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Unexpected hail may cause crop damage

Early strawberries got bruised, fruit trees lost blooms

Unripen strawberries with hail damage
Strawberries show hail damage. The late winter storm that blew through Tuesday
also affected blooms on ornamentals and fruit trees. (Photo courtesy UCCE
master gardeners)

After basking in spring-like warmth, our gardens got a sudden reminder – it’s still winter!

That cold wake-up blast came in the form of fast-moving thunderstorms Tuesday, dropping pea-size hail on many parts of Sacramento. Storms lingered Wednesday along with unstable air.

What will this mean to your garden? It depends on what that hail hit.

In my Pocket-area garden, the hail knocked almost all the pink blooms off my Babcock peach tree. The flowers had only been open less than a week. I’m not sure if any bees had time to find them to pollinate. Now, I doubt I’ll have any peaches this summer.

Pea-size hail on spa cover
Pea-sized hail collects on spa cover in Pocket neighborhood
of Sacramento on Tuesday. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)

Meanwhile, my strawberries were setting their first berries of spring. Those little green berries likely will develop with bruises, if they don’t rot first. They’re another loss.

The hail also beat up my large camellias, bruising the flowers and knocking several blooms to the ground.

Hail mostly punches holes in leaves, especially big floppy leaves such as cannas. It also causes little nicks on forming fruit. Much of this damage is cosmetic and won’t harm the plant.

The chilly conditions brought by those little ice cubes didn’t hang around long enough to cause frost damage. Sacramento is at the end of its frost season; our traditional “last day of frost” date is March 23. So, it’s OK to trim off damaged foliage. Plants are in spring growth mode now and should rapidly replace those leaves.

Hardest hit by hail may be succulents. Hail bruising on fleshy-leaved plants can cause lasting scars. Exposed to sudden cold, succulents also may be prone to rot. Because of this rot risk, prune off mushy foliage and stems from damaged succulents immediately to encourage new healthy growth.

If hail is in the forecast, cover succulent plants or give them shelter such as under eaves or a patio shade structure.

Will we see hail again soon? Where there’s thunderstorms, there’s a chance of hail this time of year. According to the National Weather Service, our hail risk continues until mid-May.


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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Feb. 5

Make the most of sunny days and get winter tasks done:

* This is the last chance to spray fruit trees before they bloom. Treat peach and nectarine trees with copper-based fungicide. Spray apricot trees at bud swell to prevent brown rot. Apply horticultural oil to control scale, mites and aphids on fruit trees soon after a rain. But remember: Oils need at least 24 hours to dry to be effective. Don’t spray during foggy weather or when rain is forecast.

* Feed spring-blooming shrubs and fall-planted perennials with slow-release fertilizer. Feed mature trees and shrubs after spring growth starts.

* Finish pruning roses and deciduous trees.

* Remove aphids from blooming bulbs with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap.

* Fertilize strawberries and asparagus.

* Transplant or direct-seed several flowers, including snapdragon, candytuft, lilies, astilbe, larkspur, Shasta and painted daisies, stocks, bleeding heart and coral bells.

* In the vegetable garden, plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers, and strawberry and rhubarb roots.

* Transplant cabbage and its close cousins – broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts – as well as lettuce (both loose leaf and head).

* Plant artichokes, asparagus and horseradish from root divisions.

* Plant potatoes from tubers and onions from sets (small bulbs). The onions will sprout quickly and can be used as green onions in March.

* From seed, plant beets, chard, lettuce, mustard, peas, radishes and turnips.

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