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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 Nov. 26:

Concentrate on helping your garden stay comfortable during these frosty nights – and clean up all those leaves!

* Irrigate frost-tender plants such as citrus in the late afternoon. That extra soil moisture increases temperatures around the plant a few degrees, just enough to prevent frost damage. The exception are succulents; too much water before frost can cause them to freeze.

* Cover sensitive plants before the sun goes down. Use cloth sheets or frost cloths, not plastic sheeting, to hold in warmth. Make sure to remove covers in the morning.

* Use fall leaves as mulch around shrubs and vegetables. Mulch acts as a blanket and keeps roots warmer.

* Stop dead-heading; let rose hips form on bushes to prompt dormancy.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs.

* 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 – and definitely indoors overnight. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they’ll bloom again next December.

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

* Plant spring bulbs. Don’t forget the tulips chilling in the refrigerator. Daffodils can be planted without pre-chilling.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers and plant such spring bloomers as sweet peas, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Plant trees and shrubs. They’ll benefit from fall and winter rains while establishing their roots.

* Set out cool-weather annuals such as pansies and snapdragons.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins now. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb.

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