Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Joel Hall

After several snow storms and heavy amounts of rain this winter, the time has come for green thumbs to rejoice -- and allergy sufferers to lament.

Today, at 1:32 p.m., marks the Vernal Equinox, the official start of spring.

With warmer weather expected in the days ahead, planters are preparing for the gardening season and pharmacists are preparing for higher pollen counts.

According to Vaughn Smith, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, 1:32 p.m., marks the dividing line between 12 hours of night and 12 equal hours of sunlight, which only happens during the Vernal Equinox. While rain is expected to continue in the final days of March, he said he believes warmer temperatures are ahead.

"It looks, for the most part, that we are into a warming trend right now," Smith said. "It's been a little cooler than normal and a little wetter than normal, but nothing out of the ordinary. For the most part, it looks like winter is over. Usually, if we don't get any winter precipitation in March, it is kind of hard to get it in April."

Debbie Woods, co-owner of Debbie's Flowers at the State Farmers Market in Forest Park, said that while cold weather has kept some plants from blooming, high amounts of rain over the winter may usher in an early planting season.

"Usually [around] this time of year, the ground is hard, and it's really hard to start planting, but now is a good time because of all the rain we've had," Wood said. "The ground's good and soft. The number one thing going right now are palms ... cabbage palms, windmill palms, pindo palms. You can plant them, and you don't really have to worry about them. They live year round, and people really want that tropical look."

April, May, and June are the big-selling months for plants, according to Woods. In the beginning of spring, she said, gardeners will focus on shrubbery, such as mandevilla and hibiscus, and by the second or third week of April, will begin planting bedding plants, such as impatiens, marigolds, petunias, snapdragons, and day lilies.

People with pollen allergies, however, are likely to be suffering from the effects of birch, oak, and pecan trees at this time, rather than flowers, according to Dr. Rayasam Prasad, of Allergy and Asthma Specialists, P.C., which has offices in Stockbridge and Locust Grove.

The yellow stuff starting to slowly accumulate on cars is not likely the culprit, he said.

"Things like dogwood and pine [trees] -- they look like a big problem, but they're not as airborne," Prasad said. He said that later in the year, around the middle of May and into June, grass pollens will be affecting those with allergies.

Prasad said roughly 20 to 25 percent of the population suffers nasal allergy symptoms, but they can generally be controlled through medication. He suggests that those suffering allergy symptoms first try over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Zyrtec or Claritin, which have become much less likely to cause drowsiness than in the past.

If that doesn't work, he said, those with allergies should consult a physician, who may prescribe a nasal spray.

-- Staff writer Mike Davis contributed to this article