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By now, your garden is probably calling to you.

But die-hard gardeners don't wait for April showers to get boot-deep into garden planning.

Brightly colored plastic snow saucer sleds still filled the front window of Moorestown Hardware on Mill Street in early February, where members of the Moorestown Garden Club already were stopping for packets of seeds.

“I like to grow some things from seeds,” said Marna Andrew, whose grandchildren like to start green beans from seeds and then watch them sprout. “They're just the best when you grow them yourself,” she said.

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Late winter is a happy time for gardeners, a time to peruse catalogs and magazines. The earliest garden beds are not prepared until mid March, so January and February are still times to plan.

“It's time to go through catalogs,” Andrew said at a monthly meeting of the 90-member club. That started her friends talking about if and how they plan to expand their gardening space this year.

Claire Scott had already seen some snowdrops popping through the soil. She plans on cutting back knock-out roses that get spidery.

Now that the cherry blossoms have arrived, it's time to get your hands dirty by prepping garden beds, even if you will not be planting for several more weeks.

Garden club member Diane MacFeeters said she'd be using two newly installed raised beds this year, and hopes to get in a third.

Jan Miller spent part of a warm day earlier this year gathering downed branches, grounded by stiff winds.

Sigrid Wares, who now lives in a town house without a garden, said she'll “sit back and wait for spring.” She joined the garden club anyway about a dozen years ago to help with the planting and pruning it does in public areas, like the planters in the business district and at the arboretum on the ground of Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown.

Garden club members said warmer days prompt them to dig out their gardening totes or buckets and review what needs cleaning or oiling – or discarding.

“You always find something in the bottom of the bag, a half-empty packet of seeds that might or might not still have life,'' said Andrew.

Anticipation is part of the gardening process, and so is planning. When the ground is still wet and filled with ice crystals and when sunlight is limited, it's futile to do much more than plan said master gardeners and newbies.

The warm days everyone relishes in March and early April are few (although changing weather patterns leave gardeners guessing). Warm days are an opportunity for clean-up chores that will clear the way for the real work later.

If you're replenishing a garden, think about what worked last year, and what didn't. If you're considering a new spot, hold off until you can measure not only sunlight but shade.

Websites of garden supply businesses post information about how much direct and indirect sunlight is needed for vegetables. At least eight hours will keep green beans, melons and berries and cucumbers happy, reports Garden Harvest Supply

If you plant early, when trees are still budding, think about the canopy that tree will generate and don't overlook the shade created by other tall vegetable plants like corn and some tomatoes, suggests the Indiana-based plant distributor.

“People always rush the season,”said Richard Flagg, owner of Flagg's Garden's Center on Bridgeboro Road is bustling by late spring.

Flagg said gardeners who jump the gun may be saved this year because Easter is late. “But a lot of people always take a chance and plant too early. You can plant pansies in late February, he said, or English primroses, hellebores, or coral bells. They're in a variety of colors.

“Forsythia have been field grown so they're hardy. Cold crop vegetables like lettuces and cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts should make it if they're planted in March. The softer vegetables will have to wait until April,” said Flagg, owner of the 50-year-old business.

He suggests deciduous trees should be trimmed while still dormant. “Pick up the debris in your yard and look for insect damage,” Flagg said.

Shoppers often hit his store for a potted plant to bring color inside until it can be planted or moved to an outside spot. Forsythia stems can be cut and brought inside as well, said Flagg.

Pete Bender, who with his wife Julie has owned Moorestown Hardware since 1973, say he always has seeds in stock before Christmas because people buy them for stocking stuffers. By late February, he will have added a full range of Burpee Seeds to the rounder filled by packets from Botanical Interests, which ships out of Massassachusetts.

Later the Benders bring in seedlings of tomatoes and peppers and other favorites. Before that, he said, customers stop by for fertilizer and they're willing to help track down seeds of a new variety of vegetables or flowers.

Any diseased or damaged perennial plants that were left unpruned over the winter, like butterfly bushes or balloon flowers or black-eyed Susans, should be vigorously trimmed, according to master gardener websites.

Barbara Pleasant, who writes a blog for motherearthnews.com, suggests gardeners loosen the soil when it's soft. She suggests adding at least a half-inch of good compost. “A full inch would be even better.

“If you're planning a new bed, take out the roots and the rocks but do this only after the soil has dried. If it's an established bed, use a broad fork to break up the soil and allow it to dry out and warm up,” Pleasant recommends.

(Broadforks are expensive – several hundred dollars. Unless you're a garden tool maven, you can achieve the same results with a four-tined garden fork, also known as a spading fork or digging fork. It's like a crowbar for levering clumps of dirt. A pitch fork, used to move hay or straw,  is more light weight but is good for shuffling compost.)

Another garden blogger, Bonnie Grant, who writes for the website gardeningknowhow.com, suggests using some spring hours to clean and oil  garden tools, fix and paint window boxes, and remove suckers from trees. If it's warm enough and you've turned on water source for your hose, clean lawn furniture and outdoor living spaces, Grant says.

Grant encourages gardeners to “dress warm and dream of your garden.”

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Start to plan your garden by skipping through some helpful websites, including:

gardenharvestsupply.com

gardentips-now.com

motherearthnews.com

gardeningknowhow.com.

gardening.about.com

Catalog retailers of garden seeds and seedlings also have gardening tips and timelines on their websites. Many have advice centers and recipes. The most popular are burpees.com, parkseed.com, and gurneys.com.

IF YOU GO

Moorestown Hardware:  Visit www.facebook.com/MoorestownHardware/  

Flaggs Garden Center: 4320 Bridgeboro Road, Moorestown. Visit www.flaggsgardencenter.com

The Moorestown Garden Club meets on the third Tuesday of the month at the town's community center, but has several special meetings with specific programs each year. New members are welcome and are encouraged to attend a regular meeting to become acquainted. All new members must be sponsored. Visit: http://moorestowngardenclub.com/ 

 

 

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