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Ozone can be stressing your garden

Hot, smoky conditions create dangerous pollutant levels

Leaves, with one showing ozone damage
These pictures compare a normal tulip tree leaf
and one exposed to too much ozone.
(Photos courtesy National Park Service)

Smoky skies and record heat make gardening -- or just about any outdoor activity -- intolerable right now. Usually our gardens cope better with these conditions than we do; they can filter out the pollutants and conserve their resources.

But the air is so bad now, even plants are feeling ill effects.

Today (Monday) will be the 22nd consecutive Spare the Air Day for the Bay Area -- and the greater Sacramento region, a record for this current streak of poor air quality. Driving, operating gas-powered equipment, barbecuing and other activities are discouraged (if not prohibited).

The past few days that bad air has been accompanied by excessive heat, creating a ground-hugging layer of ozone. That's making our eyes water -- and our plants suffer.

Ozone is created by a combination of wildfire ash and other pollutants (usually nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds), intensified by bright sunlight and triple-digit heat. It can prevent a plant's leaves from properly doing their job. Ozone enters the leaves' stomata and burns the leaves' tissue.

Signs of ozone damage include dark stippling and bleaching of foliage. Plants lose their vigor and stop blooming or yielding fruit. Ozone damage weakens the plant and makes it much more susceptible to pests and disease.

What can you do to help your plants cope? Keep them hydrated. Offer them some afternoon shade. Wash ash and soot from leaves.

And continue to "Spare the Air." These smoky conditions are expected to last at least through Wednesday.


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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