Start Your Spring Gardening Early

By Ashley M. Heher, AP Retail Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — So what if there was snow on the ground in 49 states this month? When it comes to your garden, it's time to think spring.

These tips for smart gardening will also save you some green.

STUDY UP AND USE SEEDS: Learn what grows best in your climate so you can do the right planting at the right time and build a garden with seeds instead of more expensive starter plants.

Do you want a lush lawn? Organic vegetables? Wildflowers indigenous to your area? Or do you prefer stately shrubbery? Make sure you're clear on when the last frost usually ends, how long various seeds take to germinate and what kind of care your plants will need.

Thinking ahead can also help you avoid an overhaul during the growing season.

"Planning is the key right now," says David Ellis, a spokesman for the American Horticultural Society.

For ideas and advice, check with your state university's agriculture extension office and area gardening clubs.

GROW DURING SNOW: Even if your backyard is still snow-covered, it's not too early to get your hands dirty, and green thumbs in the coldest regions can begin cultivating plants indoors. Meanwhile, in many parts of the south and west the growing season is already well under way.

Pick up a seed starter kit for about $15. Or, for as little as $30, buy seeds, containers, soil and a warming pad to help your seedlings get a head start before transferring them into the ground. Starting plants indoors is especially helpful if you're trying to grow food because it extends the growing season and improves your chances of having a bumper crop.

"The longer you have vegetables growing, the larger they're going to grow," says Johnny Rey, a landscaping expert at The Home Depot Inc.

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