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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 June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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