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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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For week of Dec. 10:

Take advantage of these dry but crisp conditions. It’s time to get out the rake!

* Rake leaves away from storm drains and keep gutters clear.

* Fallen leaves can be used for mulch and compost. Chop up large leaves with a couple of passes with a lawn mower.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant. Without their foliage, trees are easier to prune.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Make sure to take frost precautions with new transplants and sensitive plants. Mulch, water and cover tender plants in the late afternoon to retain warmth.

* Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Don’t water succulents before frost; cover instead. Use cloth sheets, not plastic. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eaves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Plant garlic (December's the last chance -- the ground is getting cold!) and onions for harvest in summer.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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