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Garden tools need TLC

If you made it successfully through the 2004 holiday season, I applaud you. Here are a few activities you may want to complete during the cool January weather.

Although we don't technically have much of a dormant season, many (actually most) plants have slowed their growth so you can concentrate on other areas of your garden. You may want to start with your tools. Most can use a good cleaning and perhaps sharpening. This will make them easier to work with and increase their longevity. Make any necessary repairs now.

You may want to choose one tool you use often and replace it with a better quality tool. I have found that saving a few bucks on tools is usually not such a good idea. A quality tool will be easier to use then a lesser tool. Perhaps you can make a deal with yourself to gradually replace those worn and broken tools. I have found that every time I decide to be thrifty and choose the less expensive alternative, I'm very shortly sorry. I had an excellent pair of hand pruning clippers that lasted well over 10 years, but when it came time to replace them I choose an inexpensive pair. I found them difficult to work with and recently replaced them with a good pair that should last me 10 years again. If you have evergreen shrubs that need just a little shaping, it's okay to accomplish that now. Don't do any aggressive pruning, as that will encourage new growth. That tender growth may be damaged if we have more cold weather.

Clean up your garden if you have debris lying around. This may include plant debris, wood, broken pots, or other items. Although pests are not such a problem now, we know when it warms up they will again be in full force. Any debris, whether organic or man-made, makes perfect hiding places for pests.

Mark your calendar for applying pre-emergent weed chemicals to your lawn. This treatment can be done in late January or early February. For some reason, this seems to be a treatment I usually forget, but luckily my lawn service will apply it at the appropriate time. A spring fertilizer can be applied at the same time. If you have unwanted species of grasses in your yard, now is the time to pull or dig them up. My lawn is St. Augustine and I am always hand pulling a bit of Bermuda. That is the only way to control it. I try to remove what is visible in the winter before it starts the rapid spring growth. It is an ongoing battle.

Meet with fellow gardeners. See if there aren't some plant cuttings or seeds that you can swap. Plant materials with stories behind them are always more fun to grow. Do you have a specialty? Share your cuttings and expertise. It's fun to see starts from your plants doing well in other gardens.

Of course this is a great time to look at the garden books on the shelves or go to any search engine on your computer and type in "gardening" or any number of related words. The thousands of Web sites can keep you busy for hours. You'll come across a multitude of interesting facts and beautiful pictures.

There are also a few things that are not necessary this time of year. These would include fertilization, heavy pruning and most insect control. Mowing the grass is probably not necessary more than a couple of times a month, so use that extra time to enjoy other hobbies or get everything in place for the next, and very busy, gardening season.

Make all your lists now. The lists may include changes you will make in the garden; new plant materials you want to try; seeds, plants or other items you want to order (you can do that now); questions you need to get answered; or garden clubs you want to join. Gardens lists are never-ending, which I consider a good thing. If you are exclusively a flower gardener, decide to grow a few vegetables. If your garden has always been a monochromatic green, throw in a couple of flowering plants to liven things up. If your specialty is shade gardening, find a sunny spot and experiment with something new.

Don't sit on your laurels, learn and expand. That evolution is what keeps gardening interesting.

Mary Collister writes about how to garden successfully in Florida's climate and offers problem-solving tips for your home garden. Mail questions to: Mary Collister, North of Tampa, 14358-B N Dale Mabry Blvd., Tampa, FL 33618.

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