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It's time for spring planning

KENNEWICK -- We are all anxious to get "growing."

One gardener told me he already had planted his tomato seeds and they were starting to sprout.

It's a bit too early for seed planting, but now is the time to be planning your garden and ordering seed. If you haven't started yet, you should. It's still winter, but spring will be here before we know it -- I hope.

Part of the fun of gardening is trying something new or different each year. I like to check out the new vegetable and flower varieties the seed companies are introducing.

Johnny's Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com) is offering a new eggplant called 'Barbarella.' This new variety has beautiful, rounded 4- to 6-inch diameter purple fruit that are tender and tasty. Each upright plant bears five to six fruit. If you are a gardener trying to incorporate edibles into your landscape, the pretty purple fruit of this plant contrast well with yellow marigolds.

Traditionally, when you grow potatoes in the garden, you start with "seed potatoes." These are cut up pieces of potato that have one or more "eyes," or buds, from which new plants sprout and grow.

Seed potatoes are easy to plant, but when spring weather is cold and damp they may rot before sprouting. A way around this is to use already sprouted plants. Grimes Wholesale is selling Quick Sprout plants to growers who pot them in 4-inch pots for sale at garden centers. This will give gardeners a fast start to their potato season.

Look for Quick Sprout plants at the garden store or consider growing your potatoes from seed pieces that can be ordered from a company almost within "hollering" distance from here.

Irish Eyes Garden Seeds (www.irisheyesgardenseeds.com) is just outside of Ellensburg. They specialize in potatoes, garlic, vegetable and flower seed with a focus on organic seed and heirloom varieties.

Heirloom vegetable varieties, especially tomato varieties, have become increasingly popular in the past five years. 'Brandywine' has been voted one of the top varieties in taste tests around the country.

However, area gardeners often don't have much luck with Brandywine because it's very late to mature and the deeply lobed fruit often split before maturity. Brandywine failures have driven many gardeners back to more reliable modern hybrids. New to the market are hybrids of the classic Brandywine tomato. 'Pink Brandymaster' and 'Red Brandymaster' are F1 hybrids that produce medium to large firm fruit with the prized Brandywine flavor. The plants have potato-shaped leaves on indeterminate vines. You can get Brandymaster seed from Totally Tomatoes (totallytomato.com).

Another new wonder of the plant breeding world is a seedless tomato, 'Sweet Seedless'. This variety will be great for people who can't eat seeds because of an intestinal disorder. Available from W. Atlee Burpee and Co. (burpee.com) the fruit have a good, sweet flavor and the vines are indeterminate.

Got spring fever and want to learn more about gardening in our area?Then plan on attending Spring Garden Day, a day filled with classes about gardening in the Tri-Cities region.

Sponsored by WSU Extension and the Master Gardeners, the program includes classes on lawn care, growing tomatoes, rose care, vegetable gardening, pruning trees, growing dahlias, building a backyard pond and garden tool selection.

The keynote speaker is Dr. Richard Old, Northwest weed and native plant expert.

Spring Garden Day is March 5. To register, call 509-735-3551.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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