5 top gardening books this season


All ready to get out into the garden? It's prime time for planting, for sure, but you can still curl up with a good book. Here are five of the season's best offerings, and each will both inform and entertain. You might not even have to leave the house to start reading; most are available electronically. -- JESSICA DAMIANO, jessica.damiano@newsday.com

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"How to Grow Practically Everything: Gardening Projects Anyone Can Do" (DK, $22.95; e-book Adobe format $19.99 at us.dk.com): They weren't kidding when they named this book, which covers everything from how to seed a lawn and grow a tree from a seed to growing mushrooms, maintaining orchards and much, much more. Step-by-step instructions for projects like installing and carving out beds and borders are provided, as are basics of adding decorative accents to the garden, growing in containers and planning for shade. Everything from plant selection, site preparation and care is covered in this beautifully photographed resource that should have a place in every do-it-yourselfer's library.

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"Vertical Vegetables & Fruit: Creative Gardening Techniques for Growing Up in Small Spaces", by Rhonda Massingham Hart (Storey, $16.95; e-book $2.99 in the iTunes store): Not everyone has an acre of land or even a raised bed on a 50-by-50 plot on which to plant a garden. Among those who do, gardening can be impractical for various reasons, like health problems, bad backs and time constraints. The good news is you can yield an impressively abundant crop in a surprisingly small footprint, by trellising vining plants like tomatoes and squash directly onto fences, installing easy-to-make tepees, hanging containers on walls or getting creative with unusual containers. This fun and easy-to-read book from the author of "The Dirt-Cheap Green Thumb" is full of step-by-step imaginative suggestions for getting the most homegrown food from very little space, even if all you have is an alley, a balcony, a rooftop or just a windowsill.

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"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Aquaponic Gardening", by Meg Stout (Alpha, $19.95; e-book $10.99 in the iTunes store): Raising plants and fish together has a host of space-saving, eco-friendly and symbiotic benefits: Fish waste provides natural, organic fertilizer for the plants, which, in turn, keep the water clean for the fish. And aquaponic gardeners aren't relegated to growing koi plants; we're talking about tomatoes, melons, squash, lettuces, peas and cole crops! This user-friendly beginners' guide makes what might seem to be a head-spinning, complicated project for science geeks simple for everyone, with tips for selecting fish and vegetables, step-by-step plans (with photos) for building various systems and a multitude of tips for producing an abundant supply of organic fish and vegetables for your table.


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"Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques": by the American Horticultural Society, edited by David J. Ellis, Fiona Gilsenan, Rita Pelczar and Graham Rice (Octopus Publishing, $29.99): There are more than 2,000 step-by-step, easy-to-follow color illustrations in this guide, which instructs on the skills and concepts every real gardener should possess. Covered techniques include soil testing, backfilling, tool and equipment selection, cold frame building, composting, proper mulching and pest and weed control. It's like a home-study course for educating serious gardeners in the best-practice techniques for practically every situation they might encounter.

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"50 Best Plants on the Planet", by Cathy Thomas (Chronicle Books, $29.95; e-book $14.99 in the iTunes store): A beautifully photographed, color-coded encyclopedic guide to the world's 50 most nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, this book is more cookbook than growing guide, but gardeners surely will enjoy getting inspiration for new additions to the veggie patch. Produced by Melissa's Produce, the largest supplier of specialty produce in the United States, it also provides buying and storing tips, and goes beyond basic nutritional information by providing details about the health properties of each food and how it works in the body, along with 150 recipes.

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