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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 Dec. 3:

Make the most of gaps between raindrops. This is a busy month!

* Windy conditions brought down a lot of leaves. Make sure to rake them away from storm drains.

* Use those leaves as mulch around frost-tender shrubs and new transplants.

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

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they're dormant.

* 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. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Plant one last round of spring bulbs including daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, anemones and scillas. Get those tulips out of the refrigerator and into the ground.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers such as California poppies.

* Plant such spring bloomers as sweet pea, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Late fall is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. This gives them plenty of time for root development before spring growth. They also benefit from fall and winter rains.

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

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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