Can Smoke From Wildfires Affect The Health Of Your Garden?

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In an ever-increasing global world, what happens in one corner of the globe can have rippling effects far away. Such is the case with wildfires on the west coast. All that smoke and ash can waft for hundreds, even thousands, of miles across the country. Much of it finds its way here, where it negatively impacts the entire state of Washington’s air quality. Have you ever wondered what kind of impact these wildfires have on your garden? Today, we’ll explore that topic.

wildfire smoke and your garden's health

How Wildfire Smoke And Air Pollution Affects Gardens

The Good

Surprisingly, wildfire smoke has both positive and negative impacts on plants. One study done by the American Geophysical Union found that, in some ways, the lack of light caused by smoke and ash made plants more efficient. Now, in this particular study, they focused on agricultural plants like corn and alfalfa. Scientists discovered that plants actually doubled their light use efficiency between 1.2 – 4.2%. If you’ve noticed how hazy the sky gets during the day, you may be wondering: how could plants possibly thrive without direct sunlight? The answer is because the smoke has a scattering effect, which allows the Sun’s energy to penetrate more deeply into the plant canopies than it could normally.

As fascinating as this study is, the negative impacts far outweigh the good. Sure, farmers will probably be happy to see increased crop yields, but the impact is not so grand for those of us with gardens, lawns, and ornamental trees.

The Bad

When wildfires rage across the west coast, ash can becomes so thick, it looks like snow. You may have even noticed a white powdery coating on your lawn or garden plants. Should you be worried about this ash damaging your plants? The short answer is no. Much of this ash is the result of burned-up trees, which create wood ash. This material can actually act as a kind of mulch. Believe it or not, all that wood ash from the wildfire contains loads of potassium, phosphorous, calcium, and other minerals. If there is just a bit of ash covering the garden, you can work it into the soil so the plants can take advantage of the nutrients.

But as the old saying goes: all things in moderation. When that ash becomes too thick, it can smother your garden – especially your lawn. The grass isn’t meant to grow tall like trees, and so if ash accumulates enough, it’s easy to cover the grass entirely. Further, ash obstructs the movement of carbon dioxide that the plant leaves need to “inhale” to breathe – in the same way, we need to breathe in oxygen. Lack of CO2 for plants leads to water loss and creates the same impact a severe drought would have.

Unfortunately, all that smoke can also make it harder to consume any garden fruits or vegetables you may be growing. If ash has fallen on your garden, be sure to wash produce multiple times before consuming it. And be sure to follow your nose. If your fruit and vegetables still smell like smoke even after multiple washes, refrain from eating them. And unfortunately, even “short-term” exposure, defined as 20 minutes or less, can reduce photosynthesis by as much as 50%. The smoke destroys the chlorophyll, the pigment that gives plants their green coloring and absorbs nutrients from the sun. When plants can’t photosynthesize, it stunts their growth.

How To Mitigate Smoke Damage In Gardens

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Wash Off Everything

If it’s safe to do so, use the irrigation system or garden hose to wash off plants starting at the top and working your way down to the roots. This will help prevent particles from accumulating and affecting the smell and taste of the plants. Another good thing to do is install a layer of mulch if you haven’t already. This will protect the roots of your trees, shrubs, flowers, or vegetables from absorbing any chemicals that might be lingering in the air. In fact, more than 100 different compounds have been found in wildfire smoke, including toxins like nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone.

Get Professional Lawn And Tree Care

A certified arborist or lawn care technician will be able to assess if your plants are struggling after a bout with wildfire smoke. At Colonial Lawn & Garden, we’ll work with you to help get your plants back on track and rebound through pest control, fertilization, and we can even tune-up your sprinkler system so you can wash all the ash away with ease.

Keep Your Yard Healthy – Call Colonial Lawn & Garden

If wildfire smoke has taken a toll on your yard’s health, give the experts at Colonial Lawn & Garden a call. Our lawn care services will replenish nutrients, so your grass grows lush and thick, and our tree care program will rejuvenate your plants after the devastating wildfire smoke blown in from out west. To learn more or schedule an appointment, give us a call today at (509) 966-1655 for service in Yakima, and for the tri-city region, call (509) 371-1655. Or you can request a free estimate online here. And don’t forget to check out our blog next month for more helpful advice on lawn and tree care! Can’t wait until next month? Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on the latest news!