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Allergy-Free Gardening

If you dream of the perfect garden but dread the pollen, here’s how to control your allergies while you're creating that inviting landscape.


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Choose the Right Plants

Go for plants with bright, aromatic flowers. In general, flowering plants are pollinated by insects, not the wind. Their pollen is usually too big to get in the air and cause allergy symptoms.

Choose native plants. They're easier to grow, because they're already adapted to the climate. Nonnative plants are more likely to struggle -- and stressed plants tend to release more pollen.

Ask for female trees. It might sound strange, but most pollen comes from male trees. They're sometimes advertised as "seedless" or "fruitless." To breathe easier, plant a female tree that won't release pollen.

Remove high-pollen plants and trees from your yard. At the very least, keep them far away from windows and doors, so their pollen doesn't get inside.

Looking for specifics about what to plant? Good choices include:

  • Flowering plants like begonias, crocuses, daffodils, daisies, geraniums, hostas, impatiens, irises, lilies, pansies, periwinkles, petunias, phlox, salvia, snapdragons, sunflowers, and tulips
  • Grasses like St. Augustine
  • Shrubs like azalea, boxwood, hibiscus, and hydrangea
  • Trees like apple, cherry, dogwood, magnolia, plum, and red maple

Bad choices, which are likely to cause allergy symptoms, include:

  • Trees like ash, beech, cedar, cottonwood, maple, oak, olive, walnut, and willow
  • Shrubs like cypress and juniper
  • Grasses like Bermuda, Johnson, rye, and Timothy

Be Prepared for Gardening

Use antihistamines. Take them before you go outside to work in the garden.  

Garden when pollen counts are low. Usually, the early morning and late evening are best. Pollen counts are higher in the late morning and middle of the day.

Check the forecast. Pollen counts are lower on cool, cloudy, or damp days. They're higher on dry, windy days.  

Wear the right clothing. Choose long-sleeved shirts and pants to protect your skin from pollen and mold. Wear gloves and sunglasses or goggles. Consider a dust mask.

Don't touch your face and eyes while working outdoors.

Don't mow the lawn yourself. It kicks pollen into the air -- and not just grass pollen. Ask a family member to handle the lawn care or hire someone to do it.

Clean-up After Gardening

After gardening, you'll have pollen and mold on your body and clothes. To prevent problems, keep those triggers out of the house and clean up as soon as possible.

Leave gloves and tools outside. That way you won't track in triggers.

Change clothing. Try to remove outer clothing outside and leave it there. Bag it up later and take it right to the laundry room.

Shower. Get the allergens off your skin and out of your hair as quickly as possible. Wash your hair before bed -- otherwise you'll be inhaling allergens all night from your pillow.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 12, 2012

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