Allergies and the Gardener by PJ LaRue Smith.
How many gardeners have expressed this sad lament, “I love the outdoors, but it sure doesn’t love me back!” Allergies have long been the bane of many a gardener, many of whom would like to spend more time in the garden, but when they do, suffer miserably with sinus congestion, watery eyes, and sneezes galore.
But now, the air is cooler, a little rain has fallen, and ragweed, (what little grew during this dry fall) has met an early demise. A perfect time for most gardeners to prepare for next spring’s vegetable and flower gardens. Unfortunately, for allergy sufferers who are particularly sensitive to cedar pollen, this time of year often proves worse than all of the others combined.
“Cedar fever” as some call it, is not actually caused by true cedars, but by one of two juniper species. Juniperus ashei (commonly known as Mountain Cedar) is a drought tolerant small evergreen tree, native to northeastern Mexico and the south-central United States north to Missouri; however the largest stands are found in central Texas, particularly along the Edwards Plateau.
Juniperus virginiana (commonly known as Eastern Red-cedar or Red Cedar) is native to eastern North America, from southeastern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, east of the Great Plains; and in Texas, where it is most prevalent in the post oak savannah area of the state.
Various locations in Hunt County have both of these species present, which makes the allergy season twice as long for those who are sensitive. Mountain Cedar, the more potent allergen producer, sheds pollen from November until February; Eastern Red Cedar, no slouch on the allergen scale itself, produces pollen from late December thru March, and sometimes even into April.
General tips for getting through this time period follow:
Outdoor precautions: When driving, keep the car windows up and set the heat/AC on recirculate. Pay attention to pollen counts. Peak pollen production is between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., and pollen counts are highest on warm sunny days. Windy days will drive pollen into eyes and deeper into sinuses. If your eyes are particularly sensitive, wear large sunglasses or goggles. A painter’s mask can be worn to keep the pollen from entering the mouth and nose.
Indoor precautions: Keep doors and windows closed (even on nice days). Run the AC when pollen counts are high. Consider the use of a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to limit pollen infiltration in to the AC system. Dust regularly using a damp cloth, and vacuum carpets with a vacuum equiped with a HEPA filter. Take a shower and change clothes after being outdoors for a long period of time. (This includes your spouse as well. Even if they are not allergic, they will transfer pollen onto pillowcases, furniture, etc.) Bathe indoor pets often. (They go outside to do their “business” and pollen comes back in on their coats.)
For those whose allergies are particularly severe, recommendations include visiting your doctor in early fall to update any treatment plan; stocking up on prescription allergy medication; as well as eliminating male cedar trees in the yard and replacing with good hardwoods (oak, ash, elm, etc.)
Want to know more about pollens in our area? Visit www.pollenlibrary.com. One source for local pollen counts is www.pollen.com. Dallas-based news station’s websites provide pollen information as well. Stay informed and be sure to follow your doctors orders for a more enjoyable winter season!