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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 Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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