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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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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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