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Coast Gardener

Some gardeners fight allergies
Coast Gardener Newspaper and Web Column - July 28, 2001

There's nothing quite as annoying as suffering from a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes while eagerly working in your garden. Every other breath is followed by a sneeze, and you suddenly wonder if gardening is really worth the trouble. Readers, has this happened to any of you?

Working in the garden for allergy sufferers can seem more like torture than enjoyment. I certainly have had my share of sneezing and wheezing fits! Research suggests that about 20 percent of all gardeners suffer from allergic reactions to plants in their landscapes. Fortunately, most flowers and vegetables do not product the types of pollen that produce allergic reactions. Wind-pollinated plants, such as weeds, trees and grasses produce pollen that is the most aggravating. Only about 10 percent of about three hundred flowering plant families use wind for pollination.

Plants that have ugly or drab flowers arranged in clusters or tassels are usually the ones that provoke allergic reactions. The flowers with showy petals like petunias, impatiens and pansies have sticky pollen that seems to cause very little reaction. However, plants such as roses, gardenias, narcissus and jasmine are known to cause problems with some people. Any plant can potentially cause an allergic reaction, but some are more prone to cause reactions than others.

High-allergy plants include oak, cypress, ligustrum, birch, willow, sycamore, rose, ash, juniper and mulberry. Low-allergy plants include pine, magnolia, yucca, pyracantha, viburnam, dogwood, fig, hibiscus, boxwood and plum. Native grasses rarely cause problems, but many people are sensitive to imported common Bermudagrass. The pollen season for this grass is generally June through September. Hybrid Bermudagrass produces less or no pollen. The popular St. Augustinegrass is also a good choice for those who are sensitive.

Several houseplants are good choices for allergy sufferers. They include the airplane plant, kalanchoe, prayer plant and Christmas or Thanksgiving cacti.

If you do suffer from allergies, consider letting someone else mow your lawn. If that is not possible, wear a tight fitting dust mask. Believe me, it makes a world of difference.

Keep your lawn mowed as short as possible to reduce pollen head formation by certain grass species. Always follow recommended mowing heights for your particular type of grass. Consider mowing your lawn before the dew has completely dried to cut down on dust and pollen clouds. Lightly water your lawn after mowing it to help settle dust and pollen as well.

Keep the windows and doors tightly closed during times of yard work. Keep filters cleaned or changed in air conditioning units.

Take care to wear long sleeve shirts, long pants and gloves when weeding flower beds or using any products that may cause an allergic reaction. Avoid handling plants like poison shoemake and poison ivy or oak that are known for causing allergic reactions.

Taking a few necessary precautions can greatly reduce allergic reactions to your plant material. Do not let allergies ruin your gardening enjoyment.

These archived gardening columns were written by Chance McDavid, former Harrison County Extension Agent.