Ann Wright: Garden tips for a smoky September |

Ann Wright: Garden tips for a smoky September

Through the smoky air, it’s been hard to tell sometimes if it’s day or night, and as the smoke is slowly clearing, thoughts definitely go out to folks in the paths of the local fires, who have lost homes and loved ones. And, a personal shout-out to the amazing fire crews working day-in, day out to get a handle on the fires. This gardener is grateful!

The choking amount of ash and particulate in the air has been almost off the chart lately – so it has been unhealthy to be outside in the garden. But, despite sun-blocked days, the garden continues to grow, tomatoes ripening and pumpkins are turning golden. The dahlias are blooming well, and the strawberries are verdant and sending out shoots. In pausing to consider the effect of smoke on garden plants and produce, two things stand out: First, if there is smoke in the air it may be a good idea to stay inside, and secondly, wash the ash and soot off the produce before bringing it into the house and wash again before preparing it.

Following the Santa Rosa fires in 2018, the University of California initiated a number of studies to look at how fire-related air pollution might impact local produce. The studies looked at the levels of a number of contaminants commonly found after wildfires. Researchers used samples of washed and unwashed leafy greens with large surface areas such as kale, collard greens, chard and lettuce. The samples were tested for presence of toxic elements such as heavy metals, hydrocarbons (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) and, dioxins, which are pollutants created through the combustion of plastic products. Results showed some chemical contaminants were present, but they were at low levels of toxicity. Further, it was hypothesized that smoke from the Santa Rosa fire did not deposit toxic heavy metals, PAHs, or dioxins at significant risk levels which would mandate notification of consumers. Researchers agree that further study is warranted including study of soil contamination from fire-related events.

For more information, check the July 2019 final report of a citizen scientist initiative, “Produce Safety after Urban Wildfire” by the UC Cooperative Extension of Sonoma County at:

We hope to be back “in person” soon, but for now, our Zoom workshops are available on our website, we have a “Got Questions” link and we are “live” on the radio every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon on KNCO, 830 on the AM dial. The radio show is a call-in show – listeners can call to speak with the Master Gardeners (and friends)!

When the smoke clears, and it’s healthy to be outside, consider the following September garden reminders:

Winter annuals planted now bloom better next spring. At the end of the month, sow seeds of California poppy, clarkia, larkspur and sweet peas. Peas may be seeded from October to January.

When planning native plant beds, choose plants that have similar soil water and light requirements. “The right plant in the right place” is one of the mottos of Master Gardeners.

Prepare beds for wildflowers now. Weeds restrict the growth of wildflowers, so to control weeds, soak the soil thoroughly to germinate weed seeds. Then how down or pull the weeds in preparation for wildflower seeding. Repeat the process.

Continue to clear fallen fruit and woody debris, clean out rain gutters, and trim tree branches that touch the house or roof.

Fertilize flowering annuals, perennials and fall-planted vegetables for a strong start. Use a complete balanced fertilizer at planting time and for long season crops, again in three to four weeks.

Renew mulch around roses and other ornamentals. Late September and October are good times to divide crowded clumps of perennials. After they bloom divide plants like candytuft (Iberis spp.), daisy and penstemon to encourage growth and increase the number of plants.

The Master Gardeners of Nevada County are offering workshops online. TODAY, join us for “Container Gardening – Thrillers, Spillers and Fillers”, at 9 a.m. on Zoom. Go to our website at to sign on to the live presentation, or check back for the recording to watch later. If your growing space is limited or you have just a little bit of time to spend in the garden, or perhaps deer and pests are getting the best of you, then container gardening may be an alternative for your gardening needs. Almost any plant, including bulbs and herbs, can be grown in a container as long as you know how to care for them. We’ll show you how to “re-purpose” things around the home for use as planters. At this workshop you’ll discover the “5 Rights” for their container gardening:

The right soil 

The right container

The right watering techniques

The right plants, and

The right sun exposure

We hope to be back “in person” soon, but for now, our Zoom workshops are available on our website, we have a “Got Questions” link and we are “live” on the radio every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon on KNCO, 830 on the AM dial. The radio show is a call-in show – listeners can call to speak with the Master Gardeners (and friends)!

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.

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