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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:


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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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