If you are a plant lover but are one of the 35 million Americans that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates suffer from hay fever, or if you have another pollen allergy, don't despair. There are still ways you can enjoy gardening. Here are some suggestions.
Before you go outside
• If you are on allergy medications, take them before you start gardening rather than after symptoms start.
• Wear a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved face mask, hat, glasses, gloves and a long-sleeve shirt to reduce skin and nose contact with pollen.
In the garden
• Avoid touching your face or eyes while working outdoors.
• Limit gardening to early in the morning or later in the afternoon or evening when pollen counts tend to be the lowest.
• Garden after it rains when the water has washed pollen off plant and other surfaces and left pollen wet and less susceptible to being carried by the wind than it would be on dry days. Be aware, though, that brief thunderstorms may increase pollen counts.
• Use gravel, oyster shell or special plant ground covers such as vinca or pachysandra as mulch rather than wood chips, since the latter can retain moisture and encourage molds to grow.
• Be cautious about using hedges because the tangle of branches can easily collect dust, mold and pollen. If you have hedges, keep them pruned and thin.
• Ask a family member or friends who don't have allergies to mow lawns and weed flower beds.
• Keep grass cut low — 2 inches — to help prevent or at least limit the stems from dispersing pollen.
• Keep windows in the house closed while mowing and for a few hours afterward.
• Clean and replace air conditioner filters often. HEPA filters are often recommended because they capture at least 99 percent of pollen, animal dander, dust and other particles for all-around better air quality.
• Immediately shower and change your clothes when you go back indoors, making sure to wash your hair to remove allergens trapped there. As an alternative, wash your hands often and rinse your eyes with cool water to remove clinging pollen.
What to plant, what to avoid
Gardeners with pollen allergies should select plants that are pollinated by insects or birds. Pollen grains in insect/bird-pollinated plants tend to be larger, heavier and stickier than pollen produced by plants that rely on wind-borne pollination. Consequently, plants pollinated by insects and birds are much less likely to cause an allergic reaction.
Some examples for flowering plants are begonia, cactus, clematis, daisy, geranium, impatiens, iris, lily, pansy, periwinkle, petunia, phlox, salvia, snapdragon, sunflower, verbena and zinnia. Shrubs include azalea, hibiscus and viburnum.
But even if you plant an "allergy-free" garden, many of the wind-borne pollens can travel from other gardens.