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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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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Sept. 25

This week's warm break will revive summer crops such as peppers and tomatoes that may still be trying to produce fruit. Pumpkins and winter squash will add weight rapidly.

Be on the lookout for powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that may be enjoying this combination of warm air and moist soil.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Plant for fall now. The warm soil will get cool-season veggies and flowers off to a fast start.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with "eyes" about an inch below the soil surface.

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