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'Wet and mild' winter could be ahead

Old Farmer's Almanac predicts rain, warm temperatures for Northern California

A bucketful of rain is a welcome sight -- and we'll be seeing more rain this winter, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac.

A bucketful of rain is a welcome sight -- and we'll be seeing more rain this winter, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac. Kathy Morrison

Happy winter solstice! The shortest day of the year, Wednesday marks the first day of winter and the start of what should be the coldest and wettest season of our gardening year. What can we expect in the months ahead?

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, California and much of the west should enjoy a “wet and mild” winter – rainy but relatively warm. Meanwhile, the Midwest and East will be “shivery and snowy.” (Where would you rather garden?)

Now in its 231st year, the Old Farmer’s Almanac has a knack for long-term seasonal forecasts and has been helping farmers – and gardeners – plan ahead for more than two centuries. Its publishers released its winter forecast in November, well before blizzard conditions started barreling across the Central U.S. A bomb cyclone definitely fits that shivery, snowy prediction.

For us Northern Californians, the Almanac foresees “above normal” precipitation coupled with “above average” temperatures. Fortunately, the forecast also predicts above average Sierra snow. But if temperatures drift too high, that snow pack may melt quickly.

Warmer than average temperatures may bring an early spring as trees and shrubs bud out early. Historically, Sacramento averages highs of 54 degrees and lows of 38 degrees in December and January. But too warm of overnight temperatures may have an impact on future fruit production; apples, pears, peaches and many other kinds of fruit need “chill hours” – time under 45 degrees – to successfully set a good crop.

Nothing grows without water and we may finally have a wet winter. The Almanac’s forecast for California predicts a much-needed end to our prolonged drought:

“Winter will be warmer and wetter than normal, with above-normal mountain snows. The coldest temperatures will occur in mid-November, mid-January, and early February. The stormiest periods will be in mid- to late December, early and late January, early and late February, and late March.”

Sacramento’s November was indeed cold, according to the National Weather Service, with the average daily temperature 3.4 degrees below normal. Some days were more than 8 degrees colder than average for those November dates. New record lows (34 degrees) were set on Nov. 21 and 30.

As for the storms, Sacramento has received 4.69 inches of rain so far this December; that’s double our average (2.17 inches) for this month’s first three weeks. And we may add to that December total soon; the National Weather Service sees “widespread precipitation possible” next week.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Feb. 18:

It's wet to start the week. When you do get outside, between or after storms, concentrate on damage control:

* Keep storm drains and gutters clear of debris.

* Clean up tree debris knocked down by wind and rain.

* Where did the water flow in your garden? Make notes where revisions are necessary.

* Are any trees leaning? See disturbances in the ground or lawn around their base? Time to call an arborist before the tree topples.

* Dump excess water out of pots.

* Indoors, start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed.

* Lettuce and other greens also can be started indoors from seed.

* Got bare-root plants? Put their roots in a bucket of water until outdoor soil dries out. Or pot them up in 1- or 5-gallon containers. In April, transplant the plant, rootball and all, into the garden.

* Browse garden websites and catalogs. It’s not too late to order for spring and summer.

* Show your indoor plants some love. Dust leaves and mist to refresh.

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