Posts Tagged Redbud

All Signs Point to Spring


Blossoms abound, bird song delights ears from dawn to dark, pollen is ubiquitous — yup, I’d say spring is most definitively here. Those are petals from a redbud tree floating in that little birdbath. Here’s one of the native redbud trees adorning our landscape at the moment:

Redbud bloom color really pops against a background of red cedars.

Redbud bloom color really pops against a background of red cedars.

Along with all the flowers, native wildlife is suddenly more evident everywhere, especially the water-loving birds. In addition to the Wood Ducks that nest along our creek every spring, this year, a pair of Canada Geese has moved in. I see them paddling up and down the creek at dawn most mornings. They seem to have claimed the downstream end, while the Wood Ducks dabble in the waters upstream. The geese will leave as soon as their young are adept fliers. But I’ll likely see the family patrolling the floodplain for about a month before they leave.

More exciting than these waterfowl is the return of the Belted Kingfishers. Every day now, I see and hear one flying the length of our adjacent creek, calling raucously before it settles on a good fishing perch.

The water birds are here because the creek is healthier than it has been in recent springs. Water levels are back to optimal levels, thanks to abundant rains. The surrounding wetlands are very, very wet, dissected by many water-filled channels, where crayfish and frogs thrive. The cinnamon ferns have unfurled their fiddleheads, the glossy green leaves of Atamasco Lilies promise imminent flower shoots, and any day now I expect to spot Jack-in-the-Pulpits poking up out of the mud.

My two gorgeous early-blooming Magnolia acuminata varieties have been perfuming the air and delighting the eye for several weeks now. ‘Butterflies,’ as usual, was the first variety to bloom, its 25-foot tall frame covered in deep yellow blossoms.

One of the last Magnolia 'Butterflies' blossoms.

One of the last Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ blossoms.

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth,’ now 50 feet tall, started opening her paler yellow blossoms about a week after Butterflies started.  She still sports many gorgeous blooms, but I fear the mini-heat wave we’re getting this weekend will finish off the display all too quickly.

Magnolia 'Elizabeth' -- 50 feet of spectacular!

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ — 50 feet of spectacular!

In the last few days, my three Serviceberry trees have begun opening abundant pure white flower clusters. I think last summer’s rains were good for them. They’ve never been more covered in flowers. Maybe this will be the year they produce enough fruits for both the birds and me.

Apple Serviceberry blossoms. Pollinators adore them.

Apple Serviceberry blossoms. Pollinators adore them.

Over the years, I have no idea how many different kinds of daffodils I’ve added to our five acres, nor do I remember most of their names. But I do know that I made a point of planting varieties that would bloom from late winter through late spring. This succession of increasingly abundant blossoms every spring never seems too adversely affected by whimsical weather patterns. In fact, whenever spring cool spells and/or rainy weather is predicted this time of year, I routinely cut a quick bouquet of beauteous blooms to keep me company indoors until the sun returns. These varieties started blooming about the middle of last week:

The pink centers get bleached out a bit by sunlight, but they are lovely.

The pink centers get bleached out a bit by sunlight, but they are lovely.

These pure white, ruffled blossoms are especially elegant.

These pure white, ruffled blossoms are especially elegant.

These bloom in tight clusters for an instant bouquet effect, and their fragrance is super sweet.

These bloom in tight clusters for an instant bouquet effect, and their fragrance is super sweet.

The previous owner had planted forsythia, a ubiquitous southeastern spring landscape shrub. I relocated the bushes from my front door to an area near my road. Their abundant blooms seem to indicate they had no objections.

It isn't spring in the southeast without sunny forsythia flowers.

It isn’t spring in the southeast without sunny forsythia flowers.

The Golden Ragwort is just starting its own parade of yellow blossoms:

Golden ragwort is an easy wildflower to add to southeastern landscapes.

Golden Ragwort is an easy wildflower to add to southeastern landscapes.

The earliest blooming native deciduous azalea on the north side of my yard is about to burst into bloom. The other species/varieties are full of swelling flower bud clusters.

Pinxterbloom Azalea will be the first native azalea to bloom, as usual.

Pinxterbloom Azalea will be the first native azalea to bloom, as usual.

The spring ephemeral wildflowers I showed you in my previous post are zooming through their life cycles as promised.

Bloodroots now sport point seed capsules, their lovely white flowers gone with the wind.

Bloodroots now sport pointy seed capsules, their lovely white flowers gone with the wind.

See the swelling round flower bud between the two Mayapple leaves? It will be open any second now.

See the swelling round flower bud between the two Mayapple leaves? It will be open any second now.

In short, my five acres of green chaos is busting out all over. Alas, it’s not just the invited plants reproducing so enthusiastically right now.  I am walking like a bent-over granny on evenings preceded by a day of weeding. The winter weeds got light years ahead of me in the vegetable garden area this year. Before I can plant, they must go, and that work isn’t nearly as much fun as it once was (hah!)

But the spring veggies are looking good, despite mini heat waves, heavy rains, and occasional frosts. And the summer vegetables, herbs, and flowers are growing tall and eager safely tucked in the greenhouse, waiting for more stable weather and weed-free beds.

Aye, there’s the rub — weed-free beds. I see many pollen-filled, sweaty days of joint-punishing work in front of me. But all the hard work pays off times ten when we dine on fresh-picked salads, juicy tomato-and-basil sandwiches, and green beans the likes of which you’ll never taste unless you grow them yourself.

And when I need a break from the veggie garden, I renew my resolve with a flower-filled walk around the landscape. Nothing puts a fresh spring in my step better than Spring!

Even my "lawn" is adorned with many wildflowers, including gazillions of violets.

Even my “lawn” is adorned with many wildflowers, including gazillions of violets.


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Open for business

Ready for occupants

Ready for occupants

As predicted, the warm temperatures arrived. Then they went directly to summer-hot temperatures. This week, we are in the 80s, which is too hot, considering that the canopy trees were mostly not even blooming yet. Forget about leaves. No shade. At all. Hot, hot, hot!

Now, of course, everything is exploding simultaneously. Pollen clouds haze the air, tree buds swell visibly, and the critters have all moved into full-out courtship mode. Toads trill from twilight to dawn. Bird song sweetens the air, along with the perfume of deciduous magnolias. Grass needs mowing. Ticks and mosquitoes lurk everywhere, hungry for blood. Ah, springtime in the southeastern piedmont.

I have managed to take a few pictures, but the plants and critters are moving so fast now that I’m having trouble keeping up. The vegetable garden, of course, has taken priority. My beautiful bed of greens that had been huddled under a garden cloth tent for warmth were suddenly too warm in there. But the sun is now too strong for them. Wonder Spouse devised a clever fix. He cut the fabric tent and shaped it into a canopy that protects the lettuces, spinaches, and Asian greens from direct noon-day sun, but allows them access to more gentle angled light and better access to passing rains.

Here’s what the bed looked like last Friday:

Greens thrive beneath their canopy of garden cloth.

Greens thrive beneath their canopy of garden cloth.

Here’s a closer view, so you can more easily see the plants:

They've grown much larger since this shot was taken.

They’ve grown much larger since this shot was taken.

Now the greens are large enough for single-leaf harvesting. Instead of waiting for greens to fill out as heads, I harvest individual leaves as they attain salad size. I’ll be picking greens for our first home-grown salad tomorrow morning as the sun comes up. Veggies and herbs are at their harvestable best first thing in the morning before the sun has begun to melt them. I can just about taste those tender sweet greens now…

Meanwhile in the greenhouse, the summer veggies, flowers, and herbs are well germinated and growing strongly. The tomatoes and peppers will need to graduate to larger pots in the next few days. The basils and flowers will take a little longer.

Tomato and pepper seedlings in the greenhouse.

Tomato and pepper seedlings in the greenhouse.

Tiny basil and marigold seedlings will need another week or so to reach transplanting size.

Tiny basil and marigold seedlings will need another week or so to reach transplanting size.

Since my last update, I have also direct-sowed into the garden beds several varieties of carrots and two of beets. I haven’t seen any signs of them yet, but it’s only just now been about a week. I’m hoping that this current bout of summer-like heat will not prevent these cool-weather veggies from germinating well. After this Friday, our temperatures are predicted to return to normal, so I’m hoping the spring garden can hang on until the cooler spring temperatures return. Spring vegetable gardening is always a gamble here. The summer garden is easier. You can almost always count on the weather turning hot enough for tomatoes and peppers to thrive.

Of course, much more is going on all over the yard and gardens. Last weekend, Wonder Spouse helped me re-activate our front water feature:

Clean water awaits the inevitable arrival of breeding amphibians.

Clean water awaits the inevitable arrival of breeding amphibians.

The pitcher plants in two of the pots are not as robust this year. I allowed far too many cardinal flowers to seed into the pots with the pitcher plants, where they proceeded to outcompete the pitchers. I spent several days digging out several dozen cardinal flowers in the hopes of re-invigorating the pitchers. Now it’s a waiting game to see if they can recover.

So far, only one flower bud (foreground) has appeared on my pitcher plants. I can only hope for more again next year.

So far, only one flower bud (foreground) has appeared on my pitcher plants. I can only hope for more again next year.

The trees are blooming about three weeks later than they did last year. Native redbuds are just opening in my yard:

Cercis canadensis flowers are just starting to show up.

Cercis canadensis flowers are just starting to show up.

And my Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is only now pushing out flower buds. Ditto for my Eastern Columbines. Both of these natives are usually open by the beginning of April, just in time for the arrival of Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrating up from their southern winter homes. I hadn’t seen any hummers, but judging by the arrival of my summer warblers, I decided to put out a feeder last Friday. Several hummingbirds were enjoying the feeder by the next morning, and I’ve seen them on it often since. Without their native flowers, they really need the sugar water I offer to help them recuperate from their long migration.

Red buckeye flowers will probably need another week to open for business, despite the heat wave.

Red buckeye flowers will probably need another week to open for business, despite the heat wave.

My native coral honeysuckle is usually blooming by now, too. This year, the one on my trellis is only just beginning to produce flower buds. The one draped over a tree stump near the creek is slightly further along. It’s buds at least show color.

These buds have probably opened in today's absurd heat. I'm sure the hummers are happy to see them.

These buds have probably opened in today’s absurd heat. I’m sure the hummers are happy to see them.

The ferns are finally showing signs of life. Here’s a group of naturally occurring Cinnamon Ferns that thrive in my wetland:

I always worry until the fiddleheads unfurl. The deer are very hungry right now.

I always worry until the fiddleheads unfurl. The deer are very hungry right now.

Inside my deer fence, my Christmas Ferns are also showing new growth:

Fiddleheads just shout "Spring!"

Fiddleheads just shout “Spring!”

I can’t close today’s post without mentioning the currently blooming deciduous magnolias. Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ had a record extended blooming period of six weeks for me. The cool weather kept the flowers fresh, and the cold snaps only browned a few buds. Magnolia acuminata ‘Butterflies’ did not fare as well. When the heat hit it, all the buds opened at once, looked gorgeous for about two days, and now most of the petals have already fallen to the ground, surrendering to summer-like early April heat. But when they were fresh they were lovely.

Here’s the tree last Friday:

The tree is 25 feet tall now, so it's hard to get all of it in a shot that is still close enough to show off the flowers.

The tree is 25 feet tall now, so it’s hard to get all of it in a shot that is still close enough to show off the flowers.

Here’s a close-up of the canary-yellow blossoms just as they were opening a few days ago:

These flowers don't lose color in the heat. They just give up and drop their petals.

These flowers don’t lose color in the heat. They just give up and drop their petals.

As is always the case, my Magnolia acuminata ‘Elizabeth’ is blooming about a week behind Butterflies. Actually, a bit less than a week this year, likely due to our 85-degree day today. Elizabeth is taller than Butterflies. My 17-18-year-old specimen is about 50 feet now, and when the flowers open, the effect is jaw-dropping. Here she is from a distance this morning. I had to stand fairly far back to get all of her in one shot:

Magnolia acuminata 'Elizabeth' this morning.

Magnolia acuminata ‘Elizabeth’ this morning.

Then I took a few steps closer and tried for a shot with as much of the tree in it as possible:

A little closer view of Elizabeth.

A little closer view of Elizabeth.

And, finally, here are a few branches closer up, so that you can see the gorgeous flowers.

Elizabeth's just-opening blossoms this morning.

Elizabeth’s just-opening blossoms this morning.

Elizabeth’s flowers are a much paler yellow than those of Butterflies, and under harsh sunlight, they fade to parchment white. The effect is lovely and more subtle than Butterflies. The flowers of both trees emit a perfume so strong that deep inhalation just about knocks me over. On a spring breeze, I can smell their fragrance across half of my five-acre yard.

There’s more, of course, what with everything exploding simultaneously in the heat. I’ll try to do a better job of keeping you posted here, but there’s just so gosh darn much to do out there. Weeds, for example. They have exploded along with all the invited plants.

But I’m not complaining. Hard work is part of the therapy of gardening. I’ll feel downright righteous when I sit down tomorrow evening to dine on our first garden salad of the year. It really is true, you know. The food does taste better when you grow it yourself.

















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Warmest March Ever

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’

That’s what the local weatherman proclaimed on the TV today — we’re having the warmest March ever. We’ve blown every existing temperature record to smithereens. Of course, I didn’t need the weatherman to tell me that. The plants in my yard have been telling me since about the time the deluded groundhog promised six more weeks of winter.

In all my 40+ years of gardening in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, I have never seen trees, shrubs, and perennials bloom so early, nor have I ever seen them bloom all together, as many of them are doing this year.

Take, for example, Redbuds, Dogwoods, and my Two-Winged Silverbell. Until this spring, I could rely on an orderly progression from Redbud bloom to Dogwood Show to Silverbell finale. This year, all the native Redbuds except one finished blooming last week. The one exception grows in a significantly cooler microclimate in my yard, nestled against a backdrop of towering Red Cedars, as you can see here:

That’s the top of my little greenhouse in the right front corner.

In normal years, as the Redbuds fade, the native Dogwoods begin to open their showy four-petaled bracts, first a creamy yellow, then bleaching to white in the spring sunshine. This year, the Dogwoods started opening last week. If you click on the link above to my Redbud account for last year, you’ll see that the native Redbuds had barely begun blooming last March 13. The Dogwood link above will show you that last year’s bloom peak was around April 5. I predict this year the peak will be in a day or two.

As for the Two-Winged Silverbell, last year it peaked around April 15. This year, the first flowers are open now, and judging by the size of the rest of the flower buds, it will peak in two more days. That’s about the same time as the Dogwoods, not two weeks later, as is usual. Here’s a shot of the Halesia flowers and buds that I took this morning:

This is just plain ridiculous! At this rate, summer foliage will be out in three weeks. The deciduous azaleas, ferns, mayapples, anise trees, and myriad other plants are also way, way ahead of schedule. I’ll show you photographic proof in another post soon.

But today I want to close with a veggie garden update. Here are the spring greens after the 3.5 inches of rain (that’s not a typo) we got last week:

I will be picking more goodies for another spring salad tomorrow. Tonight, I’ve covered them again with the floating row cover. We’re under a frost advisory tonight, and my yard often goes ten degrees below the official reporting station. The frost probably wouldn’t hurt them, but why take a chance with such potential deliciousness?

The Sugar Sprint peas are now producing tendrils. I expect flower buds any second. Tonight’s predicted frost will actually make them happier, so they don’t get covered.

Flowers needed ASAP to beat summer’s impending heat

This past weekend’s rain kept me mostly indoors watching the grass grow, but I did manage to finish transplanting all the tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse to larger pots. They’ll remain in these until it’s time to put them into the garden. Here’s a shot of the newly transplanted veggies:

The Super Marzano tomatoes that I planted two weeks ahead of the other summer veggies are enormous, even showing tiny flower buds. Look at them overpowering this shot of the greenhouse bench:

Their turn in the garden will come soon enough — assuming I manage to pull out enough of the cover crop of crimson clover on their beds to make room for them. The crimson clover has never grown to such gigantic size before. Usually winter freezes knock it down. That didn’t happen this year, so it grew, and grew, and grew. Soon the plants will be covered in red flower spikes that draw every pollinator in a five-county radius.

For good or ill, I’ll have plenty of warm weather for garden chores. After tonight’s frost and a chilly Tuesday, Wednesday is forecasted to be back in the mid to upper seventies.

Don’t even get me started on the pollen avalanche. March Madness indeed.

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Warp Factor Spring

In mid-March, this is what I expect to see: vivid crocus blooms. This year, these two are stragglers, blooming later than their crocus comrades by more than three weeks.

My blooming trees are at least a week ahead of last year. Prompted by our absurd eighty-degree weather, Magnolia ‘Butterflies‘ has exploded into flower. Look how vividly yellow they are in the early morning as they just open:

And here’s what the tree looked like as I stared up its trunk from ground level:

I couldn’t stay too long. The potent perfume of the zillions of flowers was overwhelming.

My Chinese redbud is at peak bloom. Here’s a close-up:

And now the native redbuds are getting into the act. Here’s what the branches of one of my larger specimens looked like this morning:

And, yes, the sky really was that blue.

The winterhazels are nearly at peak bloom. Here’s a view of branches obscuring one of my bird feeders:

And here’s a close-up of winterhazel flowers:

I think their vivid color makes forsythias look dowdy.

There’s lots more, of course, but I want to give you a brief veggie update. Yesterday, I transplanted the Super Marzano tomatoes to larger pots. They didn’t miss a beat. Here they are looking like they’ve always lived in these pots:

And here are the other tomato, pepper, and basil seedlings:

Their roots are mostly hitting the bottom of their pots now. So they’ll be getting upgraded to bigger pots very soon.

Today, I sowed seeds of many of the free flowers that I got from Renee’s Garden as a benefit of my membership in the Garden Writers’ Association. I’ll be reporting on how they do throughout the growing season. I also sowed more basil seeds, because I’m planning on giving away some plants to a community garden. I’ve got the greenhouse and the seeds; I figure I should share the wealth.

Last weekend, Wonder Spouse double-shredded a big pile of fallen leaves that we had collected last winter. These broken-up leaves make the absolutely best mulch in the world for my vegetable garden. As fast as Wonder Spouse shredded it, I was tucking it around my sprouting sugar snap peas and onion plants. The peas responded instantly by growing taller. Here’s what they looked like this morning:

I am worried about our heat wave. We are predicted to remain 20 degrees above normal several more days, then we back down to a mere 10 degrees above normal. Even though I got my spring garden planted earlier than ever before, if the heat persists, I won’t get much of a yield from it.

For now, I’m watering often, in hopes that plenty of moisture will help the spring veggies thrive despite the heat. Our area remains in moderate drought, so every time I’m watering, I’m also praying for significant, frequent rain. And cooler temperatures, of course. Eighty-four degrees in mid-March is too much for any of us to handle for long.

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Flowering Dogwood: Quintessential Piedmont Springtime

Dogwood Flowers

Most gardeners I talk to in my part of the southeastern Piedmont agree that spring this year is ahead of schedule by at least a week — maybe more. Trees and spring bulbs that usually bloom in a predictable succession are blooming closer to simultaneously. Of course, the ridiculous heat we’ve had is to blame. We’re not supposed to reach 80 degrees Farenheit in February and March — at least that’s the way things used to be.

In the cities near me, Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida) have been blooming for more than a week. My cold-spot yard slowed down my dogwoods a bit. They’re just now fully open, their initially cream-colored bracts bleaching to the snow white we all love.

For those less familiar with dogwoods, you should know that those four white structures often mistaken for petals are, botanically speaking, bracts. Bracts are leaf-like structures that often surround flower buds. But sometimes they become the colorful part of the “flower,” as with dogwoods and poinsettias. The actual flowers are in the center, and they are responsible for producing the glossy, bright red fruits (technically called drupes) beloved by 43 species (according to Dirr) of birds.

This tree is favored by landscapers because of its four-season appeal. Fall color is spectacular, spring blooms gorgeous, and summer foliage is quite respectable. Its distinctive bark and horizontal branching habit make it a standout in the winter landscape.

Like our native Redbuds, Flowering Dogwoods occur naturally along woodland edges and in forest clearings — places where they are sheltered from summer heat by adjacent canopy trees, but can still receive enough light to ensure good flower production.

It pains me to see these lovely trees unintentionally abused by well-meaning landscapers and home gardeners. All too often, folks plunk an innocent young dogwood into the middle of a lawn — usually without improving the soil of the planting site — throw a little mulch around it, then let their automatic lawn sprinkler systems do the watering. The trees suffer, decline, and die, because their growing requirements were ignored.

Lawns are terrible places for dogwoods. The trees have no canopy neighbors to protect them from summer heat. Dogwoods are shallow-rooted, so every time you fertilize or mow your lawn, you are likely damaging tree roots. And if you mix herbicides in your lawn food, those shallow tree roots are slowly being poisoned in your quest for a non-native green lawn carpet. Likewise, watering should be deep and infrequent. Shallow sprinkler watering will only encourage the tree’s roots to remain close to the surface, where they are more prone to damage.

Flowering Dogwoods are lovely trees, and nearly every southeast Piedmont yard can be enhanced by their presence. But if you add one, please, stop and try to put yourself in this native’s place. Provide it with a woodland edge, mulch around it as widely as its branches spread above, and don’t let lawnmowers, fertilizers, or herbicides anywhere near it.

Your Flowering Dogwoods will reward you with year-round beauty. And the birds that love the crimson fruits will further enhance your landscape with color and movement.

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Redbud versus Redbud

I mentioned previously that my Chinese Redbud (Cercis chinensis) was beginning to open its flowers. It always begins blooming a few weeks ahead of our native Redbud (Cercis canadensis). I especially love the arching branching pattern of the Chinese Redbud. This photo is my attempt to show you what I mean:

Chinese Redbud

If you click on the photo to see the larger version, I think you’ll see how the branches droop and arch. The flowers accentuate the shape of the branches without obscuring them, as the leaves will do soon enough. The branches of one side of this tree are covered with lichens. Lichens don’t hurt the tree, but they do give the gnarled branches a more ancient appearance. This tree was planted about fifteen years ago, and it’s about eight or so feet tall and equally wide. Here’s a closer view of its flowers:

Chinese Redbud Flowers

To my eye, these flowers are just a tad more magenta than the paler pink-lavender flowers of our native Redbud.

When we moved to this property, no native Redbuds grew here. I saw them on adjacent properties, but not here. I concluded that this understory tree was eradicated by the previous owner, along with the Sourwoods and other smaller natives I expected to find growing here. Before I could buy and plant any Redbuds, however, a whole crop of seedlings sprouted in a pile of wood chips left by my arborist. His truck had chips from an earlier customer to which he added the chips from my yard (I always ask him to leave the piles of chips.) The following spring, the seedlings appeared. I assumed that some Redbud bean-like seed pods (they are legumes) had been serendipitously mixed in with the wood chips from my arborist’s previous client.

That was twenty years ago. Here’s the base of the trunk of one of those early volunteers:

Native Redbud Trunk

I love the rough shagginess of the mature trunk. This tree grows near the vegetable garden and is just beginning to open its flowers. Most buds are not fully open, but you can see their color:

Native Redbud Flowers

They’re not really open enough for a decent portrayal. I’ll get a better shot in a week or so. Even from this close-up, you can see that the native Redbud’s branching pattern is much more erect than that of its Chinese cousin.  It’s also a much larger tree at maturity. This tree is about 25 feet tall now — a true piedmont understory constituent.

A key reason my native Redbuds are growing well is their location. Redbuds — like our native Dogwoods that will be blooming soon — occur naturally along forest edges. Adjacent taller canopy trees protect them from hot afternoon sun and cold winter winds, but they get enough sun to bloom well by being along a forest edge (or an open area deeper in a forest).

I always cringe when I see a poor Redbud or Dogwood planted smack in the middle of a suburban lawn without any other trees around it. Even if the homeowner manages to keep such a tree alive in that location, it will never come close to reaching its full potential. Such trees are too exposed there — too prone to root damage, over-fertilization, and shallow watering.

The southeast piedmont region of North America is home to many wonderful native trees and shrubs that will flourish in piedmont homeowners’ yards, if the growing requirements of those plants are met. A little thinking ahead of time will yield great results for decades to come.

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