Attack of the Allergens

Sneezy, Itchy, and Drippy: No, they’re not Snow White’s dwarfs. They are, however, the gremlins of allergy season for those who love to dig in the earth. As spring comes hurtling toward us, know the ways of pollen and take measures to deal with it. Don’t miss out on the best gardening time of year! 

The Invisible Assault

When the yellow-green pollen blizzard descends, it’s time to take action. While attempting to blanket the world, this heavy dusting (many times pine pollen) causes little major discomfort. However, it does sound the alarm—the highly allergenic, microscopic offenders that ride the wind are on their way. Oak, elm, hickory, ash, pecan, elder, and cedar trees are among the worst. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have any of these trees in your yard, or even your neighborhood. Airborne pollen can travel hundreds of miles before it finds your sinuses.

Regional grasses also cause problems when allowed to bloom. Bermuda and Kentucky bluegrass are two cultivated offenders, so keep these turf varieties mowed to limit pollen development. Other roadside grasses such as Johnson grass and ragweed (autumn) send pollen adrift in major amounts, and you never see it coming.    

Close to Home

The ‘birds and bees’ are key to understanding the basic problem. Generally speaking, female plants generate seeds, berries, fruit, and flowers. Males are responsible for pollen. In the landscape world, plants that don’t shed or drop things (male selections) have been planted extensively, in the quest to make garden maintenance easy. So while the guy plants keep the ground beneath them a bit neater, they also become a springtime menace for the allergy sufferer.

Flowering trees and shrubs, with their showy floral displays (female), hardly ever cause allergy problems. Their pollinators are bees or other insects, and they rarely cast their pollen into the air. So, don’t banish these ladies from your landscape. However, the best design scenario is to plant them away from the house, and especially windows.

The major petaled culprits are dandelions, sunflowers and daisies. Generally speaking, choose flowers labeled suitable for cutting, or sterile. These selections do not produce pollen, thus being allergy-free.

Don’t confuse fragrance with pollen. When a strong-scented blossom makes you wheeze, it is sensitivity to the scent, not pollen.  Enjoy these flowers from afar, and resist the temptation to stick your nose in them, or bring them indoors.

Survival Skills:

  • Keep windows closed during pollen season, especially when mowing the grass. Change the central heat/air conditioner filter often, and consider a HEPA (High efficiency particulate air) filter for maximum efficiency.
  • Check the local, daily pollen count before heading out for the day, especially if you are seriously allergenic or asthmatic.
  • Refrain from gardening on windy days. Pollen comes from miles away, and dust adds to the misery.
  • Beware of old mulch. It can launch mold spores into your personal universe.
  • Wear a hat. Pollen engulfs hair, where it will reside until water and shampoo wash it away.
  • After gardening, come indoors and change clothes. Put them in the laundry, and shower to remove the pollen clinging to exposed skin surfaces.
  • Fido and kitty are pollen magnets when they spend time outdoors. Indoors, rub them down with a damp towel to clean up their furry outerwear.
  • Ditch the bandito look. When serious protection is required, consider wearing an allergy mask. The best ones for pollen filtration come with an N95 or N100 rating.  Unrated 100% cotton or silk masks provide some help, but will not guarantee a complete shield.