Ah, spring! Ah-choo! Gardening tips for allergy sufferers
Timothy W. Horton, MS
With the emergence of flowering plants of spring also comes allergy-causing pollen. If you are a gardener who suffers from
allergies, how do you feel about the arrival of pollen-producing plants? Are you excited to go outside and enjoy the warmth of spring? Or do you dread the suffering of allergies that can come along with it?
By following a few recommendations, you can get out and enjoy the garden while minimizing your exposure to allergens in the garden.
Types of pollination
Pollen is a powdery substance produced by flowering plants that contains the male reproductive cells of the plant. It is carried by wind and insects to other plants, which it fertilizes.
Insect or self-pollination. Some plants produce pollen grains that are large in size so they can be easily picked up and moved by insects. This heavy, large pollen is not blown by air, so it is hard to inhale. As a result, it is responsible for fewer allergic reactions in people.
Plants that are either self-pollinating or cross-pollinated by insects fit into this category. These include rose, geranium, petunia, pansy and salvia, for example. Generally speaking, plants with bright, showy flowers tend to cause fewer allergy problems because they are insect-pollinated rather than wind-pollinated.
Wind pollination. Wind-pollinated plants produce small, light pollen that is easily picked up by the wind. It can travel great distances in the landscape and is easy to inhale, resulting in more allergic reactions. Weed and grass pollen fit into this category.
Many trees, including oak, birch, cedar and cottonwood (to name a few) produce wind-blown pollen, but tree pollen generally doesnít travel great distances. (An oak tree in your yard will expose you to 10 times more pollen than an oak tree one block away, so avoid planting high pollen-producing trees in your landscape to minimize your exposure.)
Tips to avoid allergic reactions
Plant aromatic herbs such as mint, rosemary and oregano if you like fragrant plants. These donít cause allergic reactions. Avoid heavily-scented flowers that can trigger allergic reactions.
Do necessary gardening work following heavy rainstorms to take advantage of lower pollen levels. Environmental conditions affect the amount of pollen present in the atmosphere. Warm, gentle breezes raise pollen levels, while heavy rains cleanse the air of pollen. Also, sudden temperature drops (often associated with heavy rains) will lower atmospheric pollen levels.
Know what you are allergic
to so you can plan your activities to avoid the worst parts of the allergy season.
A person who suffers from allergies needs to be aware of what is causing the allergic reactions. Allergens, which include airborne plant pollen and mold spores, can trigger allergic reactions in people. Different plants produce different types of pollen at different times of the year.
Tree pollen hits its peak in April, so if you are allergic to this, postpone gardening activities to later in the year to avoid much of this type of pollen. The hot, dry part of summer is the peak for weed pollens such as ragweed and pigweed. Having garden plants that donít require much care during this time will enable you to avoid exposure to these weed pollens.
Consider gravel or synthetic mulch. Organic mulches and compost are generally good for your plants but can provide a breeding ground for fungus and mold.
Wear clothes for gardening that you keep separate from your everyday clothes. Take off gardening clothes after returning indoors. Wash them separately from other laundry.
Wear gloves, masks and goggles or sunglasses to minimize your exposure to pollen. You should also shower immediately after gardening to wash off any pollen.
Hopefully, following these tips will help reduce your exposure to pollens causing allergic reactions. Happy gardening!