UC Master Gardeners, Santa Clara County, CA
University of California
UC Master Gardeners, Santa Clara County, CA

Tips for Any Time

Garden Help > Monthly Tips

Monthly tips are categorized by To-Dos, What to Plant, or Pests and Diseases. Scroll through the list to see items in each category.

All data grouped by category by Months applicable : Any month

1. To-do

  • Citrus Quarantine Warning -

    Quarantine on citrus fruits, leaves, and trees; also Indian curry leaves: Most of Santa Clara County is under quarantine for citrus due to the Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing disease. Check the Santa Clara County Quarantine Map to see if you're affected and review our Asian citrus psyllid page for what can and can't be moved across quarantine boundaries.

    - February, March, April, Any month
  • Composting -

    Composting is a good way to repurpose yard and kitchen waste, and it provides a free method to feed plants and improve soil structure. If you are unsure about how to begin composting, take a look at this simple how-to compost page. You can also go to the UCCE Composting Education Program website to learn more about free two-hour classes offered throughout the county.

    As the weather warms up, compost piles dry out faster. Keep compost piles as damp as a wrung-out sponge to keep organisms alive and working on decomposing yard waste. Turning the pile to incorporate more oxygen also supports life in the compost pile.

    - June, July, August, Any month
  • Drought tip - consider graywater -

    A laundry to landscape system is an easy way to save water in times of drought. It can be installed easily at a low cost to send rinse water from clothes washers directly to the landscape without filters, tanks, or pumps. Through Valley Water's Graywater Rebate Program, the homeowner may receive a rebate to install a Graywater Laundry-to-Landscape system.

    Graywater Action provides more information at their site: Laundry-to-Landscape Greywater System that shows how to use the Graywater to irrigate the whole yard.

    More information: Use of Graywater in Urban Landscapes in California

    - March, April, May, June, July, August, September, Any month
  • Mulch - a Gardener's Best Friend -

    Mulching around your plants has many benefits. It holds in moisture by reducing evaporation from the soil, keeps weed seeds from being able to germinate, and moderates the temperature of the soil so that it doesn't vary as much with direct sun and changes in air temperature. Mulching can cool the soil for plants like blueberries and it will help hold some heat in for summer vegetables as the air gets cooler.

    Mulch will guard against soil erosion when the rains start. Organic mulch such as wood chips or bark will slowly break down and improve your soil over time.

    It is recommended to keep mulch six inches away from trunks and twelve inches away from buildings. 

    Many local tree trimming companies are happy to deliver free wood trimmings that can excellent mulch - just be sure that the trimmings are disease-free. This can be hard to guarantee. Straw (not hay) from the local feed store can also be inexpensive, effective mulch.

    - May, June, July, August, September, Any month
  • Pruning Bougainvillea -

    You can prune at any time to shape or direct growth. If it is growing on a wall, cut back long stems to keep producing flowering wood. Hard pruning to renew the plant should be done in the spring after the last frost.

    - April, Any month
  • Drip Irrigation -

    Low volume drip irrigation systemConsider various forms of irrigation conversion! Irrigation systems, especially drip and micro-sprinklers, have drastically improved over the last few years. For example, there are kits that convert pop-up sprinkler heads to low-flow systems. The conversion kits include a pressure regulator to control changes in pressure and a filter to improve water quality. Water usage is reduced through better water management, control of distribution and less loss from evaporation. Other advantages include :

    - Water is placed more accurately and efficiently in the root zone, it is applied at a slow rate that reduces loss from runoff.
    - Dry soil between plants allows you to work in the garden between irrigating.

    The key to success is watering long enough to supply adequate water to the root zone. Inappropriate watering commonly damages landscape plants. As with any irrigation system, they are efficient only when soil around the plants being irrigated is regularly monitored for proper moisture levels (Reference: UC Pest Note Poor Water Management, Poor Drainage).

    - April, May, June, July, August, September, Any month
  • Extending the life of cut flowers -

    Use lemon-lime soda or lemon juice to extend the life of cut flowers.  The following mixtures supply food for the flowers and enough acidity to deter microbial activity.

    • Lemon-lime soda mixture. Mix 1 part regular lemon-lime soda (not diet soda) with
      3 parts warm water. Add 1⁄4 teaspoon of household bleach per quart of this solution.
    • Lemon juice mixture. Mix 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (fresh or bottled), 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 1⁄4 teaspoon of bleach per quart of warm water.

    For more information, refer to Extending the Freshness of Cut Flowers at Home.

    - Any month
  • House Plant Care -

    You may notice your house plants leaning towards the windows. A good way to keep the growth uniform is to rotate them a quarter turn every time you water. And don't water so much that you're seeing lots of yellow leaves and gnats. Look at UCCE Guide for Care of Indoor Plants for more information.

    - February, Any month
  • Garden Sanitation -

    Fruit mummy with brown rot sporulation, by William W. Coates, UC
    Fruit mummy with brown rot sporulation, by William W. Coates, UC
    Keeping the garden clean can help keep it healthy. Remove spent blossoms, fruit, and other plant parts as your plants finish producing. Dead and decaying plant parts can attract pests and give them safe places to breed. Insect pests damage plants directly by eating material or sucking out juices and nutrients, and they also spread diseases between plants as they move around. Weeds compete with desirable plants for water and nutrients and even sunlight, so remove them promptly. Older leaves of some plants, like squash vines, may naturally turn yellow and die. Removing them early allows the plants’ energy to go into the actively growing parts. Pick up fallen fruit that can attract rodents and can also return disease pathogens to the soil and plant. It’s particularly important to remove dried-up fruit “mummies” so that the fungal spores don’t spread. Prune dying tree branches before they can fall and do damage. Some flowering plants will produce more flowers if you remove spent blooms, a process called deadheading. You can leave healthy fallen leaves in place to form a mulch and decompose naturally, or you can rake them up and add them to the compost pile with other disease-free plant material. Do not compost diseased material.

    - July, August, September, Any month
  • Soil Management - Compost vs Mulch -

    Many home gardeners are confused about the terms “compost” and “mulch;” frequently these terms are used interchangeably, but they are not really the same thing. Here is a Comparison of Soil and Mulch from UCCE.

    Amend soil with compost to create soil that will retain water but still drain well enough for roots to have the air and water they need.

    Benefits of compost
    - Forms aggregate particles with clay
    - Creates larger pore spaces for water & air
    - Helps release nutrients from clay so that plant roots can absorb them
    - Supports the soil foodweb by providing nutrients for the organisms
    - Lowers pH somewhat.

    Benefits of mulch
    Mulch does not get worked into the soil. It sits on top of your irrigation system and helps:

    - Control weeds
    - Prevent erosion
    - Preserve soil moisture
    - Keep roots cool and moist

    - March, April, May, Any month
  • Weed Management -
    While some weeds are edible (purslane, nettles, dandelions), many are a nuisance and compete with your chosen plants for water and nutrients.
    Whichever variation of “One year’s seeds makes seven years’ weeds” you prefer, the truth remains: a key part of weed control is not letting them go to seed. For best results, work on removing weeds before they are able to propagate. Hand pulling and hoeing are effective methods for killing many common weeds.
    Knowing what kind of weeds you have and how it propagates can be helpful in choosing the best management method. If they propagate by seed, pull or hoe them before they flower and go to seed. If they re-grow from roots, pull up as much of the root as possible. Many weeds, like Bermuda grass, have multiple ways of multiplying. Only non-propagating parts are advisable to throw in the compost bin.
    - February, March, April, May, June, July, August, Any month
  • Garden Tools -

    When you use garden tools be sure to clean them before you put them away especially if you are cutting diseased plant materials. Cooler and wetter conditions make it even more important to wipe mud and sap off metal surfaces before storing them. Our Tool Care Tips provide more information.

    - Any month
  • Free the Trees -

    As your young trees grow bigger and stronger, remove supporting stakes or loosen the straps as early as possible. Some movement of the tree is important to make it healthier in the long run. If the tree is able to stand on its own, it will develop a thicker trunk with a taper at the bottom.

    - September, Any month
  • Field Bindweed -
    One hundred years ago, field bindweed was declared “the worst weed in California.” And we’re still battling it. The only chance of controlling this invasive weed is to stay right on top of it and remove it as soon as you see any of it peeking up out of the ground. The roots can go as deep as twenty feet (yes, 20). Every time it starts growing above ground and photosynthesizing, it is storing energy in the roots. This allows it to put out new shoots, but if you remove them quickly the roots will eventually exhaust their energy stores. Carefully dig out as much of the root as possible. And do not put any part of it in the compost because it can regenerate from even a small section of root. See our UC pest note for more information about controlling this weed. The white morning glory style flowers may be pretty, but don’t let them stick around to admire them because they produce seeds that can be viable for 60 years!
    More Information: Field Bindweed
    - Any month
  • Pet Safety in the Garden -
    Poisonous plants are just one consideration if you have outdoor pets. There are several more serious threats to dogs, cats, chickens, and other family pets. At the top of the list are other critters; curious pets are often stung on the face by wasps and bees. Fertilizer is one of the many substances that can poison a pet; it can be ingested while still in the bag or after being freshly applied to the garden. Weed killers (herbicides), which are also included in some fertilizers, can cause acute or chronic symptoms ranging from lethargy or vomiting to cancer and death. Rat poisons (rodenticides) usually take a few days to take effect and in the meantime the sickened rodents can be eaten by cats or owls and other natural predators which could otherwise help control the population. All pesticides are designed to kill; it’s just a matter of dosage. The toxic chemical could be the active ingredient or it could be a filler, and the latter are not required to be listed on the label. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center phone number is (888) 426-4435.
    More Information: Pets and Toxic Plants
    - Any month
  • Under the tree -
    Mower blight, by Purdue Extension
    What’s happening under a tree can have a big impact on its success. Having a tree surrounded by a lawn is never ideal, mostly because of different watering needs. Grass needs frequent shallow watering, perhaps two or three times per week, while trees need infrequent deep watering, perhaps once a month. A tree with grass near its trunk can be injured by lawn mowers and weed trimmers, which then makes it easier for insects or diseases to enter the tree. Water from sprinklers can also damage the bark. Mulch under the canopy helps conserve moisture and reduce weed germination. Possible mulch materials are wood chips spread four to six inches thick or fallen leaves from a disease-free tree. Neither mulch, flowers, nor bushes should be close to the trunk because they can hold moisture against the trunk and cause crown rot, resulting in the slow death of the tree.
    More information: Landscape Trees
    - Any month
  • Drought tip - Irrigate Efficiently -

    Water restrictions are being put into place all over the state due to the current drought. With over half of urban water used in landscapes, it is essential to make sure your irrigation system is efficient. Watch your plants for signs of underwatering, overwatering, or uneven watering. Consider reducing irrigation times.  And make sure your water bill hasn’t unexpectedly jumped. Also, adjust systems on timers monthly as the weather changes or use an automatically-adjusting smart controller. A smart controller can make the needed adjustments after initial programming with plant, location, and other relevant information. Our Santa Clara County clay soil absorbs water slowly, so only water for a few minutes at a time to avoid runoff. Then repeat until the water penetrates to the depth of the roots. Inspect drip and sprinkler systems regularly to make sure there are no leaks, emitters are not clogged and it is watering the plants and not the sidewalk, also make sure the water is going to the root zones of the plants. If you run a hose to a plant, set a kitchen or cell phone timer so you don’t forget that the water is running. Valley Water can help residents with Water Wise Outdoor Surveys and Landscape Rebate Programs.

    More information: Irrigation System Audit

    - March, April, May, June, July, August, September, Any month
  • Drought tip - Lawns -

    Conserving water during a declared drought emergency, by Laura Monczynski
    This landscaping feature—imported long ago from rainy, foggy England—does not translate well to a semi-desert with frequent droughts. Lawns demand a huge investment of water, money, time, work, equipment, and fertilizers and other chemicals. According to Scientific American, U.S. lawns require the equivalent of 200 gallons of drinking water per person per day. Many people are joining the "lose the lawn" movement, and UC Davis offers several plans and examples to help you get started on a yard design more appropriate for our climate. Valley Water offers rebates and guidance for lawn replacement. If your family uses your lawn and you want to maintain it this summer, follow the irrigation regulations of your local water company and aim for survival rather than a lush green carpet. A lawn that looks light green or brown will often be dormant (not dead) and will perk up with the winter rains; the roots can survive much longer than the blades above ground. Keep it mowed in the meantime so that weeds don’t go to seed and take over. Concrete and synthetic (plastic) turf do not benefit the environment other than not using much water.

    More information: Drought Resources 

    - March, April, May, June, July, August, September, Any month
  • Aloes -
    Aloe Vera is just one of 500 species in the Aloe genus. Most are native to Africa and parts of the Middle East. They generally grow in a rosette pattern and store water in thick fleshy leaves and stems. Some are dangerously spiky at the tips. Flowers are usually brightly colored and grow on spikes. Aloes are easy to grow in our climate and also make good indoor plants. They are most often propagated from cuttings or by dividing the “pups” from the parent plants. Be careful not to overwater these succulents, especially if they are outdoors during frost season.
    More Information: Aloe Cultivation
    - Any month
  • Bamboo -

    Bamboo escaping under a wall, by Laura Monczynski
    Bamboo escaping under a wall, by Laura Monczynski
    Bamboo has a reputation for spreading out of control, but not all varieties are classified as running bamboo. There are clumping bamboos that are easier to contain. Bamboo is grass, albeit one that can grow over fifty feet tall. Tall bamboo is often used as a privacy screen. It does best in full sun or partial shade. It is fairly drought tolerant and is an easy plant to grow. Deep barriers may be able to keep it from spreading. If planting in a container, check regularly to make sure the roots are not escaping from the drainage holes and thus growing beyond the pots into your yard or your neighbor’s. Foothill College in Los Altos Hills has a bamboo garden with over 80 varieties of bamboo if you’d like to see how many different ways bamboo can grow.

    More information: Growing bamboo

    - Any month

2. What to plant

  • Echeveria -

    It's easy to have color in your yard without using a lot of water. Instead of planting thirsty annuals, consider some of the many types of succulents. Echeveria does well in containers or in the ground. Plant them in well-drained soil and allow the soil to dry between waterings. They aren't particular about sun or shade, although some can be a little sensitive to full afternoon summer sun.

    - Any month
  • Creating a Pollinator Garden -

    Pollination is the process of transferring pollen from the anthers of a flower to the stigma. It is a requirement for the production of fruits and seeds. In addition to wind and water, pollinators include bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, bats, flies, and beetles.

    You can support the pollination process—and help counter habitat destruction—by selecting plants attractive to common pollinators. UC has many resources for planning a pollinator garden. Here are a few to get you started!

    - Any month
  • How to Attract and Maintain Pollinators in Your Garden -

    UC ANR has a publication titled "How to Attract and Maintain Pollinators in Your Garden" that discusses the benefits of providing flowers for pollinators and has a list of pollinator plants that are successful in most California gardens.

    - Any month
  • Vegetable Planting Chart -
    Wondering what vegetables can be planted now? To get the best success—whether planting from seed or transplants—refer to our Santa Clara County Vegetable Planting Chart. It's based on our own garden experiences.
    - February, March, May, June, July, August, October, Any month
  • Tree help -

    The city of San Jose has multiple resources for the home gardener. See their webpage on tree care. Oak trees (valley, live, blue), big leaf maples, and buckeyes are great choices for our region. The SelecTree: A Tree Selection Guide from CalPoly can help with selecting the right tree for the right place in your landscape. And you can apply for stewardship of one or more trees for 3-5 years at Our City Forest.

    - September, October, Any month
  • Arboretum All-Stars -

    Arboretum All Stars logoThis is the best tool for landscape planning available to Northern California gardeners! The UC Davis Arboretum All-Stars are plants found to be especially successful in California. The website covers essential planting basics for landscape planning, including easy-to-grow plants with low-water needs, fewer pest problems, and other outstanding qualities. As an added bonus, most are California natives that attract beneficial wildlife.

    - April, October, Any month

3. Pests and Diseases

  • Gophers -

    Have you ever watched a plant wiggle and then disappear underground right before your very eyes? That’s the work of a gopher. You don’t often see them because they spend most of their time in underground tunnels, but you see the damage they do by chewing on plant roots or irrigation lines. One way to distinguish them from other soil-dwelling vertebrate pests is by the crescent-shaped mounds of dirt they make when they dive back down. Fresh mounds of moist soil are an indication of recent activity. They do not hibernate, so they are busy year-round. They can be eliminated through trapping and dispatching. Gophinator, Macabee, and Cinch traps specifically designed for gophers are the most commonly used. You can plant trees and shrubs in gopher baskets in the ground to protect their roots. You can also line the bottom of raised beds with hardware cloth to keep the gophers from burrowing up into the beds.

    More information: Gopher Pest Note

    - June, July, August, Any month
  • Squirrel Control -

    Squirrels can be particularly annoying because they tend to take one bite out of each piece of fruit, rather than eating the whole thing and leaving the other fruit intact. They are difficult to control, but you can try some of the methods recommended in UC Pest Note on Tree Squirrels and UC Pest Note on Ground Squirrels.

    - June, July, August, Any month
  • Ant Control -

    On outdoor and sometimes indoor plants, ants protect and care for honeydew-producing insects such as aphids, soft scales, whiteflies, and mealybugs, increasing damage from these pests.

    Ants are among the most prevalent pests in households. UC IPM offers steps to follow in an Ant Emergency.

    Ant management requires diligent efforts and the combined use of mechanical, cultural, sanitation, and often chemical control methods. It is unrealistic and impractical to attempt to totally eliminate ants from an outdoor area. Focus your management efforts on excluding ants from buildings or valuable plants and eliminating their food and water sources. Reducing outdoor sources of ants near buildings will reduce the likelihood of ants coming indoors.

    Ants on Trees and Shrubs

    When numerous ants are found on plants, they are probably attracted to the sweet honeydew deposited on the plants by honeydew-producing insects such as aphids or soft scales. Ants may also be attracted up into trees or shrubs by floral nectar or ripening or rotten sweet fruit. These ants can be kept out by banding tree trunks with sticky substances such as Tanglefoot. Trim branches to keep them from touching structures or plants so that ants are forced to try to climb up the trunk to reach the foliage.

    When using Tanglefoot on young or sensitive trees, protect them from possible injury by wrapping the trunk with a collar of heavy paper, duct tape, or fabric tree wrap and coating this with the sticky material. Check the coating every one or two weeks and stir it with a stick to prevent the material from getting clogged with debris and dead ants, which will allow ants to cross. Ant stakes with bait can also be used around trees.

    For more information about what ant baits and insecticides to use, please consult the UC Pest Note on Ants.

    - June, July, August, Any month
  • Citrus Fruit Damage -

    Your oranges are ready to pick when they turn a nice bright orange. The ones on the sunny side of the tree generally ripen first. If you don't get to them first, there are critters that will let you know when they are ripe. Snails leave little holes in the outside peel, rats hollow out the fruit, and squirrels carry them off, often leaving partly eaten fruit on a nearby fence. UC Davis offers a detailed table to help identify citrus damage from insects and other pests.

    - February, Any month
  • Protecting California -
    Our Agricultural Commissioner, County Biologists, UC Master Gardeners, Cal Fire, and other interested parties are always on the lookout for new pests and diseases that can threaten our agricultural economy, our gardens, and our safety. As observant gardeners and residents we can also do several things to help. Do not transport plant material from other areas unless it has been inspected, approved, or otherwise deemed safe. This includes firewood, unpackaged seeds, fruits and vegetables, and green waste. Nursery stock is inspected and is considered generally safe. Obey any quarantines in effect. Report any suspicious pests to the Master Gardener Help Desk. Do not transport a sample to the office unless instructed to do so. Master Gardeners will help identify the pest and connect you with any appropriate agencies.
    - Any month
  • Integrated Pest Management and Beneficial Insects -

    UC IPM LogoOur gardens contain far more beneficial insects than pests. Any time pesticides are used, both good and bad insects die. This upsets garden ecosystems. Use of pesticides can also pollute waterways and may put our children and pets at risk, along with other environmental consequences. We can dramatically reduce pest problems by practicing  Integrated Pest Management, which includes planting native species, following good cultural practices, and encouraging beneficial insects, such as lady beetles, lacewings and soldier beetles

    - Any month
  • Rats -

    Have you found snail empty shells stashed in out of the way places, hollowed out Navel oranges, Meyer lemons with no skins, tomatoes with bite marks, fruit with holes gnawed in them or grape skins or cherry tomato skins scattered around? This could indicate the presence of rats. The UC IPM Pest Note on Rats provides a wealth of scientific information.

    Rats show up when your citrus, tomato or fruit first start to ripen. Rats are agile climbers and usually live and nest in shrubs, trees, and dense ground cover like ivy. Good sanitation is required. Garbage and garden debris should be eliminated. Use tight fitting lids on garbage cans. Thin out dense vegetation to make the habitat less desirable. Mow ivy once a year to the ground. Climbing ivies on fences or buildings should be removed.

    Trapping is the safest and easiest method for controlling rats. The simple snap trap is effective. The most important thing about trapping rats is to have lots of patience and keep trying. Wet some oatmeal enough for it to hold together, add dog or cat kibble or bits of lightly cooked bacon mixed in. Tie a walnut to the trigger and add a dab of peanut butter.

    Other baits to try are peanut butter and fresh fruit, but try to have something tied to the trigger. Set traps where rats are likely to travel or where you see droppings along fence lines or buildings. Bait the trap but do not set it for several days. Try different baits in multiple traps until you find one the rats like. Put two traps facing each other. After the rats are accustomed to being fed, then set the traps. If the rat springs the trap but doesn't get caught, move the traps to a different place and change to different baits. Rats prefer secluded spots and will be less wary there. Be sure to secure the trap with a wire or nails. Above all be patient and use multiple traps.

    - March, April, July, August, September, Any month
  • Pest Alert - Spotted Lanternfly -
    Adult spotted lanternfly, by Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org
    Adult spotted lanternfly, by Lawrence Barringer, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org
    The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is on the lookout for a new invasive species called the Spotted Lanternfly. It is native to China and was first detected in the U.S. in Pennsylvania. It can travel on packages and vehicles as well as plants and is a threat to our agricultural industry. Its preferred host is the Ailanthus altissima tree, or Tree-of-heaven, which is itself an invasive pest. It can also attack other landscape trees, fruit trees, grapevines, and roses. The insects suck the sap out of the plants and excrete a sticky honeydew which can in turn attract other pests and also promote the growth of sooty mold. The plants can weaken and die. While the spotted lanternfly hasn't been found in California yet, early detection by the public can help keep it from spreading. If you spot this pest, please report it to the CDFA at 1-800-491-1899 or reportapest.cdfa.ca.gov.
    more information:Spotted Lanternfly
    - Any month
  • Ailing Ornamental Trees -

    If you have an ailing tree, here are some questions you can ask yourself to begin diagnosing the problem: is the entire canopy of the tree affected? If the answer is yes, you can reasonably guess that something is wrong below the soil. A lack of nutrients (refer to the UC Pest Note on Mineral Deficiencies) will likely cause the leaves to either die (necrosis) or lose color (chlorosis). Too much or too little water will also cause foliage problems (See UC Pest Note on Poor Water Management, Poor Drainage).

    If only parts of the tree are affected, it is likely your problem is above ground. Is there a pattern to the distress? You can rule out or suspect sunscald by determining which side of the tree faces the harshest sun (UC Pest Note on Sunburn).

    What kind of tree is it? Is there new growth? If there is, that’s a great sign that a single event rather than an ongoing problem distressed your tree. The UC IPM website will direct you to species-specific pests and disorders to begin diagnosing your tree's ailments.

    - August, Any month
  • Moles -
    You and the moles will probably never see each other: they won’t see you due to very poor vision and you won’t see them because they live underground. But you will see the damage they do. Unlike gophers which eat plant roots, moles eat insects and worms. Yet they can do collateral damage to plant roots as they tunnel through in search of their preferred food. Plants can also suffer if the tunnels redirect water away from the roots when you try to irrigate. Moles create what look like mountain ridges as they tunnel through near the surface, and they leave behind round mounds of soil when they dive deep. The most effective way to manage them is to use traps specifically designed for moles.
    - August, Any month
  • Armored Scale Control -

    These parasites suck the living sap from shrubs and trees. Armored scale insects are in the crawler stage in early summer (June). Armored scale has a hard stage that is very resistant to sprays. Control them during the crawler stage when they are soft and vulnerable. Spray with a horticultural (not dormant) oil, once a month for three months. See the UC Pest Note on Scales for important information about spraying.

    - June, Any month

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