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Apr. 20, 2019
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Curb Appeal

Green, green grass of home

The wetter than normal winter has created the perfect storm for your lawn, particularly if you didn’t put down a pre-emergent treatment last September. 
“Because we’ve had such a wet winter, you will certainly see more weeds in your lawn this spring than normal,” said Charlie King, owner of Gainesville-based King Green. “Right now, your lawn may be green, but it may be filled with weeds, especially if you didn’t put down a pre-emergent last September.” 
Although there may be little you can do about that good crop of weeds now, King recommends steps that you can take to minimize the weeds in warm-season grasses, such as bermuda, zoysia and centipede, begin to green up.
“Mow your lawn to about 1 inch tall, but don’t scalp it,” he said. “And the old wives’ tale about burning off your lawn is never a good idea. First and foremost, it is simply not safe and you run the risk of the burn quickly getting out of control. Second, it’s not really good for your lawn.”
Put down a pre-emergent for summer weeds “yesterday,” he said. “It’s better late than never and you may be able to reduce germination of some of the summer weeds, including crabgrass.” Use a dedicated pre-emergent, not a combo fertilizer/weed killer. And read package instructions to learn the rate of application. Pre-emergents will need watering in.
“April is the time to aerate your warm-season lawns, especially if you haven’t done so in a few years,” King said. Aeration helps break up hard soil and allows both airs and water to get to the roots. It encourages root growth, which will help ensure a healthier lawn. And when you fertilize afterward, the nutrients can also penetrate more deeply.
A word about watering 
One of the biggest problems with residential lawns is that people overwater. Experts recommend about one to one-and-a-half inches of water per week, applied in one watering session. 
If we have regular rain, supplemental watering is generally not necessary, but for dry spells, augment with irrigation. 
“Watering one time per week deeply is much better for your lawn than several times a week for short periods,” King said. “Deep watering allows the water to better reach the roots and helps them to grow deeper. This can help them better in times of drought.” 
Lawn irrigation systems can be set up to water on a schedule of days and times of day. It’s better to water in the morning to allow the grass to dry thoroughly. Watering in the early evening may create problems with disease.
Lawn mower maintenance 
King preaches “sharp blades, sharp blades, sharp blades” as a key component of good healthy lawn care. Keep your mower in good repair and periodically clean it to discourage the spread of weed seeds and disease.  “Having sharp blades can make good clean cuts on your grass and discourage damage and disease,” he said. 
Proper lawn care can produce a beautiful green carpet with little weeds or disease. With a bit of regularly scheduled attention, your lawn can be the envy of the neighborhood.

Pamela A. Keene is our senior staff writer and a Hall County Master Gardener.

March 2019 column

Crepe 'murder' and other landscape adventures

I admit it. I committed crepe murder this spring in my landscape. But I had a really good reason. It was just one of many garden and landscape adventures that have made my to-do list for 2019.
Our home, named Rose Lane in memory of my mom Rosa who died three years ago, will be part of the Hall County Master Gardens Biennial Garden Walk on June 1. So some drastic activities are in order. Plus with my new Rose Cottage studio ready in April, it’s time for a serious look at our yard.
It all started with my hybrid tea rose gardens. The 40 some-odd bushes get a severe pruning in late winter/early spring each year. It removes dead branches and stimulates new lush green growth and increased flowering for the spring, summer and fall. 
Some of the bushes were six feet tall. Rose gardening requires that each bush be cut back to three to six strong canes – the thick branches that come directly from the bud union. In the process all the smaller weaker branches are cut back and discarded as well.
Already, little red leaf buds that will grow into new branches are spouting with the recent warm weather. As soon as the plants have leafed out, it will be time to fill my backpack sprayer with fungicide and insecticide for the first round of treatment. I’ll include either Hinder or Liquid Fence to keep the deer away. Applications of spray every two to three weeks should help produce the bursts of fragrant, colorful blooms all season long.
Roses require babying, but the rewards are amazing. All summer and fall I shared large bouquets with friends, my doctors and various groups, and I still had plenty to keep in my kitchen and office.
We also have about 20 Knock-Out and shrub roses along the front of our property that need attention, but they are much easier to care for than hybrid teas. Once they’ve been pruned in the late winter, cutting back smaller branches to leave the larger primary canes, they get sprayed regularly with the appropriate fungicides and insecticides. Hinder, alternating with Liquid Fence, every couple of weeks keeps the hungry deer away.
Other early spring landscape chores include cutting back the remains of last year’s perennials, pulling away dead leaves from the daylilies and reshaping my crepe myrtles. 
Once I had the pruners, clippers and loppers in hand, I was on a roll. I saved the crepes for last and enlisted husband Rick’s help with a ladder. My little chain saw also saw some action as we took out three to four feet of scraggly bare branches from the crepe myrtles flanking the front of our house.
My mission was to remove all the limbs that were taller than the house. And because we hadn’t pruned them back for four of five years, we were overdue. Careful to cut below any previous pruning to avoid those awful knuckle-like bunches on the branches, the plants have fresh cuts that will stimulate growth of the branches that will produce luscious blossoms later this summer. We also left some branches below the cuts about the diameter of our thumbs to keep the profiles of the crepes softer.
Several hours and a couple of large piles of debris later, the job was done. 
However, as I looked around our yard, I saw that the preparation for the June 1 Garden Walk was just beginning. It’s going to be a busy spring. And I love every minute of my gardening adventures.

February 2019 column

Deer me! What's eating your landscape?

Human hair, Irish Spring soap shavings, aluminum pie pans suspended on string, motion-activated lights or water sprinklers? Across Northeast Georgia, Bambi, his friends and family don’t seem to mind the smells, sounds and surprises when it comes to grazing on your prized roses, vegetables and hydrangeas. They’re much more interested in finding food with little consideration of your hard work.
You’d think that there would be many ways to keep the deer at bay, but not so. 
“There’s no fool-proof way to keep deer from eating your landscape if they’re hungry enough, but there are some ways to minimize the damage,” says Joe Lamp’l, creator and host of the award-winning PBS television series, “Growing a Greener World,” and a nationally recognized garden expert. “It takes persistence and a few tricks, but you can keep deer at bay.” 
Lamp’l suggests a couple of ways to at least minimize deer damage – exclusion/physical barriers or repellents. 
Do fence them out 
“Truly the most reliable way to address your deer issue is to create a physical barrier or a way to exclude them from your landscape,” he says. “Building a fence around your vegetable garden will do a great deal to reduce deer damage, but not just any fence will do.” 
Lamp’l suggests building a double, three-strand fence, like those used for livestock protection. Mount plastic insulators on 36-inch wooden, fiberglass or metal stakes and make two concentric circles around the area three feet apart. String the stakes in each circle together with wire strands, placing the wire in the outside circle 18 inches from the ground. Then put two strands on the inner stakes at 10 and 24 inches. 
Electricity, either through solar power or a battery-operated source, can be added, but Lamp’l says that’s not necessary in most cases. If a double fence is not practical from a space standpoint, build a standard fence from posts and chicken wire, woven field wire or welded mesh wire at least eight feet tall. Make sure that the fencing is tight against the ground. The deer won’t burrow, but they will look for an easy way to go under it.
The stories are legendary about people who scatter human hair clippings or bits of strong-smelling soap around their gardens in hopes of keeping deer from foraging. Crushing garlic, concocting a mixture of fragrant herbs, or spraying capsasian oil onto plants may keep the deer away, but these home remedies are truly not effective.
Some commercially available repellents have a good success rate, but the key is to alternate the brands that you use and to apply the repellents frequently, about every 10 days or so, and especially after it rains. Some of the most recognized brands are Liquid Fence, Deer Away, Deer Out, Deer Stopper and Hinder. You can usually find these at places like Tractor Supply, box retailers and nurseries. Follow the package instructions.
For an organic deer-repellent that’s marketed as fertilizer, try Milorganite, a waste-water treatment by-product that’s been produced by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District for more than 90 years. Without getting too scientific, Milorganite is the result of recycling nutrients in the city’s wastewater by using microbes that are then kiln-dried, bagged and sold across the country. The organic nitrogen-based slow-release fertilizer produces an odor that is offensive to deer. “I’ve seen it used as a fertilizer and deer repellent and the deer don’t seem to browse in areas treated with Milorganite,” Lamp’l says. “I find it to be very effective.”
For more information, visit Lamp’l’s website,, which offers podcasts, videos, articles and blogs related to all types of gardening. His show is also available on Georgia Public Television; go to and search for “Growing a Greener World.”

January 2019 column

Too much rain? What to do about rain water management

Can you recall the last time you had your gutters cleaned? If you can’t – or if it’s been more than a year – you’re probably way overdue.
Clean gutters are a major step in rain water management. Your gutters are designed to help direct the rain pouring off your roof away from your home’s foundation. They also help control harmful erosion around your home and landscape. Even gutters with guards and shields need to be inspected and cleaned regularly.  When your gutters are filled with leaves and debris, the water flowing off your roof can’t make its way to the downspouts. The water simply overflows all along the gutters, creating gullies where water gathers along your foundation. They’re unsightly, but they can also contribute to excess water around your house.
Your gutters can be a good tool for water conservation. By adding rain barrels beneath your downspouts, you can collect rainwater to use for irrigation, to wash your vehicles and to use for outdoor chores. Rain barrels often have an opening at the bottom, threaded to connect a faucet or hose to make it easy to use the contents. The top of the barrel is open, so cover it with a circle of fine screen to prevent the accumulation of debris and leaves. A closed top is even more effective and can prevent mosquitos from hatching in the standing water in the summer.
Box retailers and nurseries, such as Pike Nursery, seasonally carry rain barrels and diversion systems. And groups like the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper offer rain barrels for $35 each throughout the year. The unpainted rain barrel includes a kit for attaching it to your downspouts. Order them online and pick them up at the Riverkeepers’ offices in Atlanta, LaGrange and Gainesville. They will make a good indoor family project for January.
Some people install rain chains at the downspout locations along their gutters to help diffuse the water as it falls. The chains can be hung above rain barrels. You can also buy rain barrel diverters to direct the water into a barrel placed a bit farther from your foundation to protect against overflow next to your house.
When Rick and I built our home more than a dozen years ago, we buried a 1,500-gallon cement cistern on the back of our property. With 4-inch PVC pipes, we tied all our home’s gutters into the cistern, running them underground.  A converted 1,500-gallon septic tank with a large hole cut into the concrete wall between the two compartments, our cistern was connected to our underground irrigation system when we built the house. It’s a good way to have extra water during dry times in the spring and summer. 
We also installed four remote faucet boxes around our yard so that running water is never far from reach. They’re next to our vegetable garden, adjacent to my hybrid tea rose beds and near areas our plantings of native plants, trees and shrubs. These faucets are part of our underground irrigation system, put in at the same time.
For more information about water management in your landscape, visit or Both organizations periodically conduct classes for rain-water management. The Pike Nursery site also offers instructional videos about landscaping, including how to install a rain garden in areas that retain water in your yard.

December 2018 column

She Sheds: Today's answer to man caves

OK. We may be entering some dangerous territory here as I write about a new gardening trend, but bear with me. For years the guys have had their man caves, complete with big-screen TVs, surround sound and a license to have their “sacred private space.
Now it’s our turn. When I tell my friends that my husband Rick is building a garden house for me, people immediately ask me if I’ve seen the insurance commercial about the She Shed that burns down. That’s not really the way to start a conversation. Gardening, and all that goes with it, is a very serious topic. 
A brand-new book just came about from Quarto Publishing Group, which specializes in all kinds of gardening books. It is called “She Shed Style,” written by Erika Kotite, who also authored “She Sheds.”
The hard-cover, full-color book is gorgeous, but even more importantly, it’s filled with all kinds of decorating and DYI ideas to create a personalized She Shed that reflects your personality and style. From building an open-sided potting shed with loads of windows and plenty of shelf space for working, to designing a home-away-from-home with room for napping, reading or pursuing a hobby, Kotite has captured the essence of all things stylish. 
She delves into the architectural choices of She Sheds, ones that can range from a simple three-sided cubby in the garden to elaborate stand-alone rooms furnished with antiques, hand-made floor coverings and chandeliers. A She Shed can be as simple as a big-box retailer out-building to a custom-built all-glass cottage. Add an overhanging roof of four to six feet for storing garden tools, or create a patio covered by a pergola and draped with outdoor café lights.
Her book illustrates how to incorporate work space for journaling or letter writing, without taking up too much space. Create seating areas that encourage conversation, and add storage by building shelves above windows that can also be used to display your treasures. Hang colorful glass balls or floats from the ceiling at varying heights to provide dimension. 
Add interior space dividers using louvered folding doors as screens or drape soft fabric to hide clutter. Consider putting in a wood floor and stenciling it to create the look of brick or tile. 
Window treatments, if you even choose to use them, can be made of dishtowels knotted on wooden sticks or branches. Take an old suitcase, cover it with brightly colored fabric and you’ve got an ottoman. 
Furnishings can serve several purposes. A table with a shelf below can hold baskets to store supplies. A trunk or chest, repurposed, distressed and painted with chalk paint, can be both a coffee table and additional storage.
Shop consignment stores, antique shops and yard sales to find fun and whimsical items. Kotite added an old mantel and a couple of mirrors in one design. In another, she used broken china to create colorful stepping stones outside. Old doors can be retrofitted to provide a welcoming entrance.
I found a great Tiffany-style hanging light fixture that’s perfect above a wicker rocker in my little house. Another shopping trip yielded glass containers that I can use for flower arrangements. Souvenirs from my travels, such as a glass ball etched with a shamrock from Ireland, will also have a home in my She Shed. 
My She Shed has a name. It’s Rose Cottage, to go along with our having named our home Rose Lane in memory of my mother, whose name was Rosa. We have dozens of rose bushes, many of them hybrid tea cutting roses that I share with friends from May through mid-November.
As spring approaches, now is the time to daydream about what you can do to create your own She Shed. Check out “She Shed Style” by Erika Kotite for ideas. It’s available on Amazon.

November 2018 column

Winter color? Try new Cool Wave Pansies and more

A package arrived a couple of weeks ago from a public relations firm with a surprise – a dozen of the newest Cool Wave Pansies. As a garden writer I occasionally receive samples and trial plants with the stipulation that I report back to the growers about results in my Northeast Georgia garden.
Wave plants had been on my radar, especially the beautiful Wave Petunias that are available at box retailers and area nurseries each spring, but the Cool Wave Pansies got past me as each fall I purchased four to five flats of pansies to line my front walkway for winter color. Over the past couple of winters, my regular pansies suffered from various set-backs, from deer munching on them to just not performing as well as I expected.
Cool Wave Pansies, perfect for containers, window boxes and hanging baskets, are my new go-to winter color. My 12 samples, mostly in shades of yellow, purple and white will replace my Kimberly ferns on my front porch as it gets cold. The ferns will be overwintered in the garage – watered regularly and brought outside for some sun on warmer days. 
In the meantime, the Cool Wave Pansies fill two big squat ceramic pots. They’ll provide plenty of color as they spread and trail over the edges. According to Cool Wave spokesperson Katie Rotella, they prefer four hours of sunlight, being kept moist but not soaked, and regular pinching back of spent blooms to discourage seed-pod development. An occasional “hair cut” to remove leggy stems will encourage increased growth from the centers of the plants. 
Hybridized to produce more than a dozen colors of blooms, they look more like large violas with blossoms slightly smaller than standard pansies. They won’t freeze or be damaged by frost; in fact, they’re cold-hardy to -20 degrees, much colder than our Georgia winters.
 Feed Cool Wave Pansies when you first plant them and again every two weeks with liquid fertilizer until the first hard frost. They will flourish until late spring when the day-time temperatures rise to 75 degrees. 
For more information about Cool Wave Pansies or other Wave plants, visit And look for them at our area nurseries and box retailers. They’re definitely a great addition for your winter color.
November Gardening Tips 
With our warmer fall this year, we’re really waiting for the right time to prune trees and shrubs. Once they are dormant, which means growth has slowed or stopped for winter, you can sharpen your clippers and pruners and go to work.
Remove any dead limbs and branches, cutting selectively rather than lopping off all branches to the same length. You’ll create a much more interesting plant profile by pruning rather than hedging.
Rake and clean up any leaves and put them in your compost. Turn them into the pile, then cover the pile with a tarp to encourage more heat that will help break down the components and protect it from too much rain that may wash away nutrients. Use the mature compost to amend vegetable gardens, flower beds and to top-dress around trees and shrubs next spring.
What not to prune: To have lush spring blossoms, do not prune azaleas, forsythia/yellow bells, hydrangeas or other spring-flowering shrubs. Wait until after they’ve bloomed and then prune to reshape and stimulate growth and bud production for the next year.
October 2018 colmun

Cooler weather gardening chores and tips

As the temperatures cool, it’s a great time for gardening. From “the best time to plant trees and shrubs” to just being able to work outdoors without the sweltering heat and humidity, get out your gardening tools, trimmers and gloves and lay the groundwork for a beautiful landscape next spring.
Planting trees and shrubs
Trees and shrubs go dormant in the fall and winter. That means you can install new landscape materials now. As the weather cools, the trees and shrubs will have a better chance of acclimating to their new locations. And while they will require regular watering, it’s much less stressful on them to plant them in the cooler seasons.
The secrets to success include selecting the right location in terms of sunlight and space. “Research the mature size and light requirements of trees and shrubs as you’re choosing the site and make sure that you select the appropriate site,” says Suzanne Brosche, owner of Art of Stone Landscaping, based in Dahlonega. “Trees need to have room to grow without being crowded. Plus, if they’re planted too close together, they will slowly compete for the nutrients in the soil and it will affect their overall health.” 
Suzanne suggests planting a variety of trees and shrubs – some that flower, some that are prized for their foliage and others that are evergreen to provide a good backdrop. “Magnolias, such as ‘Little Gem’ have beautiful glossy dark-green leaves and stunning large white flowers in the summer,” she says. “Most people immediately think of conifers or shrubs like Green Giant Thuja or Leyland Cypress, but there are so many non-conifer choices, such as camellias and azaleas that flower, and a wide variety of hollies. Flip through magazines or online to get some ideas.” 
Here are a couple of nearby nurseries that specialize in trees and shrubs: Kinsey Tree Farm and Landscape Nursery off Jot-’em Down Road in north Gainesville, Lanier Nursery and Gardens in Flowery Branch on Schubert Road, and Full Bloom Nursery in Clermont on Holly Spring Road. All three have good selections and very knowledgeable staff who can advise you about the right trees and shrubs for your landscape.
If you have tender potted plants you want to overwinter, move them into a shady post for about two weeks before bringing them indoors. When they come inside, put them in a bright spot away from drafts. 
Wait until later in October to purchase your pansies or other winter annuals. With the warmer weather we’ve had, pansies prefer that the ground be a bit cooler when transplanted. When you plant them, water well and apply a water-soluble fertilizer.
Apply weed-preventer, such as Preen, to newly planted annual beds. This will prevent the germination of winter weeds without harming your pansies, Dusty Miller or ornamental cabbages, kale or Swiss chard.
Divide your daylily clumps and replant them this month. If they have more than six or so fans, they’re ready to be divided and transplanted to extend their summer color for next year.
Now that your summer perennials, such as daisies, cone flowers and black-eyed Susans, have stopped blooming, clean out your garden beds. Cut perennials back to the ground and discard the cuttings. If you have fruit trees, rake up the leaves and fallen fruit to help prevent disease and fungus next season. 
You can plant spring-flowering bulbs in October and November. Daffodils naturalized under trees and shrubs provide a pleasant surprise each spring. Don’t be alarmed if the foliage appears while the weather is still cold in January or February; the leaves can withstand cold, snow and ice and still bloom.
Sign up for gardening newsletters, such as The Georgia Gardener,, and garden apps, including the always-updated “Great Garden Plants” app by Allan Armitage, UGA horticulturalist, author and gardening expert. It’s only $4.99 and is available either for iPhone or Android.

September 2018 column

Tips for extending your summer garden's last horrah

With the strong and steady hot summer and early fall, most of our annuals, perennials and vegetables may look a bit peaked this month. But you can stretch the growing season out a little more with some simple tips. 
There’s still time to fertilize your annuals and perennials for a bit more bloom. For quick results, choose a water-soluble fertilizer such as Miracle Grow. It can be applied using a hose-end sprayer or by mixing it according to the package instructions into a watering can and applying to each plant.
You can also use a granular fertilizer, but be sure to water it in well. Good choices include Milorganite, a slow-release organic fertilizer, or any of the Espoma “tone” types, which are also organic. The company makes different formulas for particular situations. For instance, “Holly-tone” is great for acid-loving plants, such as azaleas, camellias, evergreens, hollies and blueberries. “Plant-tone” for flowering plants and “Garden-tone” for vegetables both work well as all-purpose fertilizers. They’re safe to apply, they’re slow-release and provide plants with more nutrients and microbes than man-made chemical fertilizers.
Espoma makes a number of specialty formulas – Rose-tone, Bulb-tone, Tree-tone and Tomato-tone are just a few. If you can’t find them at your box retailer or area nursery, google them and find a source that offers free shipping.
You can also extend your flowering plants’ bloom season by deadheading, pinching or cutting off spent blooms so that the plant will use its energy to create more blossoms. Annuals such as salvia, Angelonia, marigolds, petunias and begonias, respond well to being pinched back. Also keep them well watered going into the fall and you’ll get another flush of blooms.
Save the brown flower heads from marigolds for next year’s seeds. Allow them to turn brown, then open them, spread them out and keep them in a cool, dry place until they dry out. Package them in plastic bags to store until next spring, when you can broadcast plant them in a well-prepared garden bed. 
Perennials, including coneflowers, tall phlox, blanket flowers, daisies, speedwells, black-eyed Susans and lavender, need some neatening up this month. Again, remove the dead flowerheads and remove brown foliage. Apply a light fertilizer and water regularly. Note that as the weather turns colder, you may need to cut back the brown stems and mulch lightly to protect them from frost. 
Dividing plants
September is a good time to divide clumps of plants, such as daylilies. If they are too crowded, you’ll see less blooms next year. This month the soil is still warm enough to encourage good root development. 
Here’s how: Dig up a clump of daylilies, allowing at least 10 inches between your shovel and the plants. Gently remove the dirt and spread out the roots, using the fans of leaves as a guide. Pull the roots apart, then replant each section at least 5 to 7 inches apart. Water well. This is a great way to expand your garden without spending any extra money. And, if you have friends who also garden, it’s fun to swap varieties with them.

August 2018 column

Gardening hacks for late summer, early fall

Sure, it’s hot outside. But that’s no excuse for neglecting your garden. If you’ve been watering regularly through the summer, you’ll still be rewarded with late tomatoes, green beans, peppers, squash and cucumbers. 
If the heat has gotten to your crop, there’s still time for a late summer/fall replacement garden. Plant squash and cucumbers seeds directly into the ground in raised mounds by the end of the month. Since they mature around 55 to 60- days after planting you’re safe from the threat of first frost, which is typically around early to mid-November. Just be sure to keep them well watered as they grow and keep an eye out for insects, such as squash borers that affect the stems of the plant. If you find insects, treat with Sevin dust, following the directions on the package. Yes, you can use Sevin on edible plants. The packaging will give you quantities, methods of application and cautions. 
You can also start seeds for your cool-weather crops, such as broccoli, collards and kale in August. Choose a shady place outdoors and use seeding flats, peat pots, or egg cartons and fill with good soil. Make sure the containers have adequate drainage. The late summer heat, with the plants in the shade, will provide the warmth and humidity that the seeds need to sprout, and by starting the seeds early, they will be ready to set out into the garden in September and October.
Fill the containers with good moist soil, then place one to two seeds in each pot or section of the egg carton, just barely covering them with soil. Water gently and thoroughly; using a mister is best. Be sure to label the containers when you plant the seeds, so you’ll know what you have planted.
Go ahead and prepare your garden space so that when it comes time to transplant the seedlings, you’ll be ready. Break up any large clumps, add organic matter and a light application of 10-10-10 fertilizer. When the seedlings have grown at least two pairs of leaves, not including the initial two that are the result of the seed sprouting, you can set them out in the garden. Plant them in rows and space the plants according to the instructions on the seed packets. Apply a little starter solution as you transplant.
Kale will mature in 55-70 days; collards will be ready to pick at between 60 and 85 days. Broccoli will be ready to harvest from seeds at between 100 and 150 days. Other plants to consider include cauliflower, chard, cabbage and turnips. Don’t worry about these vegetables being affected by frost or freezing temperatures. The foliage may become a bit burned, but the plants will survive.
If you’re not sold on starting your vegetable plants from seeds, fall will be here before you know it. Then you can buy starter plants for your cool-season vegetables at area box retailers. No matter what you choose, there’s nothing better than vegetables picked fresh from the garden.

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