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The Garden Mix




Nationally renowned garden expert Melinda Myers helps everyday gardeners find success and ease in the garden through her Melinda’s Garden Moments radio segments. Melinda shares “must have” tips that hold the key to gardening success, learned through her more than 30 years of horticulture experience. Listeners from across the country find her gardener friendly, practical approach to gardening both refreshing and informative! On this page, Melinda shares some more extensive garden tips, which expand on the information provided in her one-minute radio segments.

New tips are added throughout each month, providing timely step-by-step tips on what you need to do next in your garden! Visit Melinda’s website www.melindamyers.com for more gardening tips, how-to videos, podcasts and answers to your questions.
Posts from December 2013


Create a Tool Cleaning Station
Make a resolution to keep your tools clean and ready for use by creating a tool cleaning station in your shed or garage. 

If it is easy and convenient you are more likely to do it. So set aside a small space where you can clean and care for tools.
 
You’ll need soap, access to water and a scrubby to remove dirt and grime from all your tools. Keep a jug of vinegar handy to help dissolve rust and mineral spirits to remove stubborn tree sap from pruners.
 
Include steel wool and wire brushes to help with soil and rust removal. Don’t forget the linseed oil for cleaning tools and lubricating oil for keeping tools working smoothly.
 
Buy needed sharpening tool and files and replacement blades for pruners with removable blades.
 
Make sure you have plenty of rags. And don’t forget safety glasses to protect your eyes from flying dirt and debris.
 
A bit more information: Reduce your workload by washing the dirt off tools after every use. Stop by the faucet and wash away the soil before stashing them in the shed or garage. And remove any plant debris wedged in the tools. This is a great place for disease organisms to linger and infest the garden with the next use. And always store tools inside to reduce rust and extend their life.
 
For more gardening tips, how-to garden videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com.
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December 23rd to January 1st Birth Tree the Apple
If you were born between December 23rd and January 1st your birth tree is the apple. It is said to represent scientific talents, charm and a carefree philosopher with imagination.

Give the gift of an apple tree or plant one in your own yard to honor a friend or loved one with this birth tree. You’ll need two trees or a nearby crabapple for pollination and fruit formation.
 
Look for disease resistant varieties. Consider dwarf apple trees that will fit the available space when mature and be much easier to harvest when it starts producing fruit.
 
Or consider a crabapple. These apple trees have smaller, less than 2” diameter, fruit. You’ll enjoy four seasons of interest while bringing in the birds for added color and motion in the landscape.
 
Look for disease resistant crabapples and those with persistent fruit for the greatest impact, fewer problems and less mess.
 
A bit more information: Look for these and other apple varieties listed as disease resistant. Liberty is a crisp and juicy dessert apple. Freedom was introduced in 1983, ripens a week before Delicious and is great for pies. Redfree is an early apple that has limited storage life, but is a good choice for home gardeners looking for an earlier producer.
 
For more gardening tips, how-to garden videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com.
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No Fruit on Holly – December’s Other Birth Flower
Holly is a popular plant in holiday displays, one of the birth flowers for December and a favorite evergreen in the landscape.

Holly as the birth flower symbolizes domestic happiness. In ancient times it was shared with friends and planted around homes to protect the occupants from lightening, poisoning and mischievous spirits.
 
But many gardeners complain their plants do not form the beautiful fruit they so desire. You need at least one male for every five female hollies for fruit to develop. Look for male plants listed as good pollinators for the female hollies you select. Some growers plant a male and female plant in the same container to insure you have both sexes. Only problem, if one plant dies, you must look at the flowers to determine which gender survived and which one needs replacing.
 
Make the needed changes and enjoy your holly, berries and all for seasons to come.
 
A bit more information:  Lack of maturity, late spring frost and poor growing conditions can also result in little or no fruit forming. Make sure to plant your holly in a sheltered location with moist well-drained soil. You may need to wait a few years for your plants to reach flowering and fruiting size. A close look at the flowers will reveal the difference. The male flower has a straight stem and a flower containing pin like structures called stamen. The female flower has a swollen base, almost vase like, in the center.
 
For more gardening tips, how-to garden videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com.
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Forcing December's Birth Flower – The Narcissus (Daffodil)
Celebrate December birthdays and have a bit of fun by forcing a few daffodil bulbs into bloom.
 
The daffodil, botanically known as Narcissus, is one of the birth flowers for December.  It symbolizes sweetness and the desire for your loved one to stay just the way they are.
 
All you need are a few daffodil bulbs, a container, and potting mix. If you don’t have any healthy left over bulbs go on-line. Many bulb companies are still selling spring flowering bulbs and some offer pre-cooled bulbs that are ready to bloom.
 
Place a layer of potting mix in the bottom of the container. Pack in as many bulbs as you can fit in the container for an impressive display. Cover the bulbs with potting mix and water. Then store the bulbs in the refrigerator or other 35 to 45 degree location. After 15 weeks, move the container to a cool bright location and water as needed.
 
A bit more information:  Add a little something extra. Once the bulbs are planted, sprinkle grass seed over the soil surface.  Lightly rake to insure seed-to-soil contact. Then water in.  The grass will remain dormant during the cold treatment and start growing once you bring the potted bulbs out of cold storage.
 
For more gardening tips, how-to garden videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com.
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Light up Outdoor Container Gardens
Light up your winter containers. Add some solar lights and accents to give your planters a bit more sparkle during the drab days of winter.

Use solar powered or battery operated optic lights, globes or lighted twigs as vertical accents, focal points or fillers in your outdoor containers. Just make sure whatever you choose is rated for outdoor use.
 
No containers, don’t worry you can quickly create a few. Just fill a weather-proof pot with potting mix or sand.  Purchase greens from your favorite garden center or trim a few from your landscape. Stick the cut end of the greens in the potting mix or sand to create an attractive display. Add some colorful berries, decorative twigs, ornaments and ribbon.
 
Then add some light to your winter containers with one of the many solar lights. Set your planter by the front entrance to welcome guests or on the balcony for you and your neighbors to enjoy.
 
A bit more information:  Change out the holiday adornments for more natural materials.  Adding ornamental grasses, more berries and decorative twigs collected from your landscape can keep your container looking fresh throughout the winter. And the solar accents will continue to welcome and impress evening visitors. Here are just a few of the many possibilities:
fiber optic solar lights or solar northern lights sphere.
 
For more gardening tips, how-to garden videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com.
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Evergreen ID - Look for an Evergreen Day (Dec. 19)
December 19th is National Look for an Evergreen Day. Don’t worry if you already have your holiday tree; take advantage of this unique holiday to get outside and look at the evergreens in your neighborhood.
 
As you walk through your neighborhood, nearby park or botanical garden try to identify some of the more common evergreens.  Evergreens with needles in bundles are a type of pine.
 
Spruce needles are short, usually stiff and individually attached to the stem. Remove a needle, with permission of course. Roll it between your fingers and feel the ridges.
 
Firs also have singular needles, but they are flat. Remove one of these needles and you will see a circular needle scar on the branch. The base of fir needles look like suction cups where they attach to the branch.
 
Now that you can identify more evergreens than most, if not all your friends and family, pass your ID skills along.
 
A bit more information: Hemlocks are a shade tolerant evergreen you may find in the landscape or natural spaces. They have short needles with 2 white stripes on the underside. For a closer look at identifying these evergreens watch my Melinda’s Garden Moment “Pine, Spruce or Fir, Their True Identity” video.
 
For more gardening tips, how-to garden videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com.
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Prevent Bud and Flower Drop on Christmas Cactus
The Christmas cactus is a favorite gift that often grows into a family heirloom. With proper care you can keep this holiday favorite flowering for 4 to 8 weeks.
 
Keep your flowering Christmas cactus in a cool bright location to extend its bloom time. Avoid drafts of hot and cold air, moisture stress and other changes in the environment. This can result in bud and flower drop.
 
Water the soil thoroughly and often enough to keep the soil slightly moist. This tropical plant may look like a succulent, but prefers a bit more water.
 
Fertilize with a dilute solution of flowering houseplant fertilizer once it has finished blooming. Then move it to a sunny window or under artificial lights with your other houseplants.
 
Rebloom your cactus by providing cooler temperatures, drier conditions and as some experts believe 14 hours of total darkness each night.  Start on October 1st for blooms next Christmas. 
 
A bit more information: The Thanksgiving and Easter Cacti look very similar to the Christmas cactus, though the bloom times vary.  For more information on identification and care of these plants - click here.
 
For more gardening tips, how-to garden videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com.
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Make Your Own Icy Luminaries
Fire and candles have long been used to guide and welcome travelers and guests. Give this tradition a twist by making your own icy luminaries this winter.
 
Use milk cartons, coffee cans, tins and buckets as a mold for your icy luminary.  You will also need a smaller container to create the space for the candle.
 
Fill the container with water. Add food coloring, glitter, berries or other decorations for a festive twist. Sink the smaller container in the water. Use stones to weight it down and keep it in place.
 
Set these in a spare refrigerator or outside in cold climates to freeze. Once frozen, and just prior to use, bring your luminary out of the cold and rinse with warm water to release it from the mold.  Remove the center container at the same time.
 
Place an outdoor light or votive candle inside the luminary and then set it outside to greet your guests. 
 
A bit more information: Sound like too much work? Consider purchasing a make-it-yourself kit like the Ice Globe Luminary Kit. All you do is add water to create your own family fun and holiday centerpiece or outdoor lighting.
 
For more gardening tips, how-to garden videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com.
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Dress Up the Table with Poinsettia - National Poinsettia Day (Dec. 12th)
Move those poinsettias out of their foil wrapper and onto your table for the holidays.

Use miniature poinsettias like Mini Star as a place setter. Some come in their own decorative pot or dress them up with a bit of festive tissue, wrapping paper or fabric and ribbon. Then send your guests home with their own mini poinsettia to enjoy throughout the holidays.
 
Or dress up each place setting with a cut poinsettia bloom. Simply cut the flowers off a potted poinsettia plant to the desired length. Sear the end over a flame and place it in a florist water pick. Tuck the bloom into a napkin, set it in a small bud vase or add a ribbon to dress it up.
 
Don’t have the heart to remove the flowers? Then place several potted poinsettias in the middle of the table. Cover the pots with greens. Then add some colorful pepper berries, cranberries, apples or ornaments.
 
A bit more information:  Use poinsettia flowers to add beauty to other holiday adornments. Individual cut blooms make great package adornments. Or use cut poinsettia flowers to create a centerpiece for the table. Combine with greens or display a single bloom in a decorative vase. Dress up your arrangement by adding some faux snow or filling the vase with cranberries, small ornaments or other colorful adornment.
 
For more gardening tips, how-to garden videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com.
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Holiday Tree for You and the Birds
Create a festive holiday tree outdoors for you and the birds to enjoy.
 
Dress up your evergreen trees or shrubs with strands of cranberries and popcorn. Add some orange slices for added color and food for the birds.
 
And keep small hands busy by making some birdseed ornaments.  Use cookie cutters to cut slices of bread into festive shapes. Punch a hole near the top. Then toast or allow the bread to dry.  Coat with peanut butter and sprinkle with birdseed. Run a colorful ribbon through the hole and hang it in the tree.
 
Or collect and decorate evergreen cones. Cover the scales of the cone with peanut butter or suet. Roll in birdseed.  Use colorful yarn to hang these from the tree.
 
Bird seed ornaments also make great gifts for gardeners and bird watchers. Wrap them in cellophane add a ribbon and you have a perfect gift. No dusting or batteries required.
 
A bit more information: Once the holidays are over, move your fresh cut Christmas tree outdoors. You’ll provide additional shelter for the birds and have another tree to decorate for you and the birds to enjoy. See my Family Fun Feeding the Birds video for more ideas.
 
For more gardening tips, how-to garden videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com.
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Growing Freesias Indoors
Add a bit of color and fragrance to the holidays with Freesias. The spikes of flowers come in a variety of colors from white to purple, yellow to red and even blue.

Check with your local garden center, favorite catalogue or order the corms on-line. Plant them in a well-drained potting mix with little or no perlite to avoid fluoride damage.
 
Set the corms pointed side up about one inch deep and 2 to 3 inches apart. Water thoroughly.
 
Precool the planted corms for 45 days at 55 degrees to encourage more compact growth. Move to a sunny location as soon as growth appears.
 
Grow in a cool, about 65 degrees, bright location. Keep the soil moist and fertilize with a dilute solution of flowering houseplant fertilizer.
 
Stake tall strappy leaves to prevent them from falling and keep your plant looking its best.
 
A bit more information:  Purchase ring stakes or make your own with bamboo stakes or twigs and twine to keep floppy leaves in check. Or set the plant in a tall container whose sides help support the leaves and flower stems.
 
For more gardening tips, how-to garden videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com.
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Create a Pest Management Calendar
Is your mailbox filling with next year’s calendars? Put them to use managing pests in the garden.
 
No, I’m not talking about smashing insects with the rolled up calendar. Instead, use them to develop a pest-monitoring calendar for next year.
 
Take a few minutes to review this year’s garden journal.  Look for notes on any pest problems you encountered. Make a note to watch for these pests in next year’s calendar. This helps with early detection; a key to successful control.
 
Consider adding notes about the weather and control measures you tried that were effective.  Try using preventative eco-friendly measures like barriers and traps to prevent problems. Covering your cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower before the cabbageworm moths are active allows you to prevent damage.
 
Setting out shallow cans of stale beer will help you minimize feeding damage by slugs and snails during wet weather.
 
A bit more information: No garden journal? This is a good opportunity to create one that includes your growing successes, failures as well as pest problems. Use a spiral notebook, three-ring binder or computer calendar or spreadsheet. Just make it easy and fun. That way you are sure to keep recording, referencing and putting your gardening experiences to work.
 
For more gardening tips, how-to garden videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com.
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Growing Sweet Potatoes Indoors
The pantry is full of fall favorites like squash, pumpkins and sweet potatoes. But busy schedules may find a few things growing in the back of the cupboard. Don’t discard those sweet potatoes that sprout in storage. Make it a fun gardening activity for the family.

Plant the sprouting sweet potato in a container of well-drained potting mix. Plant it with the growing point just below the soil surface or lay it on its side and cover with potting mix. Grow your new plant in a sunny window and water as needed. Sweet potatoes make a great indoor plant.
 
To see what goes on below ground, try growing your sweet potato in water.  Stick 3 or 4 toothpicks around the middle of the sweet potato.  Set the toothpicks on the lip of a water-filled glass.  Keep the water covering the bottom half of the sweet potato. Place it in a bright location out of direct sun for rooting.
 
A bit more information: Take a look at other kitchen scraps you can grow into houseplants. Plant the base of the celery used in your dressing or the top of your pineapple. It’s a great way to move the garden indoors and keep little hands busy during the holidays.
 
For more gardening tips, how-to garden videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com.
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Eco-friendly Crabgrass Control
Reduce crabgrass problems in your lawn and garden with a few basic lawn and garden care practices. Crabgrass is an annual weed grass with a small fibrous root system. The wide grass blades lay flat on the ground. Each fall they release hundreds of seeds before dying. Crabgrass thrives in hot dry weather. Reduce the problem in your lawn by mowing high and often. The taller grass shades the soil, preventing many weed seeds from sprouting. Leave clippings on the lawn and fertilize at least once, preferably in the fall, to help your lawn grass outcompete the weeds. Pull the plants in the garden before they set seed. This will reduce the number of weeds you'll be fighting next year. Mulch the garden with shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic material. The mulch will help prevent many of the weed seeds, including the crabgrass, from sprouting. It also helps keep roots cool and moist. A bit more information: If cultural control measures have failed, you may consider the organic pre-emergent crabgrass killer made from corn gluten meal. Apply in spring about the time the forsythias are in bloom. These chemicals prevent seed germination. This means both the weed and good grass seeds will be affected. Wait until late summer or fall to reseed or overseed treated lawns. And as always be sure to read and follow label directions carefully. For more gardening tips, how-to videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com
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Starting Roses from Seed
Expand your garden and have a little fun by growing a few plants from the seeds of your favorite rose. Collect the rose hips, those berry-like fruit on your roses, as soon as they are fully colored. Cut open the rose hip exposing the seeds. Soak the seeds 12 to 24 hours, drain and mix with equal parts of moistened sphagnum moss and vermiculite in a plastic bag. Seal the bag and place in the refrigerator for at least three months. You can begin planting the seeds anytime after the chilling period is complete. Plant seeds in a container filled with a mixture of sphagnum moss and vermiculite. Keep the mixture warm and moist. Move to a sunny window or under artificial lights as soon as the seeds sprout. Then transplant seedlings, if needed, after they form two sets of true leaves. Just remember seedlings may not look like the original plant. A bit more information: You can also start new roses from cuttings. Take a 6 to 8 inch cutting from a healthy stem. Remove any flowers and buds. Dip in a rooting hormone and plant in a well-drained potting mix. You'll have roots in about 3 weeks. Keep in mind you cannot propagate patented roses. These rights belong to the breeders that introduced the plant. For more gardening tips, how-to videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com
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Fall Webworm
As you drive through your community in late summer or fall you may spot webby nests in the branches of apple, ash, birch, cherry, sycamore, walnut and willow. These are the home of the North American native fall webworm. This pest attacks more than 100 species of deciduous, those that lose their leaves in winter, trees and shrubs. The pest is a green and yellow caterpillar that spins its nest near the ends of the branch. These worm-like insects eat the leaves on the branches near their webby nest. Fortunately this is a cosmetic problem since it occurs late in the season and only a few branches are affected. Keep your plants healthy and they'll be better able to tolerate the feeding. Several natural predators and parasitoids help keep the populations in check. You can knock the nest out of the tree with a stick or a strong blast of water if desired. A bit more information: An organic insecticide, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), is effective against young caterpillars. Apply it to the leaves surrounding the webby nest early in the season. As the webworms eat the treated leaves they stop feeding and eventually die. For more gardening tips, how-to videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com
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Dividing Spring and Summer Blooming Perennials
Late summer through early fall is a great time to dig and divide overgrown spring and summer blooming perennials. The soil is warm, air much cooler and the plants will have time to adjust to their new location before winter. Dig and divide plants that have stopped blooming, flopped over, or have a dead center. Use a sharp spade shovel or garden fork to dig up the plant. Cut the clump into 2, 4 or more pieces. Remove the dead center and add it to the compost pile. Some gardeners use two garden forks back to back to pry the clump apart. I prefer a sharp linoleum knife or drywall saw. Though some fleshy rooted plants like daylilies and willow amsonia may require a hatchet or machete. You can replant one piece back in the original location after amending the soil with compost. Use other divisions in other areas or share with friends. A bit more information: The old adage "Divide spring blooming perennials in fall, fall blooming perennials in spring and summer blooming perennials in spring or fall" is a good guideline. But experienced gardeners have all stretched these limits. Sometimes necessity and your schedule determine when you divide perennials. Proper post-transplant care will give your plants the best chance of survival no matter when you divide them. For more gardening tips, how-to videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com
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National Acorn Squash Day
Bake it, broil it, microwave it or stuff it– acorn squash that is. And if you didn't grow your own, visit the Farmer's Market and buy it. Acorn squash is typically acorn shaped, dark green with longitudinal ridges. They are ripe when the fruit is a solid deep green and the rind is hard. Use a knife or pruners to remove the fruit from the vine. Leave an inch or two of stem attached to the fruit, if possible, for better storage longevity. And be sure to use any blemished or frost damaged fruit as soon as possible. Store this and other winter squash in a cool, preferably 50 to 55 degree, dry location. Place the fruit in a single layer spread out to avoid fruit from touching. The better the air circulation the greater the storage longevity and less likely one rotten squash will affect its neighbors. If space is limited, don't pile more than two high. A bit more information: September 7th is National Acorn Squash Day. This member of the squash family contains vitamins C, B6, A, thiamine and more. You'll get the best nutritional value and flavor by harvesting it at its peak. For more gardening tips, how-to videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com
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Bluestem Goldenrod
Add some bright yellow to your late summer and fall garden with Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia). This plant is also known as wreath goldenrod and naturally grows in open woodlands and bluffs. It is hardy in zones 4 to 8 and is native to 32 states in the continental U.S. and 3 Canadian provinces. Bluestem goldenrod grows about 18 to 36 inches tall and wide and works well in native gardens, woodland gardens, borders, meadows, cottage gardens and more. The cluster of bright yellow flowers occur along the stem and attract butterflies and other beneficial insects to your garden. Grow the plant in full sun to part shade and well-drained soil. Bluestem goldenrod tolerates clay soil and once established, it is drought tolerant. This fall bloomer is basically pest-free and the deer tend to leave it be. A bit more information: Fireworks goldenrod (Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks') is a popular ornamental cultivar. It is hardy in zones 4 to 8 and grows best in full sun with moist to wet, well-drained soil. The plume-like flowers that top this 2 ½ to 3 feet high plant resemble fireworks. For more gardening tips, how-to videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com
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Eco-friendly Control of Thrips
Poorly developed flowers, stunted plants and silvery streaks on leaves are indications thrips may be feeding on your plants. These tiny insects have file-like mouthparts they use to puncture the outer surface of leaves, stems and flowers and suck out plant sap. They are very small and difficult to detect. Hold a white piece of paper under the plant and shake. Or remove the petals of damaged flowers, place in a sealed jar with 70% alcohol and shake the jar to dislodge and detect the pests. Control is difficult and often not needed as the damage is discovered after the thrips have finished feeding. Provide the proper growing conditions and care for your plants. Avoid excess nitrogen that promotes lush succulent growth these pests prefer. And remove spent flowers that tend to harbor the insects. Manage weeds in the garden and keep thrip-susceptible plants away from weedy areas where the pest populations tend to be high. A bit more information: Beneficial insects like predatory thrips, green lacewings, minute pirate bugs and some parasitic wasps feed upon plant damaging thrips. Invite these good bugs into the garden by planting a diversity of plants and avoiding persistent pesticides. Visit the University of California IPM online for more details on this pest. For more gardening tips, how-to videos, podcasts and more, visit www.melindamyers.com
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