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Groundhog Day in Sacramento: Early spring in sight

Weather forecast calls for 70s next week,  but don't plant tomatoes yet

White-flowered narcissi with yellow cups, blue sky
While much of the country is slogging through snow, we have blooming bulbs and blue skies. But it's
not spring yet. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Happy Groundhog Day! Just like Phil the Groundhog back in Punxsutawney, Pa., Sacramentans could see their shadow Tuesday morning under brilliant sunny skies.

Phil’s shadow sighting in Pennsylvania predicts, according to folklore, six more weeks of winter – not a welcome forecast for much of the country, which is digging out from too much snow.

Meanwhile, Sacramento – and the rest of Northern California – could use six more weeks of winter. Shadow or no shadow, we look like we’re headed for an early spring.

According to the National Weather Service, Sacramento could see highs of 67 degrees this weekend – 10 degrees above normal for early February. The long-range forecast predicts six days in the 70s next week.

Although that sun feels great to gardeners, those higher temperatures could bring out an explosion of fungal disease on roses and other susceptible plants. Watch out for powdery mildew.

Our dry streak continues, too, with no rain in Sacramento’s forecast until at least Feb. 17. That follows a January that recorded only 0.05 inches of precipitation. Like January, February’s average rain total is about 3.6 inches.

It may feel like spring, but don’t rush out and plant tomatoes. Overnight lows are still mighty chilly, dipping close to freezing Saturday and Sunday. Historically, Sacramento can still get frost as late as March 23. In addition, soil temperatures have to rise significantly for summer crops to sprout and grow.

This dry spell underlines that we’re still in an exceptional drought. Measurements this week in the Sierra show the snowpack is suffering, too. Although considered 100% of normal, the snowpack was 162% of normal in December; the snowpack shrank during January from lack of new snow.

Will we have a March miracle with lots of late rain? Accuweather says it’s possible. Its forecast predicts major storm systems closing out winter – but those clouds could bypass Northern California and rain on Washington and Oregon instead. A stormy April is possible, too.

Meanwhile, Sacramento-area gardeners can make the most of these sunny conditions with outdoor chores, but wait to plant summer vegetables until at least late March. It may not feel like it, but we’re still in winter – for at least six more weeks.

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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden needs nutrients. Fertilize shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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