Gardens should be a respite from the stresses of everyday, but for gardeners who suffer from hay fever and other allergies, certain plants and weather conditions can make gardening more miserable than tranquil. Here are some tips to help make your time gardening relaxing and sneeze-free.
Pollen Isn't the Only Problem
Pollen plays a big role in triggering allergies, but despite its bad reputation, it can't take all the credit for causing sneezing and wheezing among allergy sufferers. Grasses, for example, including those that make up your lawn, are generally thought of as major pollen producers. This is especially true of the big ornamental grasses grown for their flower heads. Constant mowing keeps most of the grasses in our lawn from reaching flowering size, but mowing causes its own problems. When grass blades are cut, some grasses release a chemical called coumarin that triggers allergic reactions.
Dust is another big source of allergens. Some trees and plants bear foliage that tends to gather and trap a lot of dust. When these trees and plants are disturbed by wind, large quantities of dust are released.
Molds are stem-less, microscopic fungi-related to mushrooms. Most of us have heard about the danger of indoor mold, but outdoor mold can be a big problem, too. Mold spores are transmitted through the air like pollen. Unlike pollen, which is most prevalent in the spring and fall, mold spores can remain present throughout the year.
Several plants contain volatile oils or saps that on contact, may cause susceptible individuals to break out in a rash
Tips for Allergy Releif
- Check the Weather: Allergy symptoms are less problematic on days that are rainy, cloudy or calm-when pollen has less of a tendency to move about. Hot, dry and windy weather, on the other hand, signals greater pollen and mold distribution, which triggers more allergic reactions. Unlike pollens, molds don't have a specific season, but tend to be a problem during warm, wet weather. Check your local weather forecast or visit www.pollen.com to check the pollen index in your area.
- Plant Wisely: One of nature's gifts for gardeners who suffer from allergies is the fact that the plants with biggest, brightest flowers are generally the best flowers to grow for allergies. These plants are the pollen heavyweights. Their large-sized pollen is too heavy to be transported by the wind and relies on birds and insects instead. As a general rule, avoid plants with small, plain colored flowers and you'll reduce your pollen problem. Low allergen, pollen heavyweights include flowers like daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, iris, phlox, clematis, lilies, dahlias, salvia and peonies. Although their flowers tend to be less showy, hosta falls into the low-allergen category as well.
- Go Native: Growing native plant species is advantageous in a lot of ways. They require little effort to grow because they are well-suited to the local environment, so they do not need fertilizers or pesticides which can trigger allergies. They are also drought tolerant and attract native wildlife.
Forgo the Fragrance: Many allergy sufferers are advised not to wear perfumes. That same could be said about planting them. As a rule, the scent of highly fragrant flowers often triggers allergies. Opt for color rather than fragrance in your garden. Don't worry about your rose bushes though, thankfully they are an exception to this rule.
- Keep Your Distance: If can't resist growing certain allergy provoking plants, at least keep them away from the house (and your open bedroom window.) If possible, plant them where they're likely to be downwind of your house.
Keep Weeds Away: Many of the plants that trigger allergies are also weeds (ragweed, lambs quarters, sagebrush, etc.). Keep you garden weeded and don't allow these species to flower or reseed.
- Avoid Chores That Trigger: If mowing or raking (stirs up mold) has a tendency to trigger your allergies, try to delegate these duties to someone else. Some gardeners have also found it helpful to wear inexpensive hardware dust masks while mowing. Try to avoid garden chores between the hours of 5 am and 10 am when pollen emissions are at the highest.
- Keep Allergens Outside: After you're done playing in the dirt, toss your work wear into the wash. Avoid hanging laundry out to dry on days with high pollen counts-fabric can trap pollen and mold spores. Wear a scarf or hat when outdoors and tie long hair back to keep spores from getting into your hair. Keep your windows (especially in your bedroom) closed at night to prevent pollen or mold spores from drifting indoors.
- Minimize Skin Contact: Long sleeves and pants may be hard to wear in the heat of the summer, but doing so will minimize skin contact with plants that trigger contact dermatitis. At a minimum, wear gloves while gardening and handling plants and avoid touching your face with your hands.
- Mulch to Prevent Mold: Compost and other organic mulches tend to be havens for mold spores. Don't stop composting, but if you're highly allergic to mold, consider planting low maintenance ground covers or mulching with rock or gravel.
- Visit an Allergist/Immunologist: If your seasonal allergies are ruining your time outdoors, talk to an allergist/immunologist. They can help you determine exactly which allergens are causing your symptoms and prescribe something to give you relief.