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City of Trees loses nearly 1,000

Sacramento's urban forest took a big hit from storms

This elm in the Pocket was one of the early victims of the current series of storms.

This elm in the Pocket was one of the early victims of the current series of storms. Debbie Arrington

Besides dumping an amazing amount of rain, these ferocious winter storms have packed a wallop to Sacramento’s famous urban forest. By reported estimates, the City of Trees lost nearly 1,000 trees since New Year’s Eve – and that’s not counting what came down in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

The City of Sacramento reports that it received about 700 requests for downed tree removal in the first six days of January. Many more requests have come in since.

Removal is a slow process. In that first week, city crews were able to deal with about 200 of the downed trees. Part of the problem? Not enough cranes. Fallen giants weigh tons.

One particularly large victim: The giant sequoia at Capitol Park. About a century old, the mammoth redwood went over and took most of a neighboring Torrey pine with it.

Some Sacramento County and city parks lost dozens of trees. In Yolo County, the UC Davis Arboretum lost at least 15 otherwise healthy trees including a Guadalupe Island cypress planted in 1936.

A combination of saturated soil and extreme wind gusts – some over 60 mph – brought down these big trees, many of which had roots weakened by years of drought.

Through Jan. 9, downtown Sacramento has received 4.48 inches of rain this month. That was on top of 9.52 inches in December including a record 2.37 on New Year’s Eve. That’s nearly 7 inches in 10 days – almost as much rain as Sacramento received in all of 2020. Before December’s deluge, Sacramento’s rain total for the first 11 months of 2022 was 4.31 inches.

So much rain has saturated our slow-draining clay soils. Trees are literally standing in slippery mud, and they’re losing their grips on their soggy toeholds. At some point, those roots start to give way. Called soil separation, this process can form cracks on the surface – like little earthquake faults running through the lawn. It’s one of the few warning signs before a tree goes down.

Cypress, elms and redwoods are among the most common victims of these January storms but so are many other species, especially those with leaves or needles. Foliage on evergreen trees can create a giant sail to catch wind gusts, strong enough to push it over or rip off branches.

Drought’s long-term effects can be seen in the roots of fallen trees. Healthy tree roots grow deep and stretch out as far as the tree’s canopy – the outer reach of its limbs. But often, these toppled giants reveal rootballs that are barely wider than their trunks. Such was the case in Midtown, where fallen 60-foot trees had rootballs no wider than their space between the street and sidewalk. Roots had died back so much, they were no longer strong enough to hold the tree upright.

The solution: Keep trees as healthy as possible before storms hit. That includes deep, infrequent irrigation to encourage strong roots.

In the meantime, watch out for those soil cracks around trunks and be ready for more falling branches. According to the National Weather Service, more rain and wind is in the Sacramento forecast at least through Monday.

For more on tree care and how to hire an arborist: www.sactree.org.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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