3 different images -the first is homes in a neighborhood with a wildfire in the hills behind, the second image is a lush healthy garden full of lettuce and other edibles and the third image is a grass fire with trees in the background

Managing the Effects of Wildfires on Your Garden

Wildfires in California are part of our reality here, and this year we have seen some of the largest fires in state history. Wildfires can affect our gardens and landscapes, too.

Avoid gardening and other outdoor activities when the air quality is poor. Once it’s safe to be outside again, wear long pants and sleeves, gloves, and a mask or face covering with a filter when doing yard work. When you’re done outside, don’t wear those same clothes indoors—remove them to avoid tracking ash throughout your home.

houses and trees with ash and smoke clouds summerwinds california

Effects of Wildfires on Gardens

Smoke can travel farther than ash, which is why people who live outside of the affected area can have smoke-filled skies. In terms of how it affects plants, smoke diffuses sunlight more evenly, which can actually benefit plants. Rather than piercing sun rays reaching the plants, they get even sun exposure.

But if the smoke is too intense and stays around for a long time, then the plants are at risk for lack of sun exposure since the smoke acts as a cloud cover. Usually, the smoke will pass before plants completely die off, but if you do run into problems and your plants wilt so much that they don’t revitalize, then you may simply have to wait until the following season.

gloved hand cleaning up wildfire ash in garden summerwinds california

How to Clean Up Wildfire Ash

Smoke carries ash and disperses it in areas surrounding the fire. The closer you are to the wildfire, the thicker the layer of ash that will cover your yard. A light dusting of ash on your plants and pathways will be washed away when it rains. But if rain isn’t in the forecast or the layer is thick, then you can work to clean it up yourself.

Do not use a vacuum or leaf blower to move around ash in your yard—this will create clouds of ash that you could breathe in. Instead, spray a little water on the ash, then gently sweep it off, or use a low-pressure stream of water to move the ash from surfaces. Direct the ash into low-traffic ornamental areas. If there is a lot of ash, then you can sweep it into a pile, lightly dampen it with water, then put in a plastic bag to throw away in the trash.

Focus on the areas in your yard that see the most traffic as well as spots with edible plants.

person washing broccoli summerwinds california

Do Smoke and Ash Damage Edible Plants?

Smoke and ash won’t necessarily penetrate deep into produce, but it’s important to rinse your fruits and vegetables well. Start by inspecting your plants to make sure they’re healthy. Rinse the produce outside using a hose or watering can, then bring them inside to rinse two or three times again.

A 10% white vinegar rinse is a good idea too, which will give an even more thorough cleaning. Make a solution of one cup of white vinegar to nine cups of water, then let the produce soak for a few minutes. Rinse off with water.

If the layer of ash was really thick in your yard, then you may want to consider removing the outer leaves of lettuce and leafy greens, plus you can peel some crops like root vegetables, tomatoes, and apples before eating.

Your garden can still be successful even if smoke from wildfires has filled the sky this season. Before planting your garden next spring, you may want to do a soil test to determine the amount of chemicals that seeped into your soil due to the fire. You can also firescape your yard to protect your home from fire and to prevent flames from spreading.