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Happy spring! (But wait on planting tomatoes)

Cold, rainy conditions in forecast for Sacramento

The soil is this garden is 58 degrees -- not quite optimal for planting. That tomato seedling in the container should be transplanted into a 1-gallon pot so it can grow while waiting for the weather to improve.

The soil is this garden is 58 degrees -- not quite optimal for planting. That tomato seedling in the container should be transplanted into a 1-gallon pot so it can grow while waiting for the weather to improve. Kathy Morrison

Spring arrived on Monday with a bit of a surprise – sun! Sunday’s storm moved through faster than expected, but another is on its way.

The National Weather Service warns that thunderstorms are possible from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday for much of the Central Valley and the Sierra with the possibility of gusty wind, heavy rain and hail.

Sacramento is on the fringe of this storm zone; the weather service expects “definite rain showers” to return here Tuesday and Wednesday. Sacramento’s chance of rain Tuesday morning: 90%. “The cool and unsettled weather pattern will continue into next weekend,” the NWS Sacramento office adds.

Sacramento received about a third of an inch (0.35 plus a trace) from this past weekend’s storm. That brought our March total to 3.33 inches. Normal for that 19-day period: 1.8 inches.

These passing storms will be accompanied by gusty winds (25 mph-plus) on Tuesday night. Otherwise, it will be breezy and chilly – definitely sweater weather. Most days will top out below 60 degrees – more than 10 degrees below normal. Tuesday’s forecast high is only 54.

So, even though Monday’s sunny weather felt like “go,” slow down on spring planting. Chilly conditions will put on the brakes to early growth.

Further delaying development of seeds and new transplants: Cold soil. It’s not going to warm up much this week. Overnight lows are lingering in the low 40s. Saturday’s expected low is 37!

You can’t put a sweater on your seedlings, but make sure they stay relatively warm. Use hot caps, row covers, milk jugs or other protection from these still-winter-like conditions. Mulch around plants will add some warmth to their roots, too.

And please, don’t plant tomatoes this first week of spring. They will sit there and sulk, if not curl up and die. If already in the ground, make sure those babies are mulched and protected.

If you have tomato seedlings ready to go (or bought some), transplant them into 1-gallon black plastic pots lined with newsprint. The black plastic absorbs heat and the newspaper insulates the rootball. In late April after soil temperature warms up, move the tomato plant – rootball and all – into the garden. After this head start, the plant should produce tomatoes faster and more of them – especially in warm weather.

What will April bring? According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Northern California – and most of the U.S. – can expect warmer than normal temperatures in April and May. After all our rain this season, we should see a lot of spring flowers.

Says the almanac, “Warmer-than-normal spring temperatures for most of the country is good news for gardeners.”

For Sacramento weather updates:


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Feb. 18:

It's wet to start the week. When you do get outside, between or after storms, concentrate on damage control:

* Keep storm drains and gutters clear of debris.

* Clean up tree debris knocked down by wind and rain.

* Where did the water flow in your garden? Make notes where revisions are necessary.

* Are any trees leaning? See disturbances in the ground or lawn around their base? Time to call an arborist before the tree topples.

* Dump excess water out of pots.

* Indoors, start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed.

* Lettuce and other greens also can be started indoors from seed.

* Got bare-root plants? Put their roots in a bucket of water until outdoor soil dries out. Or pot them up in 1- or 5-gallon containers. In April, transplant the plant, rootball and all, into the garden.

* Browse garden websites and catalogs. It’s not too late to order for spring and summer.

* Show your indoor plants some love. Dust leaves and mist to refresh.

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