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Smoky skies serve as a reminder of fire danger

Red Flag Warning means be cautious; what Sacramento-area gardeners need to know

With smoke in the air, be sure to wash particulate dust off any produce before consuming it -- including those snack-perfect cherry tomatoes.

With smoke in the air, be sure to wash particulate dust off any produce before consuming it -- including those snack-perfect cherry tomatoes. Kathy Morrison

We’re in the midst of California fire season. If you need any reminders, just go outside.

Hazy skies are due to smoke from six major wildfires burning in Northern California plus more in southern Oregon. The closest blaze is more than 200 miles away, but the smoke is funneling into the Sacramento Valley and floating our way.

And we’re surrounded by potential fire danger. Due to our wet winter, there’s an abundance of plant material throughout our region. Recent triple-digit weather dried annual weeds and grasses tinder-crisp. That’s fuel for hungry wildfire.

“A Red Flag Warning remains in effect through 8 PM today for portions of the Sacramento Valley,” tweeted the NWS Sacramento office on Wednesday morning. “Breezy winds & very dry conditions will create critical fire weather conditions. Be sure to use extra caution if using outdoor equipment and keep vehicles off of dry grass!”

In the afternoon, winds will push some of the haze out of the Sacramento area, but we can’t breathe easier.

“The smoke and haze present across much of the Valley this morning will diminish briefly this afternoon,” says the weather service. “However, we're expecting haze/smoke to return overnight and into Thursday morning.”

To check your local air quality, go to: http://airnow.gov

Low humidity, gusty winds and plenty of dry fuel can be a recipe for catastrophe. On Wednesday, humidity levels will dip down to 5 to 17% with wind gusts of up to 35 mph, says the weather service.

“Fire safety should be exercised to prevent fires,” it adds. “Always have an emergency plan if a fire starts near you.”

All it takes is a spark. A metal blade of a lawnmower or trimmer against a rock can ignite dry grass. A vehicle parked on dry grass or weeds can start a fire, too. So can a chain dragging from the back of a trailer. Use extra caution.

As for the hazy skies, tomatoes, peppers and other ripening vegetables could be dusted with fine particulate matter. Make sure to wash anything you harvest before eating. (No backyard cherry tomato-munching right off the vine.)

Spider mites love these dry, hazy, dusty conditions. Take out the hose and give your tomato vines and rose bushes a morning shower; that will knock mites off and refresh plants.

So far, there hasn’t been enough smoke in our area to worry about smoke taint, the absorption of smoke flavors through the skin of ripening fruit. But that could be an issue for grape and fruit growers closer to the fires in Trinity, Humboldt and Siskiyou.

As we know from fire seasons past, conditions can change dramatically in a hurry. It’s better to be prepared.

For tips: https://www.readyforwildfire.org/.

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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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