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Record rain, wind can endanger trees

How wet was it? Saturated soil puts trees at risk of toppling over

Base of redwood tree
Redwoods and other trees got soaked this weekend. Avoid walking or driving
around their base until the soil has dried somewhat.  (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

In the same month that Sacramento set a record for longest dry spell came the wettest day in Sacramento history.

According to the National Weather Service, Downtown Sacramento received 5.44 inches in a 24-hour period, starting Sunday morning and ending before dawn Monday. That was 69% of the total precipitation (7.87 inches) measured at the weather station during the entire previous Water Year, which ended Sept. 30.

The percentage was even higher at Sacramento Executive Airport. That weather station received 5.41 inches, nearly 82% of its 2020-21 Water Year total (6.61 inches).

Normal for the entire month of October in Sacramento: 0.95 inches.

Before this storm, Sacramento’s rainiest day on record was 5.28 inches, set in April 1880.

Called a “bomb cyclone,” Sunday’s massive weather system caused isolated flooding and mudslides in Northern California, particularly in areas burned by recent wildfires. More than 10 inches of rain fell at Blue Canyon’s weather station. The Sierra also saw significant early snowfall, which is expected to continue through Tuesday.

This storm was a soggy contrast to Sacramento’s October 2020, which had no precipitation. It also followed a record dry streak of 212 days with no measurable rain in Downtown Sacramento; that streak ended Oct. 17 – one week before Sunday’s record storm.

After possible thunderstorms through Monday night, Sacramento can expect more dry weather. The weather service predicts pleasant and sunny days in the low 70s, starting Wednesday.

Stepping stone and leaves
Stepping stones allow the gardener to check on plants without
compacting the soggy soil.


In the meantime, be careful around soggy soil. When stepped on, it can compact easily, squishing out needed air pockets. Avoid digging until soil has drained sufficiently and is merely moist, not waterlogged.

Keep an eye on big trees. They can be particularly vulnerable now. Avoid walking (or driving) around their base until soil has dried and their roots stabilize. If a tree is leaning, call an arborist.

After two years of drought, trees have lost a lot of their roots, especially coastal redwoods and other conifers. With fewer roots, they have less stability. Saturated soil makes matters worse.

In situations like this, all it takes is a big gust of wind to uproot a 60-foot tree. During Sunday’s storm, Sacramento experienced gusts of more than 50 mph, resulting in broken branches as well as downed trees.

Conifers are usually most at risk in these situations because they hold their foliage year-round. Their needles become saturated with water and they become top heavy. Branches can snap from the added weight.

This October storm hit as Sacramento trees were just beginning to show their fall color. That meant most deciduous still had their foliage, which caught the wind as well as water, putting them at risk of damage, too.

Fortunately, these upcoming sunny days are expected to help trees and soil dry out and stabilize.

Meanwhile, the rain gave everything a very deep and thorough soaking. If they're not already off, turn off sprinklers and other irrigation for at least a week.


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Garden Checklist for week of May 19

Temperatures will be a bit higher than normal in the afternoons this week. Take care of chores early in the day – then enjoy the afternoon. It’s time to smell the roses.

* Plant, plant, plant! It’s prime planting season in the Sacramento area. If you haven’t already, it’s time to set out those tomato transplants along with peppers and eggplants. Pinch off any flowers on new transplants to make them concentrate on establishing roots instead of setting premature fruit.

* Direct-seed melons, cucumbers, summer squash, corn, radishes, pumpkins and annual herbs such as basil.

* Harvest cabbage, lettuce, peas and green onions.

* In the flower garden, direct-seed sunflowers, cosmos, salvia, zinnias, marigolds, celosia and asters.

* Plant dahlia tubers. Other perennials to set out include verbena, coreopsis, coneflower and astilbe.

* Transplant petunias, marigolds and perennial flowers such as astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia and verbena.

* Keep an eye out for slugs, snails, earwigs and aphids that want to dine on tender new growth.

* Feed summer bloomers with a balanced fertilizer.

* For continued bloom, cut off spent flowers on roses as well as other flowering plants.

* Don’t forget to water. Seedlings need moisture. Deep watering will help build strong roots and healthy plants.

* Add mulch to the garden to help keep that precious water from evaporating. Mulch also cuts down on weeds. But don’t let it mound around the stems or trunks of trees or shrubs. Leave about a 6-inch to 1-foot circle to avoid crown rot or other problems.

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