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Green thumbs can be exercised in January

January 21, 2006|By PENNY GOLDSTEIN

January is usually the time for home gardeners to exercise their green thumbs by flipping through seed and nursery catalogs. But if last week's warm spell lured you out of the house and into your favorite garden center, you probably found a few things to fuel the fantasy that spring is just around the corner.

Racks of new seed packets were out at Snavely's, and lawn mowers and barbeque grills had already replaced holiday mark-downs at Home Depot and Lowe's. If winter hasn't returned with a reality check by now, consider this: the average last spring frost date for Hagerstown is May 3, according to Lori Young, coordinator of the Washington County Cooperative Extension Service. What can the habitual gardener do in the meantime?

Start a windowsill garden. HomeSource found the tiny pots of succulents at Lowe's in Chambersburg, Pa. too cute to resist. Succulents make great patio plants when the weather warms up, and some, such as echevera, even survive our winters planted in the ground in a protected spot. In the meantime, these miniature charmers will bring to mind a vacation in Southern California or Mexico. We bought two-inch pots of anacampseros, a trailing succulent that promises pink blooms, and a "Cactus Collection Dish Garden" that even comes with its own pet rock.

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Take Inventory of Your Seeds. If you save seeds from year to year, now is a good time to do a germination test. The Maryland Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Web site, www.hgic.umd.edu, gives instructions for this easy procedure under "Timely Tips," and recommends discarding any seeds that show a germination rate of less than 75 percent. A fun way to replenish your stock and network with other gardeners might be the Seed Exchange Workshop, which will be held Saturday, Jan. 28, at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. You can register online at www.usna.usda.gov or by phone at (202) 245-5898.

Gather What You Need to Start Seeds Indoors. Seed starter mix, peat pots and other supplies are available now at local garden centers. While many seeds are best sowed directly in warm soil, others can be started indoors six to 10 weeks before last frost. If you've never started seeds before, you can learn the basics by attending a workshop offered by Master Gardeners at Franklin County Extension in Chambersburg on Saturday, Feb. 4. The $20 fee includes seeds and planting material. To register, call Linda Horst at (717) 263-9226.

Plan to Go to a Garden Show. Opening this weekend at the U.S. Botanical Gardens (adjacent to the U.S. Capitol), "Simply Sublime: Orchids in an Art Deco Garden" is an exhibit of hundreds of orchids, some rare and endangered.

The grandmother of all garden shows, the Philadelphia Flower Show, runs Sunday, March 5 through Sunday March 12. This year's show, themed "Enchanted Spring ... A Tribute to Mother Nature," will feature 10 acres of exhibit space with displays by leading florists and landscapers, as well as lectures, cooking demos, and a marketplace of gardening gifts and gadgets. Advance tickets can be purchased online at www.theflowershow.com. Closer to home, Washington County's own Garden Show will be held at Hagerstown Community College March 18 and 19.

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