Do you find yourself sniffling when sniffing your flowers? Sneezing in your garden? Coughing after mowing the lawn? You may be one of the 40 million Americans who have allergies.
That's according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, which tracks the issue.
"People really want to spend their time outdoors," says AAFA's Mike Tringale, who urges people who suspect they have an allergy to get tested by a doctor. "It's important to know you have an allergy to X or Y, because then you know what to avoid and how to treat it."
Even if you have an allergy, that doesn't mean you have to avoid the outdoors or gardening.
"You don't need 100 percent removal to have a good outcome," says Tringale, who recommends limiting time spent outdoors during the morning, when pollination happens.
Also know that certain allergies peak during different times of the year. Tree allergies spike in spring; grass allergies are at their worst during the summer; and weeds cause more allergies in the fall.
Megan Brown of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology suggests checking the pollen count in your area before starting any yardwork.
You can sign up for email alerts from the National Allergy Bureau, which claims to have "the most accurate and reliable pollen and mold levels from approximately 85 counting stations throughout the United States, two counting stations in Canada, and two counting stations in Argentina."
If possible, garden on cool or cloudy days, when pollen counts are typically low. Be sure to close your house and car windows during and after your gardening to keep airborne pollen out of your living areas.
*What To Plant
Allergies can be irritated by pollen, but as Tringale notes, "it's not all pollens. It's primarily those pollens that travel on the wind."
He recommends planting "fruit"-bearing plants -- such as tulip trees, rosebushes and azaleas -- that are not wind-pollinated; bees and other insects carry pollen flower to flower to cross-pollinate these plants. The pollen from fruit-bearing trees typically won't fly around or linger in the wind, because it tends to be heavier than airborne pollen.
Garden and nursery experts can suggest which fruit-bearing plants would be best for you. Examples include begonias, daisies, sunflowers, zinnias, St. Augustine grass, hibiscuses, hydrangeas, dogwoods and plums.
Avoid plants that can aggravate allergies -- such as Bermuda grass, redtop, junipers, ashes, beeches, hickories, maples, mulberries, oaks, poplars, sycamores, willows, ragweed, Russian thistle and sagebrush.
*What To Wear
Even if you're limiting your garden irritants through strategic planting, follow AAAAI's advice to avoid touching your eyes or face when doing yardwork.
Protect your skin, your nose and your eyes from coming into contact with pollen, which can trigger an allergy attack.
"Wear a NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) mask while gardening to minimize your exposure," says Tringale, who also advises wearing gloves, glasses, a hat and long sleeves while doing yardwork.
Once you're done outdoors, leave tools, gloves and shoes outside. Shake out your clothing and wash it to minimize the risk of re-exposing yourself to allergens.
Shower and wash your hair, as well, to make sure you're removing any lingering pollen.
AAFA recommends keeping grass about 2 inches high. That short height will help keep pollen low to the ground and out of the wind. The foundation also recommends keeping hedges trimmed, because the shrubs are easy collection spots for pollen and other allergens.
Wood chips may seem like a great base for your plantings, but think again. The chips hold on to moisture, which promotes mold, another allergen. Instead of wood chips, use gravel or shells to dress up your plantings and minimize allergy risks.
If avoiding allergy triggers isn't enough to minimize your discomfort, check with your doctor about allergy shots or other medicine to provide additional relief from allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, coughing and watery eyes.