For many Tucson gardeners, spring represents the best of times and the worst of times to be outdoors.
Of course, now's the time to put in the summer veggie garden and add to the landscape.
It's also pollen high season for many plants, which send hay fever symptoms into overdrive.
You can't eliminate the triggers for allergic rhinitis from your yard, says Dr. Randy Horwitz, an allergist with the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
"Pollen can be windblown for miles and miles," explains Horwitz, the center's medical director.
But you can try to lower your exposure around your house, he suggests, which might lessen your allergy woes.
For instance, if you suffer from symptoms because of Bermuda grass, you'll be more affected if you have it in your yard "because the local concentration is going to be higher," he says.
Trees, grasses and weeds are major allergy culprits in Tucson, says Horwitz. Most people don't seem to be allergic to ornamental plants such as succulents and flowering bushes.
He confirms the observations of Russ Buhrow, curator of plants at Tohono Chul Park, avid gardener and allergy sufferer.
"Allergenic plants, in general, are wind-pollinated plants," says Buhrow. Those plants depend on moving air to get pollen from one specimen to another.
Plants with showy flowers generally are pollinated by insects, birds and other animals that carry pollen from specimen to specimen, he adds.
Airborne pollen exists in greater numbers than the other kind in order to effectively pollinate, says Horwitz.
If you don't easily see flowers on a plant, it likely triggers allergies, says Buhrow.
"Plants with flowers that are relatively invisible or greenish and little - most of those are allergenic," he says.
Buhrow names other plants that cause few or no allergy symptoms:
• ironwood tree
• some palo verde
• Texas ranger
• Texas mountain laurel.
Allergist Dr. Randy Horwitz suggests the best way to avoid hay fever symptoms is to stay indoors and keep windows closed when allergy triggers are around.
Recognizing that few avid gardeners would follow that advice, he offers these tips to reduce exposure:
• Garden just after sunrise. The highest pollen counts occur at mid-day and throughout the afternoon.
• Wear a pollen or dust mask. Throw it away when you're done since it's not washable and will have pollen on it.
• Avoid tracking pollen into the house. Change clothes right away and take a shower.
• Use an air filter in the house. Make sure it has a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter that traps pollen.
Feed, fertilize, plant and prune this month
Here's a to-do list of things to do around the yard in March, one of the busiest times for gardening. These come courtesy of the Pima Cooperative Extension's master gardener program.
• Plant trees and shrubs. March is a prime-time planting month because mild temperatures allow specimens to get established before the heat shows up.
• Fertilize non-native trees. Feed with high-nitrogen fertilizer before new growth appears. Spread the fertilizer around the tree to beyond the edge of the branches and water to help the food soak into the ground.
• Harvest some fruit from deciduous trees. These include apple, peach and apricot. This thinning will help increase the size of the remaining fruit.
• Get warm-season vegetables planted. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, summer squash, melon and sweet corn, among other heat-loving veggies, need to be well-established before the June heat sets in.
• Prune away frost damage. Once weather reports indicate less likelihood of freeze, you can trim away the dead parts of your plants.
• Control spider mites. These critters that look like moving specks of dust can damage evergreen plants. Knock them off with strong jets of water from the hose.
Contact local freelance writer Elena Acoba at firstname.lastname@example.org