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Thursday, Dec. 18, 2003 02:20 pm

Last minute gift ideas

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Many of us have at least one person who is hard to buy for on our holiday gift list. I know, because I've been told that I fit into this category. Gardening items could be your rescue.

Most of us don't think about gardening during the winter, but with gardening being America's No. 1 hobby, it is likely that you have several gardeners on your gift list. Not all homeowners consider themselves gardeners, but if they have a lawn and a few shrubs, they are gardeners. Here is a short list of items most gardeners will appreciate:

• Bird feeders and birdseed. Several types are available. Tray, platform or hopper feeders make seeds available for all types of birds. However, many feeders spill seed and attract squirrels. Tubular feeders, which have openings for niger seed or sunflower seeds, attract specific bird species. If you're buying a feeder as a gift, birdseed makes a good companion gift. Black oil sunflower seeds will attract the largest variety of birds. Other large favorites are striped sunflower, safflower, niger seed, suet, and peanuts. To avoid the mess of seed hulls, consider purchasing sunflower hearts.

• Birdbaths. Birds need water, even in winter. A birdbath should be shallow (less than 3 inches deep), have a gradual slope, and preferably a non-slip bottom. Don't forget a birdbath heater to keep ice from forming.

• Hand pruners. Look for pruners with replaceable parts. The scissors-type pruners (bypass pruners) are recommended over anvil types. Anvil pruners (those with a blade on one side and a flat surface on the other) tend to crush the stem rather than provide a sharp cut. Include a holster for easy access.

• Trowel. You need a heavy-duty trowel to plant spring annuals. Pick one with finger grips and a brightly colored handle (this will allow you to find it easily). The most durable trowels, as with many hand tools, are made of a single continuous piece of metal. There are also specially designed hand tools for people with limited mobility.

• Garden bench or statuary. You might be able to find some good sales on benches, statues, sundials, and fountains. Benches come in many sizes and materials. If the bench is concrete or resin (subject to cracking in cold weather), remind the recipient not to leave the item outside in the winter.

A gift from the heart that doesn't cost a cent, is a coupon for three hours of weeding, planting, mowing, or raking leaves. Other gifts possibilities: a work apron, garden clogs, leaf shredders, a heavy-duty spade, a kneeling pad, books, or software.

Can't go wrong with books

Gardeners can't refuse a good gardening book. University of Illinois Extension offers several great books that are written for Illinois growing conditions.

Pocket Guide to Good Gardening is small enough to fit in your back pocket and durable enough to weather many trips into the garden. A unique flip-top design and tabbed, stair-stepped pages allow you to find information quickly, without hunting through lots of pages. Topics include general gardening tips and key garden-safety concerns. It's a real bargain at $5.

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest offers a complete, accurate and easy-to-use guide to successful growing of more than 40 vegetables and 35 herbs under Midwest Conditions and is available for $12.

Gardening Guide for Central Illinois is a calendar that offers gardening tips month by month. This calendar can be used year after year and is available for $5.

Insect ID Cards. So handy in the garden, these laminated pocket size cards are kept secure on a steel ring and go just about anywhere. Full-color photos help you tell the good guys from the bad! Sets are $8. Four different sets are available. Purchase all four for $30.

Call the Sangamon-Menard Extension office at 217-782-4617 for more information about these resources. Your local bookstore may also be able to order these items.

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