavers work well for this too and in the right spot, they look good as
well. Mulch holds down weeds and cuts down on summer water loss.
Earthworms often thrive under mulch and in general mulches usually help
plants grow better. The one spot where mulches are less effective is in
those cold, always shaded areas. Here mulch will keep the soil from ever
warming up. Every where else though, mulch is useful.
Newspaper mulches by
the way, not only look trashy, they also grow lots of mold.
Buggy Plants and
Plants that are not
being grown right will usually get infested with insects. The insects
secrete "honeydew" and on this very nutrient rich gooey
substance molds grow quickly. The molds then start producing spores and
pretty soon there is a serious allergy situation in the landscape. The
insect dander itself is highly allergenic and just adds to the problem.
Buggy plants often
look dirty and this is because they are covered with honeydew, mold, and
yuck! They are dirty. Clean, healthy plants are what we want in our yards.
Why Are the
Plants Covered With Insects?
If a tree is native
to the cold, damp forests of Japan or Minnesota, it just won't thrive in a
place like Los Angeles. It certainly might grow in Los Angles though, and
that's the problem. It will grow there but it won't thrive. Because it
doesn't have the conditions it needs it will always be somewhat weakened,
and pests always prey on the weak. Remember, insect pests equal mold
If an area is very
deficient in fertilizer the plants there won't thrive. As they grow
weaker, the insects start to prey on them.
If plants are
getting far too much fertilizer they will also become weak.
If a tree is a type
that needs regular water in the summer but never gets it, again it will
become weak and soon be a target for the white flies, aphids, scale,
spider mites, and mealybugs.
If shrubs or trees
are native to an area with acid soil and you're growing them in alkaline
dirt, sure enough they'll probably become bug infested.
If a tree is simply
not tolerant of urban smog and it is planted right smack in the middle of
a great metropolis, it will draw the pests.
If a row of shrubs
are all the kind that loves bright sunshine, but someone has planted a
fast-growing tree over them, perhaps a pine, when the whole row of shrubs
is now growing in deep shade, if they live, they will certainly become an
insect magnet. I know of a hedge just like this near where I live. A large
old hedge of lantana, now shaded by a big pine, it is literally covered
top to bottom in white flies and mold. It is growing right outside the
back entrance to a health clinic!
There are many other
cultural reasons for plants not to thrive and any one of them can result
in weak plants and mold.
A Word to the
Wise on Natives
Judicious use of
natives is often one of the very best ways to avoid many of these weak
plants-mold problems. However, make sure the "natives" you buy
are endemic to your own particular area. Also, make sure you're not
getting a bunch of male ( pollen- producing ) clones. Many of the native
trees, shrubs, and ground covers sold now are male clones.
In every place there
are prevailing winds. The breeze generally blows mostly from one
direction. Many landscapes are so plugged up, so crowded, that the breeze
simply can't penetrate the mess. A landscape with no air flow is one where
molds will thrive. Molds grow best in conditions with poor air
If your own yards
are over-grown and choked for lack of fresh air, then get out the pruning
saw and start thinning them out. Clean, fresh air, free to move about,
equals less mold and fewer mold spores.
Bright light and
fresh air are the enemies of mold. Many landscapes have huge trees
overhead that let in little light. Consider hiring a tree trimmer to thin
out some of the branches overhead. Open the trees up so that the sunlight
can come through. Perhaps it would be a good idea to actually remove a
tree or two if they're growing too close. Let the light shine!
When planting any
new tree, consider the shade that it will cast when it is full-grown.
Certain trees always develop very thick canopies while others will be
light and airy.
Perhaps as important
as any other single mold factor is the watering. Too little water makes
for weak plants that attract insects. Too much water will also always
produce weak plants.
systems, on clocks, are responsible for a great deal of mold growth.
Allergists in desert areas often find very high mold spore counts, in the
middle of the summer! Much of this is being directly caused by irrigation
systems that are not being monitored closely enough. Often they are set to
irrigate lawns that are already still soggy from the last watering.
Over-watered lawns will quickly become mold factories and will shower
everyone near them with an abundance of mold spores.
Many pests of our
plants are not insects but are fungal type diseases such as mildew, rust,
black spot, scab, and leaf blight. These organisms also produce allergenic
airborne spores. The very best way to avoid these diseases and their
spores is by planting disease resistant plants. The second most valuable
approach is to keep plants growing cleanly and strongly.
plants will often later be attacked by fungus diseases, and visa-versa.
Healthy plants go a long way to keeping our air clean.
Certain plants if
grown in the wrong area can almost be counted on to harbor disease.
Evergreen viburnum growing in the shade will certainly get moldy and full
Crape Myrtle trees
grown in an area that doesn't have hot summers will always have mildew.
A cold, wet spring
frequently brings out a huge flush of both mildew and anthracnose on the
leaves of California Sycamore trees.
In areas with cool,
foggy nights and warm days, rust will surely grow on any roses,
hollyhocks, or snapdragons that are not rust-resistant.
Most roses grown in
too much shade will quickly mildew. Actually almost any plant that thrives
in full sun will run into problems in too much shade.
When you see a plant
covered with insects or fungus, fight the urge to go get out the chemical
sprays. Many chemical sprays will themselves trigger allergies. They may
also weaken your immune system.
A shrub full of
insects can often be helped immensely by just blasting off the bugs with a
strong jet of water from the garden hose. Spider mites on plants can also
often be brought under control with this same stiff spray of water.
Many insect pests
can be killed with a simple, non-toxic homemade spray of vegetable oil,
water, and liquid dish soap. For a gallon of water add two tablespoons of
vegetable oil and two to four tablespoons of soap. I like Ivory Liquid.
For fungus diseases
spay them with a mix of baking soda and water. I use from two to six
tablespoons of baking soda per gallon of water, depending on how bad the
infestation of disease is. This often needs to be repeated all summer
long. The baking soda will also kill some aphids. If you like you can just
add some baking soda to the insecticide mix of soap and oil and have an
all-around insecticide-fungicide spray mix.
Do not expect these
homemade sprays to be just as effective as the most powerful chemical
killers. Often they're not. But they do work and they are much safer and a
whole lot less likely to cause allergies.
This stands for
Integrated Pest Management and one of the basic themes of IPM is that we
are not looking to eliminate insect pests, just to control them. Using
beneficial insects such as ladybugs, mealy bug destroyers, tiny parasitic
wasps, and green lacewings is always worth a try. It would be worthwhile
for any gardener interested in allergy control to read a book or two on
organic pest control.
Ants, Aphids and
Ants will farm out
aphids and scale and will protect them from their natural predators. When
the aphids and scale have ruined one part of a plant, the ants will move
them to another fresh spot.
Frequently we can't
seem to get rid of the insects because there are so many ants on the trees
and to kill the ants I use a slow-acting but effective mix of powdered
sugar and borax. Look for the borax in a box in the grocery store where
they sell laundry products. Mix the sugar and borax fifty-fifty. Sometimes
I like to flood the area under where the ants are thick with a hose and
then when they're all over the place, I sprinkle the sugar and borax mix.
A few types of ants
don't much care for sugar and for these try mixing corn meal and borax.
This bait mix will also kill some other garden pests such as slugs,
earwigs and roaches. I have also had good luck killing ants with a mix of
non-dairy creamer and borax. Cockroaches by the way, inside the house
cause plenty of allergies and the best way to kill them is with a mix of
boric acid and powdered sugar as a bait. Sprinkle this powder down where
the roaches will walk through it. You can buy boric acid in almost any
drug store. These baits are cheap, safer than other poisons, and they
Out in the yard
don't put these baits where the dog will eat them. Sometimes it works well
to hide them under old boards or flat rocks.
A Note about
Ferns don't produce
mold spores but they sure can produce fern spores. Often these spores from
the ferns can be just as allergenic as the mold spores. Fern spores
usually shoot out and land fairly close to the fern. Small ferns growing
in a shady part of the garden rarely trigger much allergy. But people love
to grow ferns in hanging baskets and then they often hang these over patio
chairs, tables, right where someone will be sitting.
When these overhead
ferns cast off their miniscule spores, they will land directly on the
unsuspecting victim underneath. Hanging basket ferns are fine, but watch
where you hang them!
Tree ferns are
handsome creatures but again we need to watch where we plant them. All too
often they are planted right next to front doors where with their added
height, they can shower spores on the people coming and going. Another
consideration with tree ferns is that they have millions of tiny
reddish-brown colored, needle-sharp hairs on their trunks. These little
fern hairs can make you itch and they can also cause plenty of irritation
of the throat and nose when they're inhaled.
Plant tree ferns
back away from most human traffic.