26 June 2023
Wildfire season has begun in many places around the world. The dangerous smoke wildfires produce can spread far and wide. It blocks sunlight, poisons the air, and damages health of people and other living things.
Some of those living things could be the plants in your garden, says gardening expert Jessica Damiano. She writes gardening stories for the Associated Press.
Damiano lives in New York City and recently experienced several days of very smoky air. Wildfires in eastern Canada were the source.
Damiano, like other people, limited the time she spent outdoors when the air quality was poor. She also wore a face covering, or mask, when she had to go outside.
But the plants in her garden had no such escape. They had to breathe the poisoned air through the extremely small pores in their leaves.
Brooke Edmunds is a plant scientist and community horticulturalist with Oregon State University Extension. She said plants subjected to smoke for a short amount of time will usually "bounce back," or recover quickly.
"It depends on how close you are," she said. "There could also be a localized effect, where one garden is covered in ash, and a half-mile away, there's nothing because that's the way the wind was moving things around."
Pollutants and small particulate matter landing on your plants can block sunlight, which is essential for photosynthesis. Reduced photosynthesis results in reduced energy. That means slower growth.
Additionally, with longer exposure, organic compounds found in smoke can interfere with a plant's ability to take in nutrients. Any damage will not be noticeable right away.
The best thing home gardeners can do is "keep an eye on plants," Edmunds advises. She suggests giving your plants some extra love and care for the entire season after exposure.
"Most will pull through," Edmunds added.
Wash your plants with a gentle spray from a hose to remove substances left by smoke. Then give them a long, slow drink of water. Also, hold off on fertilizer until the air clears and plants fully recover.
Edmunds said people should not use leaf blower machines to remove ashes from plants. You do not want to risk breathing in what is blowing around.
"Always protect yourself as the gardener," she said.
Ash can change soil chemistry. If you find more than a dusting of ashes in your garden after a wildfire, bring a little of it to an expert for testing.
And if you live in an area where wildfires are common, plant smoke-resistant species that will better withstand future exposures. Native plants are usually stronger than those from other areas.
Finally, if you find ash on vegetables and other food plants, Edmunds suggests washing them before eating them. Use a solution of one part vinegar and nine parts water. Or, she said, take the skin off the vegetable. The ash is on the surface only. Your food will be safe and tasty!
I'm Caty Weaver.
The Associated Press reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English.
Words in This Story
pore – n. a minute opening especially in an animal or plant
horticulturalist – n. a person whose work involves growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, or ornamental plants
particulate – n. of, relating to, or existing in the form of minute separate particles
photosynthesis – n. the process by which plants and some bacteria and protists that contain chlorophyll make carbohydrates from water and from carbon dioxide in the air in the presence of light
species – n. a class of things of the same kind and with the same name