Healthy Gardening Dos and Don’ts

By Pat Lawson Muse
|  Tuesday, May 3, 2011  |  Updated 7:24 AM EDT
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<a title=Dr. Jackie Eghrari-Sabet, of Family Allergy & Asthma Care in Gaithersburg, Md., on limiting asthma and allergy problems when gardening." />

Dr. Jackie Eghrari-Sabet, of Family Allergy & Asthma Care in Gaithersburg, Md., on limiting asthma and allergy problems when gardening.

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Now that May is here, it's time to put that green thumb to work.

The trouble is, if you suffer from allergies, your time in the garden can mean misery.

How do you stay well while potting your petunias? The key is knowing what “not” to plant.

“The garden should not be just another old boys’ club,” said Dr. Jackie Eghrari-Sabet, of Family Allergy & Asthma Care in Gaithersburg, Md. “The female plants and trees are the ones that bear the fruit or bear the nuts. The males are the ones that have the tall stalks that are filled with pollen. You see this particularly with pine trees.”

As for flowers, roses are best. Bright, showy, large and fragrant flowers make the least amount of pollen. So go for the gusto. Avoid the smaller, light -colored ones. White and light greenish flowers are the worst. 

“They’re the ones with the most pollen,” said Dr. Jackie.    

And while for many warm, sunny days are like magnets that draw them to their gardens, hot windy days are the worst for allergies. Cool, cloudy, damp days are best for weeding and planting. Pollen levels are lower and of course rain washes that pollen away.

Now, before hopping onto your mower to cut your grass, try donning a face mask. And steer clear of ornamental grasses, the ones with those fluffy, flowery tops that can grow several inches per day. They will pollinate when you cut the grass. Also, most people think they’re allergic to the grass itself, but what they’re really allergic to is the mold that’s on the blade of the grass. 

We all know composting is a healthy treat for your garden and the earth, but beware of the compost pile.

“All sorts of things lurk in the compost pile, particularly mold,” said Dr. Jackie.  “Get somebody else to do the turning for you or wear a mask,” she said. 

If you suffer from asthma, take extra care when using fertilizers and weed killers. They can make your asthma worse.  In fact, they can actually cause asthma in people who’ve  never had it before.

“These are caustic substances,” said Dr. Jackie. “So be really careful, and be sure to wash your hands. They can poison you."

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