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Do you have a leaning tree?

What to watch out for after a major storm

Looking up inside a redwood tree branches
All those foliage-laden branches on a redwood tree can get heavy when rain collects on them. Check your trees for damage or changes during this stormy period. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

During this break in the rain, it’s time to go outside and check on our landscapes. Thanks to this latest atmospheric river, Sacramento got a lot of much-needed rain, but that saturated soil can create issues, too.

According to the National Weather Service, the greater Sacramento area received between 1.4 and 2.3 inches inches Monday, depending on the neighborhood. Sacramento International Airport recorded 1.46 inches. Meters at Sacramento State measured 1.86 inches. Lincoln got 1.98 inches and Auburn saw 2.32 inches.

And that’s just the start of a wet week. Arriving late Wednesday, the next rain wave is expected to deliver another inch or more.

Although that precipitation does wonders for our water year outlook, it can create dangerous conditions for trees.

Years of drought have significantly weakened the roots of many big trees, particularly large conifers (such as redwoods or firs) as well as elms and birches (one of Sacramento’s favorite lawn trees). Drought literally shrinks a tree’s rootball, so they have less support to hold them upright. Other, often younger trees never had a good anchor in the first place.

Used to shallow watering from sprinklers, solitary “lawn trees” may never develop those strong deep roots. Just under the surface of the turf, lawn trees’ roots are further weakened during drought when lawn irrigation is cut back.

We saw plenty of dropped limbs this week, too. Prolonged drought also causes tree dieback and dead or weakened branches. Those are the first to fall during a heavy winter storm.

But even well-hydrated trees – especially evergreens – can topple over under the right conditions: Saturated soil and big gusts of wind.

During winter, conifers – redwood, pine, fir, spruce, yew, juniper, cypress and their cousins – tend to be at greatest risk. These evergreen trees retain their foliage year-round and can become top-heavy. When it rains, those needles become saturated with water, holding extra weight on a tree’s branches. That foliage also catches the wind like a huge sail.

In the forest, redwoods and other evergreens grow close together; their roots intertwine and help hold each other up. But in the suburban landscape, these big trees often are planted alone, without that extra support.

With more rain and wind expected, now is the time to access the damage – and maybe bring in a professional arborist.

Be careful of trees that may be leaning. If cracks appear in the ground around a tree’s base, stay away – that’s a major danger sign. Put up barrier tape to keep people from walking around it and call an expert.

Need advice? The Sacramento Tree Foundation offers advice on how to hire an arborist: www.sactree.com/hire or call 916-924-8733.


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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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