Gardening with Allergies

Seasonal allergies—itchy eyes and throat, sneezing, congestion, coughing caused by pollen, mold and other allergens—can take some of the fun out of gardening. There are some things you can do to minimize your suffering.

Plan your garden to contain plants that rely on insects for cross-pollination, rather than the wind, and limit the size of your lawn. Insect-pollinated plants typically have showy flowers, while wind-pollinated plants have inconspicuous flowers. The former have heavier pollen grains that don’t travel through the air (and into your nose and eyes) as easily as the lightweight pollen of the latter. Plants with lightweight, wind-borne pollen include most turf grasses; trees such as oak, maple, beech, birch, elm, pine; and shrubs such as cypress and juniper. Plants with heavy pollen include most flowering perennials and annuals; flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas, viburnum, hibiscus and rhododendron; and ornamental and fruit trees such as apple, crabapple, cherry, plum, magnolia and dogwoods. There are always exceptions—for instance, willow is pollinated by insects but produces pollen in such quantities that it affects many allergy sufferers.

Get an allergy test to find out exactly what plants affect you, so you can avoid them when in flower, or replace them.

Close your windows while you mow the lawn and for a few hours afterward. This will keep grass pollen from coming inside your house.

Don’t touch your eyes or nose while gardening.

Wear long sleeves, long pants and a hat while gardening. Take them off as soon as you come inside; either put them right into the washer or put them in a laundry hamper outside of your bedroom and main living area. This way the pollen trapped in their fibers won’t bother you.

As soon as you come in, take a shower and wash your hair to remove pollen and other allergens.

If your allergies are severe, wear a face mask and protective eyewear while gardening and mowing the lawn.

Garden on cloudy, damp or still days and/or late in the day. At these times pollen is less prevalent in the air.

Keep an eye on the “allergy index” for your area—usually provided with the local weather forecast—and try to avoid gardening on high pollen days.

Be aware when planting dioecious plants (where male and female flowers occur on separate plants) that the male plant will trigger allergies because it releases the pollen. If you must plant both sexes because you desire berry production—as in the case of hollies—site the male plant farther away from doors and windows.

Sources: Allergy-Free Gardening, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,   Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America

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