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Its a day of reckoning outdoors

If your heart sinks at the thought of April 15, rejoice: There is something to look forward to. Get through today, and we've got scads of ßowers in our future.

April 15 not only is tax day, it's the last frost day for Portland Ñ which means the chance of a killer frost wiping out plants is practically zero. (Doesn't mean that it won't happen, it just means, historically speaking, it hasn't yet.)

We can power-plant from now on.

After today, although frost is extremely unlikely, the soil still is too cool to plant zinnias or tomatoes. They need much warmer temperatures to get growing.

But you can bring your tender fuchsias out of the garage or basement. Put them in the shade, prune all the spindly growth off, and start fertilizing and watering them again. You can plant just about any bedding plants Ñ petunias, geraniums, all the stuff that is exploding out of garden centers now.

The question is: Will we? Perhaps the same old excuses will keep us from putting our garden plan into action. Or maybe we're more timid this year, given world events. Sometimes you just don't want to expend the money or the effort.

Watching the coverage on television, I've been curious how the war in Iraq will affect Americans' garden spending habits this year. Spending is down in all other sectors. But gardening was a necessity during World War II. If you wanted to eat fresh veggies then, you had to have a 'victory garden.'

Are we that scared yet?

The answer is no, according to recent research. People either have faith in the future or realize they won't be traveling much, if you buy into this year's Garden Trends Research, compiled for the Garden Writers of America.

The study asked more than 1,000 people if the war would change their planting habits. Fifty-Þve percent said they planned to spend the same amount of money on gardening despite the war; 12 percent said they'll spend more. Unfortunately, we don't know how much more, because dollar amounts weren't discussed. Earlier surveys indicate the average American spends $444 a year on garden-related things.

Nona Wolfram Koivula, executive director of the National Garden Bureau and a member of the garden writers group, explains it this way: 'Gardening provides important relief from the pressures of daily events, especially during periods of signiÞcant economic and political uncertainty.'

All right, but what I found so fascinating about this garden trend is what I call the 'show me the money' factor.

Get this: According to the poll, nearly 60 percent of the people who make more than $100,000 a year said they'll buy more ßowers than anything else this year. So it seems many people are not concerned about eating. And the more money people make, the more ßowers they'll buy for pots and containers instead of the garden. The people who can afford the beauty won't let anything stop them Ñ come war, a down stock market or both.

There also seem to be a couple of degrees separating our garden spending habits. According to this poll, gardeners who don't have a high school education will spend more money than last year on gardening, while people with a diploma and college degree won't spend any more than they did last year.

What does all this mean to us? If you're a gardener, feel free to use the data as 'ammo' when your partner starts saying you're spending too much on plants. And because tax day and last frost day coincide for 2003, you've got the 'all clear' to take up arms and get busy with that shovel.

This week's to-do list

• Time for diligence around roses: Pick up old leaves to prevent spread of disease, or start spraying for black spot.

• Use an organic fertilizer on your lawn. Instead of using the sprinkler to water it in, choose a day when rain is expected.

• Divide and transplant perennials when they grow about 3 inches tall.

Garden gossip

• The Northwest Portland garden of Craig Quirk and Larry Neil is in a national magazine again. The spring Better Homes and Gardens special publication on ßowers features the garden as an example of planting by color.

• The Leach Botanical Garden spring plant sale is 9 a.m. to3 p.m. Saturday, April 19, at Floyd Light Middle School, 10800 S.E. Washington St. Unusual perennials, shrubs and Northwest native plants are offered by specialty nurseries and the botanical garden. For more information, call 503-823-9503.

• Last call for the tulip show. Fields close next week at Wooden Shoe Bulb Co., 33814 S. Meridian Road, Woodburn. Call 503-634-2243.

'Anne Jaeger's Garden Tips' airs at 9:56 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays on KGW (8). Jaeger's Web site is www.gardengal.tv.