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Huge storm puts trees at risk

Watch out for leaning trunks and sagging branches

This 25-foot elm in the Pocket neighborhood of Sacramento came down during the New Year's Eve storm. Note the fissures in the lawn.

This 25-foot elm in the Pocket neighborhood of Sacramento came down during the New Year's Eve storm. Note the fissures in the lawn.

Debbie Arrington

With the downpour on New Year’s Eve, 2022 made up for what had been a very dry year. And 2023 is starting soggy, too.

Record rain had a huge impact on the greater Sacramento area with flooding in south Sacramento County, major power outages and fallen trees all over the place.

According to the National Weather Service, downtown Sacramento received 2.37 inches on New Year’s Eve – a record for that date – and 4.81 inches fell since Christmas. That brought December’s total to 9.5 inches – almost triple the normal (3.49 inches) for that month.

December brought our seasonal total to 10.66 inches since Oct. 1, the start of our “water year.” That total is 148% of normal for that period, which is good news for our reservoirs and drought perspective.

More rain is on the way, says the weather service. Today (Monday) will see a quick-moving storm with less than one-third inch predicted for downtown Sacramento. The real threat comes Wednesday and Thursday; over 48 hours, an estimated 2.5 to 3 inches of rain is expected to fall.

All this moisture puts trees at risk. Be on the lookout for sagging branches and leaning trees.

Water accumulates in the needles of evergreens, stressing limbs with the extra weight. Horizontal limbs are at the greatest risk of breaking. The tree may groan or creak, often a signal that a branch is about to fall – or the whole tree is coming down.

Lawn trees – particularly those affected by drought – are especially susceptible to uprooting; all it takes are strong winds to accompany that moisture. Need proof? On New Year’s Eve, dozens of trees fell in Sacramento neighborhoods, pushed over by 40 mph gusts.

Lawn trees tend to have shallow roots and less of a foothold. If the soil is soggy, those roots give way.

Before the tree falls, there are usually warning signs, such as fissures in the soil around the tree. That’s a sign the roots are pulling loose.

If you see such fissures, stay away from the tree and call a certified arborist immediately. Your tree may be saved with quick action (and support). Never walk under a leaning tree; the soil may be too unstable.

For more information on tree care and finding an arborist, go to:


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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