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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 Sept. 25

This week's warm break will revive summer crops such as peppers and tomatoes that may still be trying to produce fruit. Pumpkins and winter squash will add weight rapidly.

Be on the lookout for powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that may be enjoying this combination of warm air and moist soil.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Plant for fall now. The warm soil will get cool-season veggies and flowers off to a fast start.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with "eyes" about an inch below the soil surface.

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