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Gardeners itching to venture outside

Another sign of the garden coming to life is all the seedlings

We're just itching to get outside and do something. The time has come.

The garden is stirring to life. The snowdrops are beginning to bloom. These pretty little white flowers, native to mountainous Greece and the Balkan Peninsula, are usually the first flowers of the season. They thrive in shady, moist spots.

Other bulbs are popping up too. You may have crocus, species tulips and squills emerging and blooming. Don't worry about them. They can cope with snow and freezing temperatures. Their strategy is to bloom early, attract the first bees to emerge, set seed and go dormant before the summer heat sets arrives.

Another sign of the garden coming to life is all the seedlings. Annuals such as larkspur, bachelor buttons and California poppies actually germinate in winter. They need no help and no protection. As they emerge, the seedlings should be thinned to prevent over-crowding. Just pluck them out so there's about five inches between them.

If you want larkspur, bachelor buttons and California poppies in your garden, sow the seeds now. They need the cold weather to sprout and develop. If you wait until it's good and warm, they will germinate poorly and fail to develop properly.

Sprinkle the seeds on the soil where you want them to grow, leaving about three or four inches between seeds. It's fine to sprinkle them directly on snow; they'll sink into the ground as it melts.

Self-sowing annuals are a great way to fill in gaps in perennial borders. Once they're established, they'll return year after year. An investment in one packet of seed may yield flowers for decades.

Perennial seeds may also be sown now. This includes popular plants such as columbines, black-eyed Susans and silver dollar plant. Nature already spread seeds last fall--we're just catching up.