Gardening and Allergies

Spring garden.
There are plants that can be enjoyed by the allergy sufferer.

Gardening and Allergies

The pollen that helps bring the greenery and color of spring also brings watery eyes, sneezing ?? you know the rest. Seasonal allergic rhinitis (a.k.a. hay fever) is right around the corner. Tens of millions of Americans (close to 10% of the population) suffer from some sort of respiratory distress during the gardening season. While it's unreasonable or even impossible to remove pollen from the lawn and garden completely, there are a few things you can do. Lowe's is happy to provide this information as a

What is Pollen?

Pollen grains are tiny particles that flowering plants produce by the millions. The grains contain genetic material necessary for the fertilization and survival of plant species. On its own, pollen is a relatively harmless substance. However, when it's inhaled or reaches the eyes of many humans, a reaction is triggered ?? the sneezing and watery eyes begin.

There are two main types of pollen. Each corresponds to the plant's method of pollination. Wind-borne pollinating plants produce pollen that is light and practically invisible. Easily inhaled, this is the type that causes the allergic reactions. Although "wind-borne" and often carried very far away, most of it stays close to the source. Insect-pollinated plants produce grains that are larger, heavier and sticky. These types in general are not irritants. Carried by insects and animals from plant to plant, these pollens are readily visible. Pollen of both types range in size and protein makeup; therefore they also range in levels of allergic aggravation.

The Culprits

Tree pollen is number one on the list. The major suppliers of wind-borne pollens are oak, birch, most maples, ash and alder. Lesser tree allergen contributors include acacia, hickory, mesquite and sycamore. These trees bloom before they produce leaves ?? one of the keys to wind-borne pollen. The season begins in late winter and carries over into spring.

Weed and grass pollens are next. The most notorious pollen-producing weeds are from the ragweed family. Chrysanthemums, daisies and marigolds are members of this group. Most common turfgrasses do not produce pollen and will not if kept mowed at their proper height. Late spring into summer and fall are the season for these plants.

The Wrongly Accused

Wind-borne pollen can collect on anything and it sometimes gives other plants a bad rap. Most ornamental shrubs, annuals and perennials are safe. Oddly enough, the clouds and layers of pollen we see from pine trees is usually not allergy-provoking. Fruit trees are pollinated by insects and are also safe. Plants with strong fragrances can also prompt allergic reactions that are not necessarily related to pollen.

The good news is that there are thousands of plants that are just fine for the allergy sufferer who happens to enjoy being outdoors.

Practical Tips for Dealing with Pollen Allergies

The pollen season starts in late winter/early spring and lasts until the first frost. Short of never going outdoors, here are some things a gardener can do:

  • Plant insect-pollinated plants in your garden.
  • Avoid gardening from 5-10 AM. Pollen levels are usually at their highest at this time, especially when the weather is hot and calm or very windy.
  • To reduce your contact with pollen, wear a mask and glasses.
  • Wear a hat. Avoid taking pollen-covered clothing into the house.
  • Wash thoroughly, including your hair, after gardening sessions.
  • Keep weeds in check by vigilant mowing, pulling and mulching, or by planting ground cover.
  • Replace hedges with fences or walls.
  • Install a water garden.
  • Check the local pollen count. The pollen count monitors pollen levels in the air and can help you when planning outdoor activities.
  • Avoid "seedless" or "male" varieties of trees or shrubs. These are typically wind-borne pollen producers. Although most plant tags do not designate which, if any, sex the plant is, it doesn't hurt to check.