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Patti S. of Petaluma asks: Is it OK to spread ashes from the fireplace on the beds and borders in my garden where I plant annuals every year, and where I have established perennials? We use the fireplace quite often and accumulate quite a bit of ash. We don’t want to throw it in the garbage if it can be used as a fertilizer.

Many gardeners add fireplace ash to their garden. If you sprinkle the ashes on top of the ground, especially if it is dry, they will be gone with the first good wind. If rain is predicted then go ahead and sprinkle away! If the soil is damp from previous rains, then sprinkle the ashes on lightly so they soak up some of the moisture and stay put.

The best time to apply ash is in the spring or fall, when you can work it into the top 6 inches of the soil. Be mindful of how much you’re using. Wood ashes do not contain any nitrogen, just a little bit of phosphorus and a good amount of potassium.

If you overdo it on the ashes, you will send your soil pH through the roof, and then it will take a long time to get it back to normal (around 6.5-7.0). Do a test on your soil first, to determine the pH level before adding any ash. A light dusting is fine and won’t do any harm. In fact, you could save some ashes and lightly dust your vegetable plants to keep insects at bay. Save ash in a metal garbage can with a lid in a covered area for use later in the year.

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Kathy R. of Santa Rosa asks: I am starting eggplant, pepper and tomato seeds indoors. My friend told me I should use warm water to water them. Does it matter if the water is warm or cold?

If you can keep the soil temperature at around 75 degrees or warmer, your vegetable seeds will germinate faster than if you continually use cold water.

If you have the trays on heating mats, the soil will warm up sooner, quickly seed germination. But if you have them in a cool room with no heating mats and you water them with cold water, it will delay germination. So consider watering with warm water.

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Robert H. of Windsor asks: I sowed a mix of legume seeds in the fall as a cover crop. When is the best time to turn the plants into the soil for maximum benefit?

If you planted the legumes as a cover crop for the nitrogen you should incorporate the plants into the soil when the nitrogen is at its peak, which is about the time they start to flower. So keep a watchful eye. The smaller you can chop up the plants, the faster it will break down in the soil and turn into organic matter.

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Jill O. of Sebastopol asks: I don’t have very many seeds of this particular tomato variety that my grandmother gave me, so I want to be careful when sowing. What can I do to ensure success?

If you can’t afford to lose a single seed, then try sprouting them in-between damp paper towels instead of starting them in soil. Take a moist paper towel and carefully space each seed on top of the towel. Put another moist paper towel on top of them and pat it down. Slide the whole thing into a Ziploc plastic bag and lightly flatten it down to take out any air pockets. Place it in a warm place where the temperature is about 75 degrees and not in direct sunlight. Take a peak every so often to see if they are starting to sprout.

When they do, carefully set each seed on top of a seed starting mix using tweezers, and lightly sprinkle some soil on top, not covering them more that a quarter-inch. Three-inch plastic pots are a good size to set them in. Provide adequate light, warmth and water to get them off to a good start.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at pdgardendoctor@gmail.com. The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.

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