A Guide to Allergy-Free Gardening
Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. with more than 50 million Americans suffering from allergies each year.
An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system reacts to a foreign substance, or allergen, which it views as harmful and must attack. The immune system overreacts to the invading substance by producing antibodies that identify a particular substance as harmful. Some common substances that produce an allergic reaction in people include dust, pollen, animal dander, and mold.
Continued exposure to an allergen can cause the body to develop antigens against that substance and the severity of the reaction can vary from mild irritation to life-threatening.
For allergy sufferers, seasonal allergies, or ‘hay fever’ can be a difficult time of year. With Mother Nature releasing pollen, spores and other particles into the air, this can mean watery eyes, a runny nose and constant sneezing for the 35 million Americans with seasonal allergies.
When it comes to outdoor work, such as mowing the lawn, removing weeds or simply smelling the flowers, allergies can make gardening work especially challenging. If you are a gardening enthusiast who enjoys spending time in your backyard, this article will look at some of the ways you can continue to enjoy your hobby despite your allergies.
Choose the Right Plants
To make your garden more allergy-friendly, avoid planting flowers, shrubs and plants that will induce an allergic reaction and instead, select those varieties that will not cause symptoms.
A good rule of thumb is to choose plants and flowers that are insect-pollinated, instead of wind-pollinated as their pollen tends not to become airborne making them less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Conversely, wind-pollinated plants and flowers produce large amounts of pollen that will be carried around your garden by air, bees, birds, and other insects.
Another tip is to plant female trees as it is the male trees that produce the pollen. Female trees are non-pollen-producing and are also known as ‘fruitless’ or ‘seedless’ trees.
Some good choices when it comes to planting allergy-friendly plants, trees and shrubs in your garden are listed below:
- Flowering plants: Begonias, orchids, daffodils, petunias, irises, snapdragons, geraniums, tulips, periwinkles, pansies, impatiens and sunflowers.
- Grasses: St. Augustine, kikuyu, coach,palmetto buffalo, and zoysia
- Shrubs: Azalea, female English yew, viburnum, boxwood, female wax myrtle, hibiscus, hydrangea and female pittosporum.
- Trees: Apple, plum, dogwood, female fern pine, female red maple, magnolia, cherry, Chinese fan palm and pear
Plants to Avoid
- Grasses: Common Bermuda, Johnson, Timothy, redtop, perennial rye, June, male salt grass, Kentucky bluegrass, fescue and sweet vernal
- Trees: Ash, cedar, birch, beech, fruitless olive, pecan, hickory, walnut, male box elder, willow, elm, sycamore, male mulberry, cottonwood, male ash, male poplar, oak, pine and male aspen
- Shrubs: Juniper and cypress
- Weeds: Nettle, poison ivy, Russian thistle, ragweed, cocklebur, dandelion, pigweed, and sagebrush
Before doing any gardening work it is a good idea to check the forecast for the pollen count which can vary throughout the day. Pollen counts tend to be lower on cooler, windless or damp days and most pollen will be washed away with the rain.
It is also advisable to garden during certain times of the day when the pollen count will be lower. Pollen counts tend to be higher in the morning, peaking around midday, so try to do any gardening later in the evening.
If you do take allergy medicine, it is a good idea to start taking it a couple of weeks before the allergy season begins. Some of the common medicines and treatments for allergies are listed below.
Antihistamines can help counter any allergic reactions you may suffer as a result of gardening, such as hay fever. They do this by blocking the production of histamine in the body which is released when the body perceives a substance to be harmful. This reduces any allergic symptoms which would have followed such as a runny nose, itchy skin, watery eyes, and sneezing.
They come in various forms including nasal sprays, pill form and liquid, and can be taken preventatively to lower the likelihood of an allergic reaction occurring.
Nasal sprays can be a good option if you suffer from seasonal allergies that mainly affect your nose. Some of the symptoms which nasal sprays can relieve include congestion, sneezing, a runny nose and inflammation.
Different nasal sprays contain different medications so it is important to know which one to choose in order to target your symptoms. Some of the common nasal sprays are steroid sprays, antihistamine sprays, decongestants, anticholinergic, and mast cell sprays.
Corticosteroid creams such as hydrocortisone can treat skin conditions such as itching and inflammation. They can be particularly useful for allergic reactions as a result of insect bites or contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac.
Listed below are some natural remedies that can also help in treating the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Herbal teas –
Some teas are known to contain herbs that can help your immune system reduce the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Teas such as rooibos and chamomile can have an antihistamine effect on the body, while turmeric and yerba tea have natural anti-inflammatory benefits.
Peppermint tea contains a substance known as rosmarinic acid, which can potentially reduce allergy-related symptoms, such as a runny nose and sneezing.
Keep windows closed –
To prevent airborne particles from your garden from entering your home it is always advisable to keep your windows closed when carrying out activities such as mowing lawn and to prevent spores, pollen and other irritants from being blown into your indoor environment.
Another way to improve your indoor air quality and prevent allergens from entering is by installing a high-quality air filter such as a MERV 8 filter.
Make sure you are appropriately dressed before you start any gardening work. Long sleeves and gloves can keep your skin protected and wearing a hat will lower the chances of airborne particles becoming lodged in your hair. Sunglasses will not only provide shade, but they can also offer your eyes some protection from any pollen in the air. If you are particularly sensitive to allergens in your garden consider wearing a covering for your nose and mouth such as a mask or bandana.
Allergens such as dirt, pollen and mold can also become trapped in clothing fibers when you are digging, mowing and weeding so do not bring your gardening shoes into your home and change your clothes as soon as possible. It can be a good idea to wear gardening overalls which can be removed before entering your house.
Taking a shower after any gardening work will also help to remove any pollen or other allergens which may have gathered on your body and in your hair.
Seasonal allergy symptoms in some people have lessened through consuming local honey. Not only can it help to lubricate a scratchy, irritated throat, but it is also thought that eating local honey can help to reduce sensitivity to the local pollen.
By following the guidance in this article, you can ensure your gardening experience can continue to be a pleasant one without your allergies getting in the way.