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The Real Dirt on Gardening with Allergies & Asthma

Allergy image

While a garden can be a source of beauty, it also may contain plant pollens that can trigger both allergic rhinitis and asthma symptoms. Windborne pollinating plants, including trees, grasses, and weeds, are more likely to cause an allergic reaction. They produce pollen that is light and almost invisible. Released in large quantities for reproduction, the pollens can be easily inhaled. These plants often have smaller blooms with little or no color.

On the other hand, bright and colorful plants often are insect-pollinated, producing pollens that are larger, heavier, and stickier. These pollens, which are carried by insects and animals from plant to plant, are much less likely to cause an allergic reaction. If you do have high-pollen producing plants, keep them away from front or back doors, bedroom windows, and other high-traffic areas.

Allergy Offenders

• Trees Symptoms of tree pollen allergies occur during late winter into spring or early summer. Common culprits are alder, birches, elms, willows, poplars, beeches, chestnuts, oaks, maples, box elders, hickories, cedars, ashes, junipers, cypress, sequoia, and sycamores.

• Grasses Symptoms of grass pollen allergies occur during late spring and early summer. Common culprits are Bermuda grass, bluegrass, orchard grass, ryegrass, timothy, fescue, and sweet vernal. Bermuda grass often releases pollen year-round.

• Weeds Symptoms of weed pollen allergies occur during late summer into autumn. Common culprits are ragweed, mugwort, Russian thistle, pigweed, sagebrush, English plantain, goosefeet, and cocklebur. Ragweed is the most common cause of allergic rhinitis. It also can trigger asthma.

Native plants are already adapted to a climate and are often easier to grow since they do not require extensive watering, fertilizer, or pesticides. These plants also often attract more butterflies, insects, and birds, which help reduce windborne pollination. In addition, disease-resistant plants are less likely to produce mildew, rust, and black spot, which can cause allergies.

Depending on where you live, the pollen season usually lasts from March through October, with most plants having the same pollination period each year. If you plan on gardening during the pollen season, follow these tips to help reduce your allergy and asthma symptoms:

  • Take antihistamines or nasal sprays before you begin gardening, rather than after symptoms start.
  • Wear a pollen mask and gloves to limit pollen exposure.
  • Avoid touching your face and eyes while working outdoors.
  • Watch for rain showers, which can temporarily clear pollen from the air. Brief thunderstorms, however, can actually increase pollen counts.
  • Wash your hands often, and rinse your eyes with cool water after coming indoors to remove clinging pollen. Wash your hair at night to prevent pollens from getting into bedding.

Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2010.