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The Plant Doctor: Itch to garden should not be prevented by allergies

Two things many gardeners can be assured of with the coming of spring: first, the urge to put away the snow shovel and bring out the rake, and second, encountering a vast variety of airborne pollen that settles in and on everything in sight, including the gardener’s nose.

Between the sneezing and wheezing, the gardener attempts to cope with preparing the garden for spring planting and the beauty that will follow during the summer.

Allergies are essentially a misguided immune response, or in this case, a reaction to common airborne substances such as pollen and mold. Don’t blame the plants; pollen encases the sperm nuclei and was a major adaptation for sexual reproduction for land plants.

The countless dust-like particles released in the air are not searching for your nose, rather they are hoping to encounter the female receptacle, the stigma portion of a pistillate flower.

However, when you inhale the offending allergen, your immune system releases histamine and other inflammatory substances, resulting in swollen sinuses, itchy eyes and other annoyances.

It is estimated that some 35 million people are affected by seasonal allergies. The most common agent for the hay fever sufferer, as indicated previously, is the pollen produced by wind-pollinated plants.

Grasses, many trees and weeds produce phenomenal amounts of pollen that can travel for miles and are easily inhaled. Fortunately, most vegetable and ornamental plants are either self-pollinating or insect-pollinated, resulting in very little airborne pollen.

The peak season is June to early frost when most pollen-producing plants are in full bloom, but don’t tell that to allergy sufferers who begin to sneeze and feel miserable in May.

Coping with seasonal allergies obviously begins with minimizing your exposure to allergens. Some suggestions include gardening in late morning or early afternoon, when pollen counts are less, and on cool, cloudy days, which results in less exposure to these allergy-inducing substances.

Head indoors when the wind picks up, particularly during a hot, dry day. Windy days also stir up the pollen that has settled on the ground and make exposure far more likely.

Although the view of gardeners with goggles or masks is something out of science fiction, it does work. You be the judge — appearance or discomfort.

Avoid touching your eyes and nose while in the garden, and wash your hands thoroughly when the task is competed. While washing your hands, consider laundering your outdoor gardening clothing, which should be done frequently.

Finally, the route most often taken by those who will not give up gardening because of the pesky allergen is a trip to an allergy specialist who will determine what substances you are most allergic to and prescribe an appropriate medication that will inhibit the production of histamines and other reactions that cause allergy symptoms.

The arsenal for treating allergies improves each year and includes a regimen of immunotherapy shots that can lessen the symptoms in severe cases to cortisone-containing nasal sprays that decrease nasal congestion and sinus inflammation in other cases.

With prudence, patience and common sense, there is no reason allergies should stop your itch to garden.

Good luck…“achoo”…bless you.

Questions or concerns about houseplants or gardening may be addressed by e-mail to

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