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Rain coming soon to clean air

We'll all be relieved when the air quality map no longer looks this red. At least there's no purple on it today. (Image courtesy

Storms will help wash away smoke, ash

Help is on the way -- both for firefighters and gardeners.

According to the National Weather Service, rain will start arriving in Northern California late Tuesday night. Sacramento has a 90 percent chance of rain Wednesday, off and on showers Thanksgiving Thursday, then another good soaking on Friday.

Bad for travel, great for air quality. This welcome rain, the first real precipitation of our current season, will wipe away most of the lingering wildfire smoke, ending almost two weeks of unhealthful air. It also (hopefully) will help extinguish the remains of the Camp Fire, the worst in state history.

These storms end a significant dry spell. So far this rain season (which started Oct. 1), Sacramento has received only 0.04 inches; normal is about 3 inches for October and November. Sacramento is expected to get at least a half inch before a sunny Saturday and Sunday.

In anticipation of this storm, turn off the sprinklers this week. Then, plan to get busy next weekend. Soft ground is great for transplanting.

Meanwhile, avoid the bad air outdoors. According to the Sacramento region air quality districts, Sacramento reached 189 Sunday on the Air Quality Index, with 179 predicted Monday. That's unhealthful for outdoor activity. Rain will bring those numbers way down, at least into the moderate range (which is still unhealthful for sensitive individuals).

What is in that bad air? According to, Fine Particulate Matter - known as PM2.5 -- is "a complex mixture that may contain soot, smoke, metals, nitrates, sulfates, dust, water and tire rubber." The AQI measures the particulate level at five sites in Sacramento County plus several other stations in the region. Sacramento's measurement is made at 13th and T streets downtown.

When is the air worse? Usually late at night. According to the National Weather Service, overnight inversion traps pollutants close to the ground. All that smoky air acts like fog, then gradually lifts after dawn.

Here's the forecast timeline for our region. (Image courtesy National Weather Service, Sacramento)


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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