Tips for Gardening When You Have a Pollen Allergy

Can't stop sniffling and sneezing? An allergist shares simple tips to keep you gardening through the spring pollen allergy season.

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pollen allergy, zinniaCourtesy Julie Droppleman
Zinnias reproduce via insects. Bees love them and they’re easy on allergies.

If you have a pollen allergy, you may dread spring garden chores. And you’re definitely not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say about 7.2% of adults have seasonal allergies. Many landscapes are full of allergens, including pollen from trees, weeds and grasses; mold and microorganisms found in decomposing leaves, mulch and compost; insect venom; and irritating saps or oils.

But don’t hang up the gardening gloves just yet. Warren Filley, an allergist who helped develop guidelines to let patients garden more comfortably, gives us his best tips.

Black-eyed Susan flowers in bloomCourtesy Britney Fox
Bees and butterflies love rudbeckia blooms

Plant Pollinators’ Favorite Flowers

Here is the great news: The plants we love for their big, pretty blooms are the same ones that Warren recommends for a low-allergen garden. He says they’re better because insects pollinate them. Plants that rely on the wind to spread their pollen are more likely to trigger allergies. So plant your garden full of the showiest flowers you can find, like smooth hydrangeas, blue false indigo, coral bells or rudbeckia, and watch the bees and butterflies enjoy them, too. Try planting these go-to flowers for butterfly gardens.

Flowering trees like magnolia, serviceberry and dogwood also rely on insects to pollinate them. Even better, those flowers turn into fruits that may attract birds and wildlife to our yards.

Replace Grass With Ground Cover

Warren points out that pollen has the potential to travel vast distances, so removing large trees “is not practical—or even desirable.” You can avoid stirring up clouds of pollen by replacing grass with a ground cover that does not require mowing. Take a peek at some of our favorite drought tolerant ground cover plants. If you don’t want to give up your lawn, consider hiring someone to handle this chore.

blanket flowerCourtesy Susan Oliver Edmonds
Blanket flower

Avoid Other Allergens and Irritants

Always remove poison ivy, stinging nettle and other irritating plants from your yard. Be sure to wear gloves when handling less abrasive plants like blanket flower, bleeding heart, amaryllis or baby’s breath. Check out more invasive and poisonous plants you should avoid.

Learn to Manage a Pollen Allergy

Warren emphasized that the most effective way to manage allergies is to “get tested, get treated.” It is important to know what you are allergic to—or if you are allergic at all. Sneezing can be a sign of allergies, but it can also be caused by irritants that are better controlled by masks than medication. Testing will tell you what to avoid and what can bring you relief.

Get the Right Garden Gear

Wear a face mask when mowing the lawn, raking leaves, turning compost or spreading mulch. Goggles, sun hats, gardening gloves and long sleeve shirts also help.

Remove gardening shoes and outerwear outdoors after completing work in the garden. Shower and change clothes immediately after coming inside.

Consider Allergy Treatments

Start any recommended preventive medications about a week before pollen season begins. Use saline rinses and sprays as directed to help remove allergens and irritants from your nasal passages.

Next, check out the best tips to make your garden greener.

Helen Newling Lawson
Helen Newling Lawson is an Atlanta-based garden writer and retail partnership marketing coach for Monrovia. Her byline has appeared in Birds & Blooms, Country Gardens, Georgia Magazine, Nursery Management, State-by-State Gardening and Atlanta Parent. Lawson, a lifelong gardener, has been a University of Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer since 2002. She earned the Georgia Certified Plant Professional certification in 2017.