Sneeze Guard: It's Pollen Season Again

Tips for beating seasonal allergies in the garden.
Birch Grown for White Peeling Bark

Birch Grown for White Peeling Bark

Birch trees are one of the many pollen-causing culprits in the garden.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Birch trees are one of the many pollen-causing culprits in the garden.

An estimated 1 in 6 Americans suffers from seasonal allergies. I’ve been suffering from watery eyes, uncontrollable sneezing and an itchy throat for the past few days, which is making me reluctant to get up close and personal with pollen in my yard.

You might think those huge lumps of yellow pollen floating around this time of year are what’s causing your symptoms. But actually, the teeny pollen you can’t see is what tends to cause allergic reactions. Hardwood deciduous trees like oak, maple, cedar, birch, box elder and elm can cause sneezing, while trees with big, bright flowers, like apple, cherry and dogwood, usually have larger pollen that doesn’t blow around as much. The same rule applies to plants: daffodils, daisies, lilies, pansies, and zinnias are among the flowering plants with larger pollen, so they may not bother you as much as ragweed and pigweed.

In any case, there are steps you can take to lower your allergy symptoms this time of year! Here are a few:

  • In the spring, pollen counts are generally highest in the afternoon, so try to garden at a different time of day. (In the fall, it’s early mornings you’ll want to avoid.) And try to avoid gardening on windy days, since pollen can blow in from all over.
  • Change your clothes and shower – or at least wash your hands and face well – after working in the garden.
  • Look for insect-pollinated plants – the showy, flowery kind mentioned above – rather than wind-pollinated plants.
  • Compost piles and damp mulch can produce mold, another allergy source. Keep your compost pile away from where you work and play, if possible, and consider using gravel instead of mulch.
  • A hat and, if needed, a breathing mask can help cut down on pollen exposure.
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