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It’s never too early to start thinkin’ ’bout spring

It’s never too early to start thinkin’ ’bout spring It’s never too early to start thinkin’ ’bout spring

Unless you're a vampire -- and I doubt you'd be reading this if you are because I don't write much about undead issues -- you've probably noticed that winter's shortest days have passed and we are now receiving more than 10 hours of light each day. As the strengthening sun so wakens the sleeping crocus and stirs the slumbering bear, it also brings back to life he who has become known as The Garden Dude. Yeah, well, my sleeping pills only lasted 'til mid-February this year. Trust me, if I could go dormant for another month, I would.

Since I'm awake and crabby, I figure I might as well get the year started with an early, mid-winter edition of Ask the Garden Dude, the semi-irregular (you have no idea) column feature that begs the simple question, 'But why?' Because I can, dear dirt-loving friends, which is the same answer Attila the Hun gave in 488 when asked why he was about to attack Gaul. No, not related really, but what do I care? I already told you I'm crabby.

To refresh your memories, which may be compromised by three months of inhaling poisonous carbon monoxide fumes from your faulty furnace (or your spouse), here's how Ask the Garden Dude works. Well, actually, it doesn't work at all, because you're supposed to send me gardening questions -- which you don't -- and I'm supposed to answer them -- which I can't. So, really, truth be told, this whole idea is about as dysfunctional as the Egyptian government right now, and I just persist in doing it because I know it aggravates you. Yeah, I'm like that when I only get 10 good weeks of sleep in winter.

So anyway, now that we've established that neither of us in particularly thrilled to be here, let's get at it. Just think of it as a colonoscopy -- once it's over, you'll never be able to look your doctor straight in the eyes again. Yeah, I have that affect on people sometimes.

And we're off ...

Dear Mr. Garden Dude: Happy Valentine's Day. Being the floral expert that you are, I'm guessing you give some fabulous gifts to your special someone. I'm just dying to know, what did you give your true love this year?

Answer: Well, at first I was going to have some Himalayan poppies shipped in so I could fashion a bouquet out of them and some highly-rare Indonesian orchids I'm growing in my state-of-the-art basement greenhouse, but then I thought, 'Hey, that's boring. Any unromantic slob can do that.' So instead, I was going to buy overnight, round-trip airline tickets to Madagascar so we could stroll on Valentine's evening through endless fields of budding equatorial forget-me-nots, but you'll never guess what, they've had a late spring in Madagascar (just my luck) and the flowers aren't in bloom yet. So then, I go to order the Himalayan poppies, and I find they've all been sold for opium, and to top it all off, I check my basement greenhouse to find the cat ate the orchid buds. Jeesh. Ended up gettin' her a card from Wal-Mart, some wilting roses from the grocery store flower cooler, and a sale rack negligé that doesn't fit. No her. I can get into it just fine.

Dear Mr. Garden Dude: With March just around the corner, I want to start some seeds indoors so they're ready to transplant into my outdoor beds in the spring. Any tips for a beginner?

Answer: Of course I have tips, they don't call me Mr. Garden Dude only when I hold a knife to their throat and order them to (although it speeds things up quite a bit). First of all, you will want to determine when you should start your indoor seeds, so they're ready at the right time. To do this, pick a crop (we'll use onions as an example, because they need to be started early). In general, you'll want to plant your seeds 10-12 weeks before the last frost of spring, because onions need to develop strong root systems before they can be set in your beds. Early tomatoes need the same amount of time, while broccoli seeds can be planted only 4-6 weeks before transplanting.

Now, if you're having difficulty understanding what I'm trying to tell you, don't be discouraged, because I'm probably just naturally that much more intelligent than you are. But really, now, if what I just explained to you is too complex, then you may well be dumber than the dirt you bought to stick your seeds into. If that's the case, when your seedlings die -- and trust me, they will die -- don't tell anybody you asked for advice from me. I have a reputation to keep, you know.

Dear Mr. Garden Dude: My garden didn't do well at all last year. I tried to do everything you told me -- including fertilizing heavily with diesel fuel -- but nothing seemed to help. What do you suppose went wrong? Answer: Well, reader, without knowing all the details, I'm guessing your garden suffered from a plain and simple lack of nitrogen. Of all the elements your plants need, you see, nitrogen may be the most crucial. Good ol' (N) -- as we geeky soil scientists like to call it when we get together to sniff some leek sprouts -- is essential to all of your plants' chemical processes. Without nitrogen, leaves will turn yellow and die (just like your grandmother did). On the other hand, too much nitrogen may cause plants to grow too rapidly and produce too many leaves, without forming blossoms for crops. In short, you'll need to change your plan of attack this season. I say forget the diesel fuel and instead spray heavily with Easy-Off oven cleaner. It's got extra nitrogen, for those really tough stains. Works great on aphids, too.

Dear Mr. Garden Dude: I have a bone to pick with you. My dear old aunt said she took some of your advice and you ruined her gardens, and now she's sorry she ever heard your name. What do you say to that?

Answer: I say your aunt should have thought of that before she listened to me and released all those hungry slugs into her prized rose beds. I mean, hey, it was just a prank, I didn't make her do it.

Dear Mr. Garden Dude: But she trusted you. Don't you feel even a little guilty?

Answer: Guilty? Me? Ma'am, you're new to Ask Mr. Garden Dude, aren't you?