The guys you keep in your garden could be responsible for your miserable itchy-nose sneezing and your your burning, red and watery eyes.

Right. If there's some dirt to dish, a guy must be nearby.

Well, when it comes to your garden, that's true.

Chances are, too many of your landscaping plants are of the male persuasion and that's just not good for your health.

San Luis Obispo, CA horticulturist Thomas Leo Ogren says for the last half century, commercial and residential landscapers have discriminated against female plants because they are, well, high maintenance.

Female plants litter the ground with their seeds, fruits, pods and other reproductive gems.

Male plants, on the other hand, have taken over the garden because they just aren't as messy.

Unfortunately, with the help of a good stiff breeze, the males do tend to, well, ejaculate pollen. Unless you have a bee farm, orchards to pollinate or sufficient female plants to absorb the mess, that's nothing to sneeze at.

"There was a Realtor in one of my audiences recently and he asked me if I'd be interested in talking to his association. We could both see the day when having a pollen-free, or low-allergy landscape, would be a damn fine selling point for a house...or apartment building too for that matter. I am constantly getting e-mail from apartment dwellers who want to know what they can do about the horrible high pollen landscapes at their apartments," said Ogren.

"Then too, there is sudden new interest from lawyers who are curious about possible suits on this in the not too distant future," he added sardonically.

Pollen is the substance that transports the male gametophyte of seed plants. Along with certain molds, pollen also triggers hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, an allergic reaction that includes sneezing, stuffy and burning noses and itching, bloodshot, watery eyes.

More than 35 million people suffer from seasonal hay fever in the U.S. and 6 million of them are children.

Pollen can also aggravate asthma and trigger an asthma attack. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition of the airways. The American Lung Association says asthma is the eighth most common chronic condition Americans suffer -- afflicting nearly 25 million Americans, a third of whom are children under 18 years of age.

An asthma attack is characterized by an episode of symptoms including shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, tightness of the chest and related symptoms. The underlying cause of the symptoms is narrowed airways -- swelling of the lining, tightening of the muscle, and increased secretion of mucus in the airway. A severe onset of symptoms can cause death if the disease is not properly managed.

Right now, as seasonal winds blow males that have grown heavy with pollen, airborne pollen can become so abundant it forms clouds that can find their way to your nasal passages and ocular openings.

Ogren's aptly titled "Safe Sex In The Garden" (Ten Speed Press, $14.95) makes the case for making the choice between sweeping up after the girls or battling hay fever spawned by the boys.

"The fact that our urban forests have been propagated with male-clones is a crime on two counts: male plants are the pollen-producing offenders, and without female plants to absorb pollen, allergenic pollen counts are on the rise nationwide," Ogren says.

"Safe Sex" also explores other allergy-related topics including organic gardening, protecting pets against allergies, handling allergy-related stress, and global warming’s affect on allergies.

Ogren also created the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale (OPALS), a trademarked plant-allergy ranking system used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to rank plants on a scale of 1 to 10, with the least allergenic plants ranking at 1, and the most allergenic at 10.

OK. So, how do you tell? Lift up a leaf?

"It's one of the reasons I wrote the book. Any tree, shrub, bush or vine that never has any fruit, or seeds, or seed pods, is certainly suspect and probably a male plant. Landscape professionals should know, unfortunately most of them do not. Bottom line is, no one can remember them all," says Ogren.

Here's Ogren's short list.

Boys -- Too Much Spice

  • Italian Poplars
  • Lombardy Poplars
  • Red Maples including Autumn Spire or Autumn Flame
  • "Fruitless" Mulberries and Yew, Screw and Fern Pines
  • "Podless" or "Seedless" Honey Locust
  • "Seedless" Ash and Maples
  • "Berry-less" Junipers
Girls -- Everything Nice
  • Silver Maples (Northlines)
  • Red Maples (Autumn Glory, Bowhall, October Glory)
  • Junipers (Bar Harbor, Blue Point, Iowa)
  • Date Palms with orange fruit
  • Formal double flowers (Including many cultivars of Chrysanthemums, Camelia and Begonia)
  • Fruit trees with seedless fruit, including Navel Oranges
  • Also, "Any holly with red berries is a female, says Ogren.
  • Uh, well, yeah. Duh.

Also check your plants' OPAL ranking online.

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