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Help your garden cope with wildfire smoke


Ash and residue from wildfire smoke collects on rose leaves in Sacramento. Rinse it off to help plants cope. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)


Rinse off foliage to remove residue; wash veggies and fruit carefully



When you can see the air, stay indoors.

Smoke from the raging Camp Fire burning near Chico continues to fill the Sacramento Valley. According to the Sacramento Region Spare the Air forecast, Sacramento and Yolo counties will be 184 on the Air Quality Index on Monday; 174 is predicted for Tuesday. Anything above 150 is considered unhealthy.

It was worse, particularly in some areas of concentration. A few are surprising. Rio Vista hit 247 at 6 a.m. Monday, according to the air quality districts. At that same time, Arden-Arcade reached 236; downtown Sacramento was 206.

A breeze blew out some of the smoke, but those winds have calmed significantly; good for fire fighting, but not for air quality. Expect this smoke to linger.

The smoke cover dropped daytime temperatures an estimated 10 to 12 degrees from the original forecast. Besides smoky, weather continues to be extremely dry with no rain forecast for at least another week.

When you do go out to your garden, concentrate on hydration. Wash off plant leaves where ash and other particulate matter may have accumulated. Deep-water shrubs and evergreen trees that need a drink.

Plants deal with smoke better than people. They "breathe" carbon dioxide and help purify the air. Our gardens now are doing double duty as smoke filters.

It's the particulate matter in smoke that becomes problematic. It clogs leaf stomata (or pores) and hampers this cleansing process. This residue can coat the outside of vegetables and fruit, too.

To remove that residue, spray plants with water, preferably early in the morning so leaves have a chance to dry.

Are veggies and fruit exposed to smoke safe to eat? In most cases, yes. Grapes and tomatoes, which tend to be most smoke-sensitive, are already harvested. It's the apples, persimmons and leafy greens that are a concern now.

Ash forms a gritty coating on fruit and vegetables that tends to stick to skin and leaves. That smoky residue may be scrubbed off with water and a little dish soap, then rinsed and dried. For leafy greens, submerge completely in a basin filled with water and a teaspoon of soap, scrub, rinse and pat dry.

If working around ash, wear protective clothing such as long sleeves, long pants, gloves, goggles and a face mask, recommend UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners. If ash gets on your skin, wash off promptly.

Don't use leafblowers for ash removal. It just puts it back into the air.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist for week of April 7

The warm wave coming this week will shift weeds into overdrive. Get to work!

* Weed, weed, weed! Whack them before they flower.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash. Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias. Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom. April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce and cabbage seedlings.

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