How to - Pests & Diseases

How air pollution affects plants

By
Pierre-Yves Comtois

Environmental toxins can be as bad for plants as they are for people


Plants that are exposed to air pollu­tion over an extended period grow at a slower rate, produce fewer blossoms and are more susceptible to disease and insect damage. When the air quality index dips, all plants are at risk.

The worst pollutants for plants are ground-level ozone and sulphur dioxide. An odourless, colourless gas, ground-level ozone is one of the compo­nents of smog. It is not released directly into the air, but is produced when the sun’s rays interact with airborne pollutants. From April to September, the weather is conducive to the formation of ground-level ozone, which is not to be confused with stratospheric ozone. Occurring 15 to 50 kilometres above the Earth’s surface, stratospheric ozone protects all living organisms from harmful ultraviolet rays.

What to watch for
Ground-level ozone causes small dark spots to appear on leaves. Visible on only one side, the irregular-shaped spots are light brown with a clearly defined dark edge.

In evergreens, tiny yellow spots develop all along the needles, which then dry out and turn yellow.

Sulphur dioxide is a product of fuel combustion and the fusion of certain metals. It can cause white or reddish brown chlorotic spots between the veins.

* New shoots and older leaves are not usually affected.

Minimize the damage
Regular watering and fertilizing will make your plants hardier, but there are no absolute safeguards against air pollution. However, we can all do our bit to reduce environmental toxins.

  • Use electric or manual garden tools. If you simply can’t do without a power mower, pick one that has a four-stroke gasoline engine, which produces less pollution than a two-stroke engine.
  • Reduce the amount of waste that will end up in a landfill or incinerator by buying less, recycling and composting.
  • Shop locally and choose seasonal products.
  • Check the labels on cleaning products and pick ones that are environ­mentally friendly.

How to monitor air quality
Weather stations throughout Canada monitor the air quality index. The information is posted on the Internet and updated regularly.

 

  • Use electric or manual garden tools. If you simply can’t do without a power mower, pick one that has a four-stroke gasoline engine, which produces less pollution than a two-stroke engine.
  • Reduce the amount of waste that will end up in a landfill or incinerator by buying less, recycling and composting.
  • Shop locally and choose seasonal products.
  • Check the labels on cleaning products and pick ones that are environ­mentally friendly.

How to monitor air quality
Weather stations throughout Canada monitor the air quality index. The information is posted on the Internet and updated regularly.

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