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Archive for the ‘Flowers’ Category

My friend Darby called me on her cell phone the other day with a shopping alert. She was at a discount store selling boxes of bare root perennials at bargain prices and wanted to know how many I wanted. She was shocked when I told her I would pass on this bargain.

Plants at rock bottom prices are not a value if they fail to grow and thrive and the problems with bare root plants often arise when you get them home. They have a relatively short shelf life once they are taken from cold storage and boxed up, so they need to be planted ASAP.

I told Darby how I cornered the market on bare root plants a couple of years ago and the experiment was a disaster. I had neither the time nor the space to care for the plants until the weather warmed enough to plant them in the garden.

Each box contained 6 bare roots – a real bargain for under $10. I grabbed an armload.  Most of the roots were too large to fit into the small pots I had on hand so I resorted to planting them in 10 oz foam coffee cups and stuck them under lights in the basement where it was cool. To make sure the plants got off to a good start the roots needed to be soaked several hours before planting.  And planting took forever so by the time I finished I wished I had never seen a bare root plant. To make matters worse I had no room under my lights to start my seeds.

Why not grow them in your conservatory Darby asked? Most home green houses and conservatories lack the automatic venting needed to prevent temperatures from rising when the sun shines. On a sunny day the temperature in my conservatory can shoot into the 90’s spelling death to bare root plants that have yet to develop good root systems. Bare root plantings are grown in cool greenhouses.

Walter’s Gardens of Zeeland Michigan one of the largest wholesalers of bare root plants tells their growers to promote root growth, newly planted bare roots should be kept between 48 to 55 degrees F for 10 to 14 days after potting and then increase the temperature to 55 to 60 degrees. Nighttime temps should be maintained at 45 to 50 degrees F.  Heat will accelerate the green growth and you want the roots development first.

I found florescent lights worked well at first but once the plants started putting on leaves they needed more light so at that point I put the perennials under professional grow lights. These high intensity lights make that wheel in the Edison box sing and my electric bill took a big jump.

When planting in spring, perennials shouldn’t be exposed to freezing weather so I explained to Darby she would have to tend those babies until the nights are frost-free and then be prepared to cover them if frost threatens.

Before planting out doors the plants need to be hardened off which means they will have to be carted in and out-of-doors for a week or more.

At some point the plants may need to be transplanted into gallon pots. Plants that stay in small containers too long become pot bound, which stresses them and they often need to be watered twice a day.

Walters recommends planting bare roots in a bark-based soilless potting mix to help hold moisture in the potting mix

“Are you telling me not to buy bare root plants?” Darby moaned.  No kiddo, I just want you to be aware of how much time and space it takes to grow them successfully so you don’t waste your money and end up with a bunch of dead plants, I answered. I suggested she start with box of easy to grow bare root day lilies or hostas and see how it goes.

I also reminded Darby bare root plants sporting green leaves have broken dormancy. They’re poor buys because the plants don’t have a root system to support that new growth and they have to use their stored reserves. While they may live through the summer many eventually run out gas and fail to survive the winter.

Roses and shrubs purchased from mail order houses that arrive bare root are not such a problem. They can and should be planted outdoors as soon as possible. However, if that’s not possible, for a short period of time they can be kept in a garage or stored along the north side of the house until planted.  Dormant bare root roses can withstand freeze as low as 28-degree says Nancy Lindley, author of Roses for Michigan.

When the plants arrive be sure check the packing to make sure it is moist and mist both the bark and the roots if they look at all dry.  Leave the packing in place and wrap the plants loosely in wet burlap, damp sheets or thick sheets of wet newspaper to keep them moist until they can be planted.

I’ll check in with Darby in a few weeks to see how much trouble she is in.  Hopefully, she took my advice and started slow.

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Timely Tip: Before the kids, cats and dogs have a chance to get out and romp in newly fallen snow, walk the landscape and look for signs of foot traffic. Four-legged foot traffic that is. Rabbits, voles and deer that are grocery shopping in your yard today will be dining on spring bulbs, newly emerging perennials and tender young seedlings in a matter of weeks, so now is the time to ask them to leave. Live trap the rabbits, mouse trap the voles and fence out the deer.

If asked to pick the toughest plant in my garden, I’d name the hosta. When I moved from my old house I discovered three live hostas, still in their containers, hiding beside the compost bin. As the saying goes, out of sight out of mind.

I figured those tough little plants had spent at least two years hidden away in those pots, yet they were none the worse for wear.  So I packed them up, trucked them out to the country and planted them in front of my new home. I’m pleased to say they are growing like crazy.

This summer I received a couple of emails from readers asking why their hosta suddenly up and died.  The only pests that ever attack my cast iron characters are deer and slugs, but the damage is only cosmetic. Voles have been known to munch on hosta roots, but their presence is easy to detect. The roots of the plants are missing.

At the time, my best guess as to the cause of the readers’ sudden hosta demise was crown rot, caused from over-watering and poor drainage.  But according to an article in the January/February edition of the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association publication, The Michigan Landscape magazine, there may be much scarier explanation – Sclerotium rolfsii var. delphinii or Hosta Petiole Rot.

According to Mark L. Gleason of the Department of Plant Pathology at Iowa State, author of the article on Host Petiole Rot, this relatively new fungal disease, has begun to rear its ugly head here in Michigan,

If you are a hostaholic, you should know that this nasty stuff, once established in the landscape, has the ability to wipe out your entire collection, so I recommend you become familiar with it and be on the lookout for it.

Infected hosta develop soft brown areas at the base of the petioles or leaf stalks, followed by withering and the collapse of the leaves. Within a short period of time the plant dies.

To date there is no fungicide available to kill the disease so the best defense is to keep it out of your garden. Whether you receive new plants from friends or buy them from a garden center or nursery carefully inspect every hosta crown for signs of the disease.

Because Hosta Petiole Rot is a sleeper disease that remains dormant in the upper Midwest most of the year, infested hostas with otherwise healthy looking crowns may be sold in May through July. However, upon close inspection, Gleason says infected plants will display sclerotai – tiny B-B like spheres, which may be white, tan or brick red in color and closely resemble mustard seeds.  He describes them as little spaceships that encapsulate and protect the dormant fungus until the weather conditions are right for it to thrive.

However, don’t mistake slow release fertilizer capsules, such as Osmocote, as signs of the disease, says Mark Gleason. These plastic coated fertilizer spheres often found in container plantings are three times as large as the fungal spheres and lack their colorations.

When the disease is active, only is warm wet weather when day time temperatures reach into the 80’s and 90’s and night time temps climb into the 70’s along with evening rains or irrigation, the leaf stalks begin to turn brown and mushy.

If you have a plant that you suspect may be infected with Petiole Rot Fungus, send a sample into the plant-testing laboratory at MSU for proper id. In the mean time, quarantine the area and avoid tracking surrounding soil to other areas of the garden.  If the diagnosis is positive, Mark Gleason recommends carefully removing the infected plant and destroying it. Gleason also suggest removing the surface soil and mulch surrounding the plant and either burying it 6 to 12-inches deep in an area that will remain untouched for at least a year or disposing of it in the trash. Under no circumstances, add it to the compost pile.  Fungus buried in the ground will become food for the beneficial microbes that live in the soil.

After working with the infected soil, be sure to wash all tools, shoes, gloves and clothing clean of any soil to prevent tracking the fungus to other areas of the garden and spreading the disease.  Tools should be disinfected with alcohol or bleach.

Unfortunately, hostas aren’t the only plants this fungus attacks. According to Mark Gleason, HPR can travel from hostas to other nearby plants. Iris, delphiniums, astilbe, ajuga and aconitum are among the list of 20 other plants that have succumbed to Hosta Petiole Rot.

Unlike other kinds of fungus, HPR does not produce spores so it is not carried about by the wind. When the conditions are right, it travels along the surface of the soil in search of fresh petioles. Water droplets crashing into the earth during rainstorms and irrigation also disturb the soil, facilitating fungal movement.

Mulching with several inches of mulch, taking care to leave a six-inch ring of exposed soil at the base of the plants has proven to help contain the spread of the disease.  However, the HPR fungus does not appear to spread in pine needle mulch says Gleason.

Skilled gardeners are good detectives, they’re always looking for trouble.

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Timely Tip:  If you have over wintered bulbs such as cannas and dahlias, now is a good time to check them to make sure they have not dried out. If they are beginning to look a bit shriveled or the packing sand or peat moss is dry, spray the surface of the packing medium with just enough water to slightly dampen it. Remove any bulbs that feel soft and mushy.

This can be a tough time for a lot of gardeners. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays far behind, the digging juices are beginning to flow. But alas, the weather outside if not frightful is cold and the soil is frozen solid. And unless you’re a serious contender in  “the great tomato race”, it’s too early to start seeds. So what’s a gardener to do?

Why not consider starting a plant collection. Now is a perfect time to take up collecting because all the new plant and seed catalogs are out and there’s lots of time to peruse them, pick your passion and begin making a wish list.

Unlike antiques if you pick your plants wisely and are patient, plant collecting doesn’t have to be expensive. We often hear stories of Hosta collectors who have to be the first on their block to show off the latest and greatest and are willing to pay hundreds for new introductions. But those who sit back and relax can pick up the same plants a few years down the road at reasonable prices.

If you garden in the shade, perennial ferns are also worth collecting and they mix beautifully with hosta and other wild flowers.

Many herb gardeners enjoy collecting thymes. Of the 350 species of Thymus more than half a dozen are currently used in ornamental gardens and there are numerous cultivars of every specie, so there’s a lot to choose from.

Last summer I got hooked on salvias. They thrived in the hot dry weather, were pest free, and flowered their heads off. I’m mad for them.

But you don’t have to limit yourself to a single genus. Some folks collect by color. Others, such as rock gardeners, search out plants that grow in dry, gravel filled beds. Bog gardeners collect plants that thrive in muck. Some folks prefer to collect miniatures, while others search for gentle giants.

Half the fun of collecting is the thrill of the hunt. So why not take some time now to begin planning your safari.

Start by taking a mental tour of your garden and list the plants that you not only enjoy growing and but also do well in your garden. No use collecting specimens that will have to struggle. Next peruse you garden books and magazines for additional inspiration. And don’t forget the library. Also check out the Internet. Google (www.google.com) is my search engine of choice. Just type in the plant’s Latin name, hit go and your off the races.

Catalogues are a great way to ascertain what’s available. The Avant Gardner Newsletter publishes an annual directory of general and specialist mail order suppliers. These 387 reliable and often hard to find U.S. and Canadian sources sell seeds, perennials, herbs, roses, fruits, nuts, wildflowers, trees and shrubs, plus tropicals for the home. greenhouse and garden. The Source Guide is $3 postpaid from the Avant Gardener, P.O. Box 489, New York, NY 1003. A free sample of a regular issue of this interesting newsletter will be included The list gives names and addresses only, but once you have the names you can use Google to look for websites.

If you grow a variety of salvias let me know. Exchanging plants and seeds with other gardeners is part of the fun of collecting.


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New Plants for 2010

A lot of folks suffer the blues at this time of the year. The hustle and bustle of the holiday will soon have passed and the cold gray days of winter can be a drag. But if you’re a gardener, it’s time to research new plants for the garden and begin the hunt.

Wave Petunia

Plant breeders are churning out new varieties at a record pace so there will be lots of new choices at garden centers this spring. Two years ago I toured the trial gardens of the Ball Seed Company in West Chicago, Illinois and saw more than 400 new varieties of plants. Granted, a relative few will make it to market this year, but multiply that number by the dozens and dozens of plant breeders and propagators of new found varieties around the world and the numbers of new plants for 2010 sky rockets.

Flower Carpet Rose

Not every plant that is introduced will be a winner.  Some will not perform as promised and others will be overlooked – either by the growers, the green buyers or the general public. A few, such as the Flower Carpet Roses and the Wave petunias have gone over the top and become legends in their time. Others, such as salvia ‘Victoria’ and Achillea ‘Moonshine’ have quietly become staples in America’s gardens.

In the coming months, you will be reading more about the real hotties for 2010, but some may be in short supply. So if you want to be the first on your block to grow these hot new plants, now is the time to make out your wish list and begin the hunt.  Here are some of reliable plants that have recently been released.

Golden Spirit Smoke Tree

The Golden Spirit Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggyria ‘Ancot’) a recent introduction from Monrovia that showers the garden with golden yellow foliage throughout the summer. This versatile shrub is a vigorous grower and left to it’s own devices, will reach 10-feet in height and six-feet in width after a decade in the garden. However, with yearly pruning it can be maintained as a small shrub or trained into a small tree, making it perfect for use in a mixed border, a large container on a patio or in a courtyard.  Hardy to zone 4, this golden beauty will perform well in full or part sun when grown in well-drained soil.

Amazon Dianthus

Dianthus, both annual and perennial have been staples in the American garden forever, but never quite made headlines. However, all that may change with several new introductions released last year.  Once relegated to the front of the border newer varieties are taller and are making their way to center stage. The Burpee Seeds catalog (800) 888-1447; www.burpeecom/new, is featuring the new ‘Amazon’ Rose Magic, a perennial dianthus hardy to Zone 5 that sports a tri-color summer display from white to pink that towers 18 to 24-inches above a soft bed of glossy leaves. Their sweet fragrance, reminiscent of clove, makes them valued in the vase as well as the garden bed.

Dianthus devotees will also want to check out the ‘Dynasty’ series, the first double flowering variety. Plants reaching up to 20 inches in height are covered with large one-inch to an inch and a half flowers red or white or purple.

Guardian Delphinium

Delphiniums are the quintessential cottage garden flower and a favorite of mine, so and I can’t wait to grow the new perennial ‘Guardian’ series from Ball Seed, rated as a top performer in the 2003 Illinois trial gardens by Jim Nau, New Product Manager.  Along with white and lavender are two blue varieties that flower at different times that will help extend the bloomtime.  These beauties will flower in June and with dead heading should repeat in August. ‘Dynasty’ dianthus and Solstice snapdragons will make good bed partners.

There literally dozens of new flowers and shrubs coming to market next spring.  My advice is when you find a plant that turns you on, start trying to acquire it in February.  The plants with the most hoopla are going to sell out quickly.

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Timely Tip:

Poinsettias make long-lasting cut flowers, so consider adding them to your fresh flower arrangements.

About Those Leftover Bulbs

While rummaging in the basement looking for Christmas decorations I happened upon a bag of spring flowering bulbs that got stuck away by a mistake. I’m not alone here.  All winter I get emails from readers asking if there is any way they can plant their overlooked treasures, short of using a blow torch to thaw the frozen ground.

First I recommend checking to see if the bulbs are in good condition. No use toiling over bulbs that are over the bend. Healthy bulbs will be firm to the touch, like a bulb of fresh Some may have already begun to sprout, but lack of green does not indicate they are doomed.

“Don’t let a bit of frozen crust on the surface of the soil deter you from planting,” says

Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, purveyors of antique flowering bulbs. As long as the soil is not frozen at the final planting depth they can still be planted.  We often plant spring flowering bulbs in our demonstration gardens in December. Kunst says the larger bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils do just fine.  However, crocus and some of the other small bulbs need to have their roots established before the ground freezes so they may fail to flower when planted out late in the season.

Brent Heath, co-owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs (website and Facebook page) suggest potting up theselittle guys and giving them some transition time in a cool corner of the basement or an unheated attached garage where the temperatures range between 40 and 60 degrees. After about three weeks the bulbs should have developed a nice root structure and the cell walls will have made the chemical changes needed to withstand freezing temperatures. At this point bulbs stored in the basement can be moved to the garage.  As added insurance the potted bulbs stored in the garage can be packed up of Styrofoam coolers or cardboard boxes filled with foam peanuts. The insulation will protect them from swings in the temperatures.

If you choose to move them outdoors place the pots on the ground in a protected area and cover them with 8 to 12 inches of mulch. Shredded leaves, pine needles or wood chips all work well. Covering the pile with a tarp or sheet of plastic netting will keep the mulch from becoming airborne in stormy weather.

Tulips need between 12 to 16 weeks in the cold in order to bloom. Most daffodil cultivars require 14 to 16 weeks.  In spring the bulbs can be transplanted in containers for use outdoors or indoors.

This method will work for the gardener who only has a few bulbs to contend with, but what about the poor souls like my friend Darby who cornered the market on bulbs early in the season and never got the chance to plant them. Digging in frozen soil or potting up are not good options when you have seven hundred bulbs to plant.” she cried.

So I suggested she might try the quickie planting method used by another friend Rick Wray of Pennsylvania. He received a gift crate of bulbs the third week in December 2002, just two days before he was to leave on a cruise. With no time to plant them he simply tossed the bulbs on the ground and covered them with several inches of mulch. The following spring he was greeted with an incredible display of color.

Don’t worry if the bulbs land upside down or on their sides.  They know which way is up.

The only hitch may be the weather. Ray’s neck of the woods is located in  Zone 6a to 7 and Darlin Darby digs in Zone 5. Brent Heath thinks there is a good chance that tulips and daffs can survive being dumped out in the cold and thought mulching the bulbs was worth a try in this colder zone.

Heath was more concerned about critters than the cold. Bulbs that have not been buried in the soil are vulnerable to animal damage so it’s a good idea to take precautions. In their books Tulips for North American Gardens (Bright Sky Press $24.95) and Daffodils for American Gardens ($24.95) Brent and Becky Heath recommend spraying the bulbs with an animal repellant such as Ropel.  In addition, scattering a thin layer of Milorganite (website and facebook page), a slow release fertilizer made of sewage sludge, around the perimeter and over the surface of the mulch bed will also help to deter animals. If you’re planting well away from the house in a naturalized location where you don’t plan to establish a garden, used kitty litter from the cat’s pan scattered about will also help to repel little 4-legged creatures such as voles that love to dine on bulbs. Granular PlantSkydd isformulated to repel all 4 legged creatures.

Planting spring bulbs in heavy clay soil laced with roots and stones is a backbreaking job so my dream of installing a river of daffodils in my meadow and at the edge of the forest that surrounds my patch, was a long way off. But when a huge dump truck got stuck in my meadow leaving deep ruts, I took advantage of the situation and filled the depressions with daffs.

With the green ash borer disaster, wood chips should be free for the asking for the next several years.  I covered the bulbs is several inches of woodchips.  I than sprinkled the surface of the chips with

Daffodil Patch

Milorganite. While  deterring critters, it also replaced any nitrogen that may have depleted as the wood chips decomposed.  When life gives you lemons make lemonade. I am happy to report the daffodils thrived and have multiplied to the point they need to be divided after blooming this spring. .

For More Information About All Flower Bulbs

Go to the bulb section of our website www.yardener.com.

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Timely Tip:

If the leaves of your indoor plants are turning brown at the tips, they are probably suffering from a lack of humidity. Placing the pots on a pebble tray filled with water or running a small room humidifier will add moisture to the air and help remedy the situation.

Okay, About Next Year

Now that winter has clearly moved in, for me it’s time to begin planning next year’s garden. One of the secrets to success is looking back at the previous growing season to see what worked and what bombed.

Like a lot of gardeners, the summer of 2009 was a real toughie for me. The cold wet spring followed by a cold wet summer took its toll on my pretties.

But all was not lost, there were some real stars in my garden last summer. Plants that endured in spite of the weather. Plants that flowered non-stop from the day I planted them right through to the killing frost.  Plants that provided entire season of drop-dead color.

It may surprise you that many of the stellar performers in my garden were annuals, plants too often shunned by perennial lovers. Gardeners who consider annuals to be passé are missing out big time.

Using annuals in a perennial border to keep season long color is not a new idea, it’s a technique used by many of the masters. World-renowned plantsman Christopher Lloyd relies on annual plants to infuse color into his famous and fabulous mixed border at Great Dixter in England and keep it colored up for the entire season.  Lloyd readily admits that relying on perennials alone to provide 3-seasons of color is wishful thinking.

Dan Hinkley, famed plantsman formally of Heronswood Nursery in Seattle and his partner also used flowering annuals to give their world-class plant displays real punch.

Annuals have always been a staple in container gardening, but the hot trend – if it grows it goes, allows gardeners to place fabulous accents, bursting with color, in the hardscape as well as the landscape.  A decade ago a pot of petunias or geraniums and a spike might suffice but today trendy gardeners are pushing the envelope when it comes to plant combinations.

To feed the frenzy, incredible numbers of new varieties of easy-care annuals are now introduced to the green market place annually.

Several years ago trend setting designers began using tropicals, tender plants that were once relegated to the indoor garden, in their containers and garden. Suddenly leaf size and texture as well as color became important elements in the designs.

Creative gardeners who choose to break out of the box often include edible greens such as lettuces, chards and decorative cabbages.

Today garden centers on the cutting edge, those who want to successfully compete with the big box and super stores, are offering their customers a selection of annual plants many gardeners may not be familiar with.

However, unlike clothing, one cannot simply choose plants according to size, color, pattern and texture. To create a winning combination that will not just look good but thrive in the garden, a gardener must make sure his or her choices are the right plants for the right places and that partners are compatible.

Sun lovers must be paired with other sun lovers and planted in a sunny spot. Plants that need moist growing conditions make bad bedmates with xeric plants.

Unfortunately some of the new introductions fail to live up to their hype, so wise gardeners test first and corner the market when they find a sure thing.

Zinnia_Zahara_Starlight_Rose

Choosing annuals that have been singled out by the All American Selections organization is a good bet (the 2010 winners are announced at http://www.all-americaselections.org). These plants have been trialed in gardens all over the country and not only thrived, but also displayed a significant improvement over older varieties. The zinnia on the right is one of the 2010 AAS winners.

Doing your homework now and beginning the planning of next summer’s garden will help you not only garden smarter, but create that dream garden you always wished for.

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If you have green thumbs on your holiday shopping list, finding that perfect gift is a snap if you shop the gardening catalogs and their Web sites. Here are some of my favorites for giving as well as getting:

• From Renee’s Garden, www.reneesgarden.com/seeds/beginners.html, (888) 880-7228, come two Easy to Grow seed collections, each containing five packets of reliably easy, colorful and delicious veggie varieties chosen for folks new to growing a garden from seed. Priced at $13.95 plus shipping, choose from the Easy to Grow Rainbow Kitchen Garden or Easy to Grow Container Kitchen Garden set.  Renee’s Facebook Page

• Kinsman Company gardeners’ gifts catalog, (800) 773-4146, www.kinsmangarden.com, has pre-packaged gift baskets that take the mystery out of shopping. My favorite is the Pamela Crawford Pre-Packaged Gift Basket, which includes a planting basket, Dynamite Slow Release Fertilizer and a copy of Crawford’s best-selling “Instant Container Gardens” book. It’s a $56.85 value, priced at $49.95. Other great Crawford books include “Easy Container Gardens,” and for snowbirds, the new “Easy Gardens for the South.” In these books, Pamela Crawford shows how a rank beginner can create bodacious, stunning containers that will knock his or her socks off.

• Not all gardeners need new tools, so if the green thumb on your list has a full tool box, check out the Gardener’s Supply Christmas catalog, (800) 427-3363, www.gardeners.com. Along with garden tools, it features 186 gifts under $30. There’s something here for everyone.

• Real trees make fabulous lasting gifts and the Gardener’s Supply 24-inch potted Alberta spruce decorated in your choice of tiny birds or garden tools will delight any homeowner. After the holidays, plant the tree outdoors and it will grow 8 to 10 feet high. Order before Dec. 20 for Christmas delivery.  Gardeners Supply Facebook Page

• Along with garden tools, the Lee Valley Tool holiday gift catalog, (800) 871-8158, www.leevalley.com, contains an eclectic collection of gifts. Looking for quality yet inexpensive stocking stuffers? This is the place to shop. An old-fashioned Balsa Wood Glider Kit priced at $2.50 is fun for all ages. A hard maple muddler/pestle priced at $6.50, used to mash fruits, spices and herbs, is perfect for the Mojito maker in the family. At just $9.50, the pocket microscope with a 20-40x zoom lens is useful for plant pest hunting, or use as a beginner microscope for kids. Lee Valley Tools has lots of goodies for gardeners, woodworkers and cooks they don’t even know they need, so I assure you they will be thrilled with your choices.

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