Returning to gardening as the weather gets back to normal. As the winds turn and we get back to normal late summer/early fall, we can hopefully soon return to all those garden tasks that we delayed for our safety. First, take a moment to be thankful to be lucky enough to have a yard and garden to return to, and to send good thoughts to those not so fortunate. I’d like to address a couple of the questions and comments I’ve been hearing about what sort of shape your plants might be in, and how this may affect them.
Ash: A light but substantial dusting of ash fell during the first days of the smokey skies; many of us old-timers have been comparing it to the ash-falls from Mt. St. Helens back in 1980. Small amounts of wood ash are generally not damaging to plants – in fact, wood ashes are sometimes used as an organic fertilizer, providing potassium as well as some minor nutrients – but it is alkaline. Ash film over leaves can also reduce photosynthesis and plant respiration, slowing growth and increasing stress. As of this point, the amount of ash we have seen is unlikely to have any significant effect, good or bad, on most plants; however, it wouldn’t hurt to gently spray down your plants and wash the ash down to soil level. It will tend to stick to heavily textured or hairy leaves – don’t worry too much about getting every bit, nor resort to really upping the hose pressure to try to blast it off. This ash will also be all over all of your vegetables and herbs, so make sure to wash them more thoroughly before eating.
Water: Early on we had conditions that were ideal for fire, and about as bad as it can get for plants. High air temperatures, strong winds, and extremely low humidity stripped the water right out of plants almost as fast as it could be applied. By the end of last week, the winds died down and the heavy blanket of smoke dramatically reduced the air temperature – possibly by 30 degrees or more. And this weekend and forward, humidity has increased to dew point every morning. This is helping the fire situation, and also helping your plants stay wet. When you can safely get out and work, survey everything to see what water needs really are – don’t automatically assume either that everything needs lots of water or that nothing does. You are likely to find some variety in water needs.
“Tired” or “sad” looking plants: As you get out and look at your plant situation, here are a few things to keep in mind. The ash and dryness have not been kind to plants, but what has been worse is the day after day of low light and poor air. This is all added on top of the fact that we are well into the early part of fall, with shorter days already affecting plant growth and resilience. Some of your seasonal plants – flowers and veggies alike – may not snap back even though conditions improve. On the other hand, hardy perennials, trees, and shrubs should recover just fine – though you may not see immediate response, they have had a full growing season to store their energy for next year, and moving a little closer to dormant a few weeks early is unlikely to cause any serious problems. Houseplants have been stressed too; the reduction in light and air quality impacts them as well. Being indoors, they have been less impacted, and should recover with little difficulty.