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Now is the time to sign up for the beginner/newcomer gardening class sponsored by the University of Tennessee Master Gardeners. Topics include soil improvement, herb gardening, wildlife, turf care, flowers, tree care and composting.

It is a very popular class because the participants learn so much and they have so much fun. Hundreds of cool gardening door prizes are given out. Wonderful food is provided by the experienced Master Gardeners.

The class meets on the first four Tuesday nights in March at the Agriculture Extension office off Bonny Oaks Drive. Call the UT Extension office at 855-6113 for registration and details.

those in the know

Gardening success can be enjoyed the first year, even if you don't know a pansy from a petunia.

The best advice is to ask lots of questions. Get on a first-name basis with experts at your local garden center. The best ones are the family-owned stores. Shop when the store is not real busy, so someone can spend time with you.

Drive around neighborhoods to get ideas for your yard. If you are lucky you may see the gardener. Don't be afraid to get out and ask questions. Gardeners are very friendly and willing to share ideas. Don't be surprised if they share a few plants as well.

Tips and tricks

* Consider the big picture, but focus on parts of the whole. Treat the entire property as a large art canvas. Flowers and plants are used as paints. The front yard can be a single painting. The backyard could be another work of art. To make it workable, divide your overall plan into separate projects. Landscaping is similar to interior decorating. Do one garden room at a time. Start with what excites you.

* Grab a camera and water hose. The camera is for taking pictures before and during the projects. Show these photos to all of your advisers. Use a garden hose (or latex paint, if you prefer) to make an outline of the new plan on the lawn. This will show the actual size and shape of the new garden.

* Follow the sun. Determine the amount of sunlight the selected garden spot will receive. Sun-loving plants require at least eight hours of full exposure to grow well. Most of these like early morning sun best. A few plants can survive harsh afternoon sun. Follow the gardener's mantra of "right plant in the right place."

* Get a soil test. It costs $7, but the information is very valuable. The report will give advice on many important soil characteristics. Add compost, peat or sand to improve the soil texture. Buy these from the garden center, or look for local farms where aged manure is available. This provides soil nutrients as well as proper consistency.

* Remember to water. When a garden is planted, it needs adequate water. A garden hose is just as good as an elaborate watering system. Plants with similar water requirements should be grouped together.

Time to start

The final word of advice is to just get going. Start with a small area. Avoid working in the hot part of the day. Take plenty of breaks. Drink plenty of water. Watch your back muscles. Don't get frustrated. If the garden isn't exactly what you wanted, that's OK. Plants can easily be moved around. Be creative and have fun.

Save Green Go Green

Saving money is a priority for most of us. On Saturday, March 6, stop by the Save Green Go Green event at Hamilton Plae mall. Credit unions, energy companies and gardeners will be available to answer questions from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

There will be demonstrations on how to make a rain barrel at 10:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. You can win prizes and learn about saving money and the environment.

For information on this and other events, call UT Extension at 855-6113 or view a calendar of gardening events at www.MGHC.org.

Contact Tom Stebbins at tstebbins@utk.edu or 855-6113.

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