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Time to prepare for mowing, gardening

MOUNT AIRY - Those first signs of spring are starting to pop up: birds chirping, bees buzzing and lawns beginning to grow. That's when some people pull out the lawn mower and realize there's gas left in the tank from last year, and their mower won't start.

Mechanic Jonathan Tedder, of Prospect Small Engines in Mount Airy, said people should make sure they don't put their machines away with gas in the tank because the ethanol in the gas is an oxidizer.

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When people make that mistake it can cause damage to the carburetor, engine and other parts of the mower, owner Brian Clowser said.

"[Ethanol] tends to eat away at the fuel lines," he said. "There are diaphragms in the carburetor that can cause them to get hard so they won't work ... it won't let it pump the fuel and it will actually kind of gum up and clog the fuel passageways."

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According to a pamphlet Clowser provided, ethanol causes fuel to break down quickly resulting in lost power, performance and decreased fuel economy.

Clowser said he has serviced about 200 to 300 mowers this year so far, with a majority of those being riding mowers. The business offers a winter deal in January and February for those who think ahead, allowing people to get a head start on the spring.

David Schatz, owner of Schatz Lawn Mower Services in Sykesville, said he has worked on hundreds of mowers so far this spring, and the biggest issue seems to be fuel problems.

"The most important thing would be putting it away last fall," he said. "The fuel we are using today is doing nothing but destroying the carburetors and the fuel systems on these small engines. So the best thing to do is to treat that fuel before you have these problems. "

Schatz said the first thing people should do when they get their mower out for the first time is to try to start it. If it doesn't work, clean the carburetor.

If it still doesn't start, it's probably time to take it to the shop for service, as many others are already doing.

"The first warm weekend everybody's waking up and opening their sheds and going 'Oh, I better get this checked out,'" Schatz said.

People who need to get their mowers serviced can expect to wait anywhere from 10 days to two weeks at this point at his shop, Schatz said.

"It starts out as a trickle and then it just floods us," Schatz said.

With the beginning of spring, lawn mowing isn't the only thing people are thinking about. It's getting to be the time of year when there is no more threat of the ground freezing, and plants can be put into the soil.

Jessica Testerman, the co-owner of Young's Nursery and Greenhouse in Mount Airy, said right now things that are more cold-hearty are OK to plant, such as pansies and snapdragons. As for garden vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and carrots, it's best to wait until it gets warmer, around Mother's Day.

Those who have not gardened before should make sure they prepare the ground in the spot they wish to plant.

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"The biggest thing is going ahead and getting it all tilled up," Testerman said. "If the ground is poor, you are going to want to add some sort of composting material ... just to enrich the soil. You don't want to overdo it, but you want to make sure it's definitely composted."

Planting too early can be dangerous to a plant's survival, especially with the weather in the area, Testerman said. There are bound to be some nights that get down close to freezing, she said. It's better to stick to onions, lettuce and broccoli for now.

"Mother's Day is a good benchmark, but it all depends on where you live," she said. "People just get over-anxious when the weather gets nice, they think it's time to do everything, but it's not."

Brianna Griffin, at Living Waters Ornamental Ponds & Streams in Westminster, said right now is a good time to plant the cooler season annuals.

"You can plant any of the other annuals as well, you just want to watch the nighttime temperatures," she said. "If you know there is going to be a frost that night, you would just want to cover those delicate flowers."

As the weather continues to improve, people can put more plants outside, but even now people are ready.

"People are definitely out and planting in their yards," Griffin said.

Flowering trees are popular right now, and a lot of people getting new houses are heading over to Living Waters to get trees, shrubs, annuals, edibles and pond supplies, Griffin said.

Testerman said there are many tips she can offer prospective gardeners, but that the most important thing is to not be scared of killing your plants.

"If you've never gardened, you can't be afraid of the possibility of gardening." she said. "A lot of people come in here and they are scared to death; they don't know what to do.

"Gardening is not as hard as they make it out to be, you just got to focus on what you're doing and ask a lot of questions."

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