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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Feb. 18:

It's wet to start the week. When you do get outside, between or after storms, concentrate on damage control:

* Keep storm drains and gutters clear of debris.

* Clean up tree debris knocked down by wind and rain.

* Where did the water flow in your garden? Make notes where revisions are necessary.

* Are any trees leaning? See disturbances in the ground or lawn around their base? Time to call an arborist before the tree topples.

* Dump excess water out of pots.

* Indoors, start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed.

* Lettuce and other greens also can be started indoors from seed.

* Got bare-root plants? Put their roots in a bucket of water until outdoor soil dries out. Or pot them up in 1- or 5-gallon containers. In April, transplant the plant, rootball and all, into the garden.

* Browse garden websites and catalogs. It’s not too late to order for spring and summer.

* Show your indoor plants some love. Dust leaves and mist to refresh.

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