It's getting to be that time of they year. Some vegetables can be planted outdoors in late winter and very early spring in this area; seeds of spinach about March 10, cabbage plants and onion sets about March 15, Englis peas, garlic and onion seeds about March 15, asparagus and rhubarb plants about March 20, and seeds of chives, radishes, turnips and wetercress about March 20.

But don't try to plant anything until the soil is dry enough to work. Garden soils in this area are mostly heavy clay, and slow to dry out in the spring. If worked when wet, they become hard, compact and cloddy and it may take a long time to restore them to a good condition. Don't even walk on them when they are soggy wet.

Squeeze some soil in your hand. If it forms a compact mass and does not crumble readily when released, it's too wet to work.

About April 1 plants of broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, horseradish and head lettuce, can be planted outdoors, and seeds of endive, kale, kohlrabi, leek, leaf lettuce, mustard, parsley, parsnips, salsify and shallots about April 1.

Sometime s seeds don't sprout -- usually because they were planted too deep or died because of moisture irregularity.

Follow directions on the seed packet on how deep to plant the seeds and how far apart, and how long it usually takes them to sprout.

A seed contains an empryonic plant and a supply of food for it, surrounded by a protective coat. To germinate the seed must be viable (the embryo must be alive and capable of gernination), temperatures favorable, there must be oxygen and enough moisture but not too much.

Too-deep planting is unfavorable for germination: The supply of oxygen may be restricted, and the seedling may not be able to reach the surface before its supply of food is exhausted.

The first step in germination is the inhibition of moisture by the seed. The seed coat softens, the seed usually swells, sometimes rupturing the seed coat.

Seeds have great absorbing power; in fact, in torage seeds can absorb moisture from the surrounding air. That's why it is important to store them in adry place.

A fluffy soil adds to the misture problem because it dries out so much faster than tilled settled soil. Very small seeds, which should be merely dusted on the soil surface, are particularly hard to keep moist because the soil surface dries out so quickly.

Too much water is as bad as too little, because the soil becomes waterlogged. A moist surface over a dry soil is bad because germination is encouraged and the roots die when they fail to find moisture.

Some kinds of seed naturally germinate more rapidly than others. Soaking seeds of peas, beans, corn and celery in water to speed germination can be done, but it's risky: If they're in the water too long they may be ruined.

Q -- I have a miniature orange tree that blooms and bears fruit. Can I use the seed to start new ones that would also bloom and bear fruit ?

A -- The Calamondin, Citrus mitis, is easy to start from seed taken from the fruit. The same is true of oranges, tangerine, lemon and grapefruit bought in grocery stores. Don't let the seeds dry out. If you can't plant them soon after they're removed from the fruit, moisten and keep them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Soak the seed in lukewarm water for a day before planting. Plant in a soil mixture half sphagnum peat, half potting soil. Cover the seed with about half an inch of the mixture. The seeds susually germinate in about 30 days but sometimes take longer.

Q -- I love strawberries but have no place to plant them. Can they be grown in tubs on my patio ?

A -- It can be done, but it will involve a lot of effort for a small quantity of fruit. Use only varieties that bear fruit only in the spring, because the everbearing kinds provide only a very small amount at one time. They need full sun. Plant them in the spring and pinch off the blossoms the first year to permit the plants to become large and viorous before starting to bear. Flower buds on those that bear in the spring are initialted in the fall.The more leaves there are in the fall, the more flower clusters there will be. A plant with 50 leaves may provide more than a quart of fruit, one with a few leaves only three or four berries of below-average quality. Cut off runners as they develop on the plants. The runners would only compete with the mother plant and restrain its development. Fertilize sparingly; vigorous plants with dark green leaves probably need no fertilizer. Protect the plants from aphids and spider mites.

Q -- Is it necessary to prune forsythia every year, and if so when should it be done ?

A -- It's best to prune forsythia every year. As the plant grows, a dense top is formed that shuts out light from the base. Old canes four or five years old bear few flowers so, it's best to get rid of them. It's easy to tell them from the new ones: The bark of new canes is smooth and bright, but as they age it becomes dull in color and often is loosened and flaky. The best time to prune is late winter, but it can wait until the plant has bloomed in the spring. The new canes can grow five or six feet their first season. Don't let too many remain -- the plant could become crowded.

Q -- When is the best time to plant garlic? I want to grow some this year.

A -- Garlic should be planted in the spring about the same time as onions. Use only large cloves as seed. They should be planted as soon as possible after separation from the bulb.

Q -- We have two dwarf apple trees, planted them three years ago in the spring. They were supposed to bloom and bear fruit the second year but haven't bloomed yet.Is there any way to speed it up ?

A -- Scoring or ringing the tree about one month after growth starts in the spring may cause it to bear fruit the following year. Make two cuts in the bark, each one all around the trunk, about two inches apart. Use a sharp knife. The cut should be deep enough only to go through the bark. Do not remove any bark. Usually the cuts heal rapidly.

The treatment will not work on a tree that blooms but does not bear fruit; that could be due to lack of pollination. Also, the tree must be mature enough to bloom; it won't work on a juvenile. The scoring method has been used to bring a stubborn lilac or wisteria into bloom, but maybe the plant would have bloomed anyway without the ringing.

Q -- We bought a Norfolk Island pine for Christmas. It was about six feet tall and beautiful, and now has lost three of the lower branches. What would have caused it? Will new ones develop ?

A -- Norfolk Island pine needs very good light but no direct sun; it can be acclimatized (adjusted) to a lower light intensity, adequate water but not too often and temperautes ranging from 55 at night to 70 during the day. Inadequate light, too much or too little water and temperatures too low could cause it to lose its lower branches, which can never be replaced.

Q -- I'd like to grow blueberries in my backyard; is it practical to attempt it ?

A -- Blueberries can be grown successfully if you can give them an acid soil, pH4.0 to 5.2, with plenty of organic matter in it and a sunny location. Birds may take most of the fruit unless the plants are protected with netting when the fruit starts to ripen.

Q -- What is a good turnip variety to plant for greens ?

A -- Shogoin is a good variety for greens. It is fast-growing, only 30 days to picking time, tender and mild. Purple Top White Globe is recommended if you want greens and turnips both.

Q -- Is it necessary or desirable to have the soil in my vegetable garden tested every year or even more often ?

A -- Except in unusual cases, testing the soil every two to four years is adequate. The best time to take the samples is in late fall, or early spring before fertilizer is applied.

Q -- Are there disadvantages to using Penngift crown vetch on a steep alope to control erosion? I've seen some of the advantages and would like to know about the disadvantages .

A -- Soil conservationists and highway engineers consider Penngift crown vetch one of the best and most attractive ground covers available for erosion control, particularly on slopes. Many people think the plants are beautiful when in bloom. But as with most other things, there may be some who do not like its appearance. If you do not, that would be the main disadvantage.