Impact of Air Pollution on Gardening

Burned-looking spots may indicate pollution damage.

The impact of air pollution on gardening can be seen when people garden in areas that have high levels of pollution. Ozone and other pollutants may not cause problems for all the plants in your garden, but some species are more sensitive to foul air than others.

How Air Pollution Affects Plants

You can see some of the impact of air pollution on gardening when you look at damaged plants. According to a government report on the issue, ozone enters the plant and oxidizes its tissues, leading to discolored leaves and speckled leaves that often look like they are burned or have been bleached.

Less visible but still important is the fact that plants grown in polluted areas have fewer leaves and a smaller root system than do plants with healthy air. They also have reduced yields and often drop their leaves earlier in the season than healthier plants do.

Similar problems can be caused by soot and other air pollution problems, not to mention the unpleasant aspects of gardening in polluted air from the gardener's point of view.

Plants that are Sensitive to Air Pollution

There are many plants that have been found to be more sensitive to air pollution than others. A National Parks Service study indicated some of the most sensitive plants found in the national parks that were studied for the impact of air pollution on gardening.

Here are some of the plants that were found to be particularly stressed by pollution:

  • Yellow buckeye
  • Red and speckled alders
  • Groundnut
  • Dogbane and spreading dogbane
  • Mugwort
  • Tall, swamp and common milkweed
  • Redbud
  • American hazelnut
  • Green and white ash
  • Black huckleberry
  • Sweet Gum
  • Evening primrose
  • Virginia creeper
  • Sweet mock orange
  • Ponderosa, Pacific, Jack, Jeffrey, Monterrey, Loblolly and Virginia pines
  • American sycamore
  • Black cherry
  • Allegheny, thornless and sand blackberries
  • Sassafras
  • Goldenrod
  • Huckleberry
  • Northern fox and European wine grapes

These of course are just some of the plants that are affected by air pollution, and the list only includes plants that were found in the handful of parks that were being monitored for pollution damage.

Just because tomatoes and greens don't appear on the list doesn't mean your vegetable plants will come out perfectly healthy if you plant them somewhere with unhealthy air.

Discovering which plants work well in your particular area based on the kind of air pollution you are dealing with will be a bit of trial and error, but a great way to start is to talk with local gardeners or your county extension service to determine what varieties of particular plants you want to grow seem to do well given the problems they face.

Lessening the Impact of Air Pollution on Gardening

For the sake of your plants, and the people doing the gardening in a less-than-ideal place, the best thing you can possibly do is try to situate your garden as far away from a busy street as you can.

Plant some kind of hedge or build a fence to provide a physical barrier between your garden and the source of pollution (this will also block out some noise and give you a bit of privacy, which is also nice).

If neither of these things are an option for you, do as much research as you can to find hardy varieties of plants that will work well with the problems you have. You don't want to plant things only to have them get sick, and in the case of both vegetables and flowers you probably won't get as much yield from sick plants.

Remember, of course, to thoroughly wash any vegetables you use from a garden that has air quality problems before you eat them. Experts say your best bet is a one percent solution of plain old white vinegar diluted in water (that would be about a tablespoon in three pints of water).

Dunk your veggies in the solution, then wash it off and enjoy. This way you can still grow vegetables in your less-than-ideal garden and don't have to worry about any potential health effects.

Impact of Air Pollution on Gardening