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Spring Forward with Bulbs and Seedlings

Warmer days herald another growing season and call the avid gardener outside for planting and soil preparation. But there's a lot you can do indoors to get a jump on the season, by starting seedlings now. And if you prefer to procrastinate, wait for fall to plant bulbs that will bloom in early spring of Year 2000. Either way, you'll be an early bloomer.

Seedlings. Pick your favorite seed varieties and assemble flats or pots, along with potting soil. Remember, it's not a good idea to mix different varieties in the same flat or pot because they have different growing characteristics. The key to successful germination and growth is warmth. You'll need to find a spot that's 70 degrees or warmer for the best results. Add potting soil to your pots or flats, and mix in some perlite for aeration. Pack it down lightly, and spread seeds over the top of the soil, or push them in using a pencil. Then cover the seeds with soil according to the depth indicated on the seed packet, and firm the soil to ensure that it adheres to the seeds. Use a lighter touch for watering, you don't want to wash your carefully-prepared seeds into oblivion. Use a spray bottle or place the flats in an inch of water for an hour. Once sprouted, move your budding creations into ample light and slightly cooler temperatures.

Bulbs. Bulbs are hardy, colorful plants that require little maintenance. Once established, they perform reliably year after year. Their distinctive shades offer the first glimpses of color in early spring. But put these on your to- do list for later--planting takes place in the late summer or fall. When planting, use a trowel or bulb-planting tool to make a hole that's slightly deeper than the recommended planting depth. Add a little sand and set the bulb firmly to prevent air pockets. Daffodils, or jonquils, are prolific bulbs that beat all other early bloomers to the punch. In the warmer zones, they started blooming in early February of this year, providing an early shock of color to Southern gardens. Many varieties actually require cold weather for weeks or months in order to rid themselves of a biochemical that retards growth. Once they're "drug-free," the bulbs sprout into stalks topped by yellow, orange and white blooms.

Sources used for this article include writers Jon Franklin, Lee Reich, and the Raleigh News & Observer and Associated Press.