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Dear Kay,

At this point every summer, I start hearing about people’s gardening triumphs, and I’m always bummed that I don’t have a green thumb. The other day, I passed by my weedy outdoor pots and thought, Crikey, what a mess!

At one point during the pandemic, I decided that letting volunteer hackberries sprout, then croak was an ironic wink at the fussiness of container plantings. But really? It’s just sad.

I know there are serious gardeners out there reading this, so I’m wondering if you have a tip for me and my bedraggled containers. Nashville will stay warm until Thanksgiving (or forever, if the heat wave continues the way it is right now), so I have time to get my pots in decent shape. All suggestions welcomed!

I’d post a Before photo for you, but really, it’s a dreary sight and one I want to improve as soon as possible. Morticia Addams would be proud.

Thank you for your help—maybe there are other gray thumbs out there who could use a bit of wisdom too.



PS Up top are just a bunch of pictures of green growy things and places I’ve seen this year in Los Angeles. Really beautiful landscapes out there. Plus one sleepy squirrel out my window who comes by regularly for a snooze—it’s the darndest thing.


  • Think of a bedraggled pot as an opportunity to unravel and renew!
    If the plants have some promise of still blooming/providing varied tones of lush greenery, trim them back to a few inches.
    Then work in new soil that contains plant food and water it well. In a couple weeks your efforts will show with a happier potted display.

  • Check out your native plants. Pollinators, such as milkweed, usually grow without much care and help the ecosystem. They can be grown in pots and will overwinter.

    • Great idea!

  • Snapdragons. They will bloom and reseed without any prompting. They are pretty hardy and perk up miraculously with a little water

  • I’ve planted herbs in my tired containers. The mint has entirely taken over one, but the smell is lovely, when the plants are brushed against.

    • Catnip is a member of the mint family, and is quite lush once you get it started. It is best in hanging containers, or the neighborhood cats will destroy it before Kermit gets any.

    • I planted mint in the ground and omg it invaded everything! Then a friend told me to dig up a clump put it in a pot then put the whole pot in the ground. That has worked for the most part but I’m still working on getting some stragglers removed the flower patch

  • I think that squirrel just knows you are there and likes to keep an eye on you! Maybe he’s looking for a treat!

  • I have great annual blooms from black eyed susans right now and purple bearded irises in June. They both always come up, only require water and sun and are gorgeous. Good luck!

  • Just do a redo! I like the advice to put in a thriller, spiller and a filler plant.

    • Wow, what a great mantra for containers.

    • Agree!

  • The late gardening guru Thalassa Cruso used to say, “Figure out what you can grow and grow a lot of it.” I have more than 50 containers on my NYC terrace, including a row of 20′ high river birch trees, so there are always a few bedraggled pots that need refreshing. One quick-and-dirty solution is greens: Swiss chard, kale, baby lettuces. They grow fast, fill the pot with lush-looking leaves, and you can sow more every two weeks to keep the salads going. Also, I am fine with letting some of my herbs go to flower — chives, basil and thyme, among others, do double duty with leaves and blossoms.

    • So smart!!!

    • Thalassa Cruso was my gardening guru as well! So nice to see her name again.

      • Marigolds are foolproof and keep bugs away ~ plus at seasons end you can snap
        Off the dried flower heads and collect the seeds for next spring!!

        • The dried marigold flower heads are also great for the dye-pot!

        • Agree agree agree with Lyn here: I used to do the sweet potato vine in either the lime or the fabbo dark colored leaf, mixed with coleus of your choice. They look great & can handle the heat!
          You do have to 1) water daily or near daily depending on amount of sun your pot gets. Full sun = water daily; & 2) feed them! As Martha Stewart once said to a guest on her show, in her I-can’t-help-being-superior voice,”You like to eat, don’t you? Well, so do your plants!”
          If the potting mix is new, some fertilizer will be included, but add more at planting time & about once a month (get liquid or dry fertilizer & sprinkle it over the soil, no need to dig in. All the watering breaks it up & washes it in, as well as out–which is why you have to keep adding more!) Have fun Ann! Pick something wild & weird! To h*** with fussy!

      • Ditto

        • Plastic pots don’t dry out as fast as terracotta pots: sweet potato vibe is hardy and vigorous I’ve a large pot w/ the lime green vine spilling over the front of the pot with wine and green coleus (which comes in various colors and leaf shaped edges.

  • “Work in new soil”… this is where my gray thumb really falls down. Really? You have to baby sit this thing THAT MUCH?? For what it’s worth the plants that have survived the longest for ME received the right amount of water consistently and were planted in the location THEY liked best, which, of course, is often a guessing game or lottery luck. I think in the end a green thumb really loves their plants, whereas a gray thumb, well go back to my soil comment, Thanks so much to Dana. I LOVE Snapdragons. Maybe they will have a chance.

    • Agree, so much. The only container plants that ever survived for me, were the ones who happened to get the right conditions.

  • Thrillers (something tall) fillers and spillers (viney plants to hang over edge) that work with whatever sunlight you’ve got. And a commitment to water because containers dry out faster than garden beds.

    • This is the advice I was going to give. And if you can find something that is somewhat drought tolerant (euphorbia, verbena, and a spiky tall grass or accent plant, or asparagus or foxtail fern). You get a nice mix of texture, shape and color, varying heights and fills, and it starts to look carelessly professional and verdant pretty quickly. My favorite patio container combo this year was teacup elephant ears (smaller than the giant ones, and seeming to reach to the sun), red sunpatiens, euphorbia, and the dark colored sweet potato vine. There’s also a succulent type little filler in the mix, but it’s gotten covered up by the vine and impatiens.

      • First, it’s been an extremely hot summer. My containers are suffering too.

        Second, plants need to be chosen based on the amount of sun exposure.

        Third, evaluate if it’s time to freshen up your soil.

        Fourth, I always feed my plants using slow release granules.

        Fifth, if you are buying your plants at a box store, step up your game and visit a garden center. Talk to someone who can help you pick the right plant for your sun exposure.

        I believe in you!

  • I don’t have a green thumb! I did read somewhere that when a squirrel stretches out like that and lays for a while they are cooling their body temperature. Your buddy must feel safe there. Lucky for both of you.

    • What an interesting observation!

  • TINK. The greatest thing about container planting is that you can just start over. Think fresh plants and new soil. Providing that you water regularly or you get weekly rain, you can easily get two growing seasons in one. How about fresh tomatoes and basil, grown in your very own pots, for Thanksgiving?

  • P.S. I learned the hard way that those picturesque, easy-to-come-by terra cotta pots are not good for all plants as they soak up too much water in the hot, sunny summertime. But.they are great for succulents who like it dry. There are some amazing videos out there about succulent gardening, if only just to entertain yourself.

    • I agree absolutely about the pots for anything but succulents, especially in the North. Terra cotta also cracks in cold weather unless you bring it indoors. And its weight can be a disadvantage if you garden on a deck or rooftop or a penthouse terrace like mine. I’ve been happy with thick plastic pots from Akro-Mils and HC Companies. (Available at Amazon.) They’re well-priced, mimic terra cotta well enough, especially when they’ve had a chance to weather a bit, and can be moved, even full of plants and soil, without giving you a hernia.

    • has everything to make your work easier and look magnificent. Self watering gizmos for the bottom of your pot are wonderful.

  • I have a container of Wandering Jew that is my favorite shades of green and purple. It grows and spills in abundance. Every fall i bring it inside and hide it from the cats and winter weather in Southwestern PA. In spring, I hack it to bits and shove the pieces in every pot i can find outside. It will quickly take root and soldier on till fall. Other annuals that I plant alongside go leggy and sad by August, but not the wanderer!

  • Decide if you want green – herbs say – or lots of colour – go for annuals or plants that will reseed over and over. I’m all for natural planting and local plants and eco systems but with pots you can have what you want. Although if it’s going to be hot and dry how about lavenders? Smell gorgeous and thrive in dry heat as long as they’re watered regularly. Look out for local plant sales, local markets, fund raising, the WI run regular plant sales here in the UK, then you can buy masses with a clear conscience it’s doing good! Then pull everything out of the pot and compost the old plants and soil, pot up the new plants in fresh compost and water, a lot, for the first week.
    Works for me and I am really not good at gardening!

  • Frog the pots and start anew! Add container potting soil that includes fertilizer into your pots. I live north, our season is short, so I use annuals that bloom more with deadheading. I imagine with your long (almost year round?) growing season, you could plant perennials in containers. Another tip: containers dry out quickly and need very frequent watering.

  • I grow stuff to harvest, that way I’m more likely to tend to it.

  • Be glad you’re not in Texas where the challenges of container planting exceed yours. Drive around and see what is thriving in other pots. As another person said in a comment, trim your bedraggled friends back. Always remove the 3 D’s; i.e., dead, diseased and dying. Use a little snipper and dip into a Clorox solution between plants to not carry the disease of one to another. Pull out the dead plants and replant with a little new potting soil. I think it’s always a good idea to salvage what you have and amend the soils. Assess what you have; did you plant shade-loving plants in the sun? Don’t let you containers dry out, but don’t keep them wet. Most plants like dry feet. Hope you post your ‘afters.’

  • Pots need fertilizer, as the soil nutrient leach out with frequent waterings. Potato vines are quite hardy and grow quickly. I would add colourful annuals too. I like the earlier idea of snapdragons for colour and longevity.

    • I love my automatic watering system! It was not expensive and hooks up to the spigot. The brand I have is Raindrip. I set it to water for 10 minutes once a day, which is sufficient as long as we get supplemental rain.

  • Hi Ann! I run into this issue every summer within my garden. Here are a few of my tricks. When my daisies start to go, I deadhead and stick tall mums in at different levels. Basically adapt and change out your pots to add fall growing plants. Go to your nursery for advice and they will (happily) take your money. Next year grow dahlias and spring annuals in one pot. By the time the petunias or whatever are on the way out, the dahlias will be strong. Maybe your climate would produce flowers earlier. And lantana! I think that will get really tall and loves heat if you get the right variety. Hope that helps.

    • Lantana will survive almost anything. The climate here in MS is brutal, and they do great!

    • That’s sounds so smart, & doable

  • See if you can find a small bag of “worm manure “ it is magical! You can either sprinkle a handful around the plants or make a “tea” for the plants. I order mine online directly from the farmer – worm farm. But she is in Canada and I don’t know if that product can ship to the USA-maybe. It is a probiotic for your garden. I had pathetic tomatoes , added a little bit and voila!

  • i have four oak barrels on my deck for container gardening. i planted lilies in one. they can be moved into your pots from anywhere now, or later when it cools off. they have thrived in my spot, and look nice blooming or not.

  • Dandelions! They grow everywhere

    • I know they are considered a weed, but I love dandelions. (Don’t tell my husband. lol)

    • Marla! You are music to this Grey Thumb!!

  • Nashville is hot and humid so water, fertilizer and good drainage help. My favorite summer plant for Nashville (when we lived there) was vinca (Madagascar periwinkle). I like the trailing kind for containers. I also like to put potato vines along the edge of the container for more drape These two plants love full sun and will droop if they need more water; they recover from imperfect care easily. I like to put rocks in the bottom of my containers and mulch in the surface around plants if I am unable to water 2x a day.

  • I think the secret is to cut them back a lot further than you think you should. If you know what is in the pot, Google how to prune and follow the directions. Then add some fertilizer, water a little — don’t over water. That’s another secret, don’t top water (don’t get the leaves wet) and water just a bit every day or every other day. OR…. but plastic plants.

  • This is the part of the season when the big box places and probably some smaller greenhouses as well have CLEARANCE sections. I’ve had great luck with the clearance plants. The look bedraggled and busting out of their pots at the place, but come out at Pennies-on-the-dollar prices, and you can get plenty. Most years, I add a little of the nice container soil in the top of mine – the kind with the slow release fertilizer and moisture pearls.

    Solidarity! Mine are probably EvenWorse, as I didn’t plant them at all this spring, but unlike the western mountain deserts I grew up in where if you plant nothing, you get nothing… in PA, every open spot grows in with green whatever.

    Morticia Addams would he proud of you, maybe Pugsley would like my place.

  • Start small, right plant, right place, Google for info. YouTube videos are great and you can knit to them. If you enjoy your plants and get something out of the experience, then you’re more likely to want to put in some effort. Success breeds more success. But enjoy the process. As a newbie knitter, that’s what I’m learning to do. Loved the photos, sitting at my LA kitchen counter.

  • I loved reading all of these comments and am inspired to work harder on my Atlanta patio pots. Thank you all!

  • Tips I have learned: plant things that have the same water needs. Example: moss rose is a succelent, so I have other plants that have low water needs with it. I am in Texas and my flowering pots that have higher water needs are all dead in this brtual heat, so I took them all out and put in mint, lavender, thai basil, jalapeños, – things that can handle a lot of heat. I don’t get flowers, but I let things go to seed a bit and I hsve lots of cute honeybees.

    • Here in hill country only two rain storms since May. While I would love to have veggies fresh from garden between the brutal sun, not to mention above 100 degrees for two months, and water restriction, we are having a hard time. I would love to grow thing but I think even the cactus is having a very difficult year.

    • Texas is hot and not cooling down at night. I lucked into some Pineapple Mint! It looks like a variegated mint. Smells wonderful and seems to love the heat!!

      Squirrels love to stay sploot! That’s really a thing when animals spread out belly down to cool off!! it’s so hot I’m ready to try it too!! Thank goodness for cotton and linen yarns!!

  • I like the Tennessee squirrel outside the window best… that green TN landscape beats the LA hazy skies any day in my book (I’m in northern CA with smoky skies, but I treasure my rural community).

  • Go to a LGS (local gardening store), and fund planted pots you like. Imitate them. Bingo.

  • Contact your Davidson County Master Gardeners ( They can send you links to Tennessee Extension brochures on container gardening (ornamentals and/or fruits and veggies) for your area and what to plant, when. Felder Rushing says that containers should have plant combinations of “spikey, roundy, and frilly,” but it’s easier for me to manage one type of plant in a container and then group the different containers together. When planting a combination of plants in one pot, they should all have the same water and sunlight requirements. Plant for the sun you have…most flowers and herbs/veggies need 6-8 hours of sun per day, but there will be lovely plants for containers in the shade too. Use good quality potting soil that drains well, and have open drainage holes in the container. Avoid overwatering – stick your finger in the soil and water when the soil is dry about an inch down…small clay pots might need watering every day, while large plastic pots might be able to go several days between waterings. Watering will leach fertilizer out of the containers, so fertilize regularly throughout the growing season with a fertilizer appropriate for the types of plants you have…package labels will tell you how much to apply. Happy gardening!

  • I used to garden a lot, but being now at an older age. I just can’t get around in the garden like I would to. Containers and perennials are the way to go. I need to thin out some of my perennials. The weeds like to take over. Happy gardening!!

  • We have Lantana in the pots hanging on a the hottest spot in the yard. With daily watering they thrive. No fuss.

  • What will revive those summer pots? What can we put in them for August enjoyment?

  • Since you’re in a warm climate, it is not too late to try an Earthbox or a few. They are a lazy gardener’s salvation. You must water daily and that is it. They take some work to set up initially but they are amazingly productive and everything gets a head start – something you need in Minnesota. I have loads of cherry tomatoes already, eggplants are coming in thick and fast, peppers too. You can even grow flowers in them but zinnias, marigolds, snapdragons and the like are very low care if you just plant them in the ground or in a pot. They are not cheap but they last for decades, I have had mine for a dozen years.

    Trader Joe’s sells a pot of basil for $3.99. Keep cutting it and don’t let it flower, it will keep producing leaves. Put it in a big pot with lots of potting soil and a generous helping of Osmocote (another lazy gardener goodie). I have a massive container of pesto in the fridge all summer, and put it on everything- toast, potatoes, pasta, you name it. Good luck!

  • Plant a succulent mix in your pots. They don’t get tired! and thrive when you forget to water.
    If they get leggy, cut them and replant. Such brave plants in the heat. ❤️❤️❤️them so much.

  • My next door neighbor had the most beautiful and interesting garden that I envied because don’t have that skill but she was a true artist

  • I have a very black thumb along with a tremendous deer problem. Deer eat everything even when it says resistant. The plants that I have not killed are Jasmine, Camilas, and Roses. I also have not killed my lime, lemon grapefruit & fig trees, all in large pots. I live on the snow line so all my pots are on rollers so the can be pushed in & out of my protected porch plus everything is on a drip system for watering with a timer so I don’t need to remember to water but I do need to check. Good luck.

  • This is a formula that will do well in the heat of the summer. They are all tropicals, so they probably won’t make it though the winter. (I suggest you focus on having a great show in the summer and let them go fallow in the winter since it is difficult to keep plants alive in pots over the winter.) It is tricky planting in mid summer.. so you will have to water faithfully to give them a good start! These plants will do well in direct sun or partial shade and will be good for any larger pots 12-18″ or larger across. Just add more of the begonias or sweet potato vine if your pot is very large. Plant at the center or back of the pot a Dracena. It looks like a fountain of dark green thin leaves and will grow to be the tallest plant. On one side, or three quarters of the way around the center, plant flowering begonias. Choose a single color or a color combo that you like. They come in white, light pink to very bright pink and red flowering varieties. The leaves are very colorful too. Some will be a deep brown red and other varieties will be deep green to bright green leaves. The begonias grow into large mounding flowering plants. Last of all plant a sweet potato vine in the remaining area. I like the bright lime green ones for more color contrast with the deeper greens in the other plants. Plant this near the edge of the pot and it will spill generously down the side. Most other plants will not do well or grow vigorously this late in the summer, but these are guaranteed to give you a fabulous colorful show even in hot temperatures and should be available at most nurseries. Enjoy!

  • You want something heat resistant. We have had awesome luck with our wave petunias this year. I particularly like the “Starry Night” variety, but they come in a huge range of colors and can withstand a bit of benign neglect. Geraniums don’t mind heat, but like quite a bit of water. I like the ivy leafed ones. Mexican Heather does great in warm climates, has tiny purple flowers, shiny leaves, and a nice, low spread. There are lots of tropicals that would do well where you are. If you’ve got a bit of shade, coleus come in range of colors that a knitter can’t help but love (again, more water needed here). With respect to weeds, I don’t like doing big weeding binges. Instead, as I walk about the yard (whether on the phone, or admiring the plantings, or playing with the dogs, or whatever) I just pluck a weed here and a weed there. When I was sick a few years ago and was not doing any weed plucking, we had a bit of a “control” to show how effective my random plucking is at keeping weeds down over time. I’m not an expert, just an enthusiastic amateur, but you are welcome to email me to brainstorm!

  • Find a native plant nursery near you and ask for suggestions for containers. The birds and butterflies will thank you! (P.S. Los Angeles may look nice, but most of the plants are not native and are much too water-thirsty for our dry CA climate. 😉 )

  • the squirrel picture is really funny. The others make me realize how much I enjoy the summer blooms. My only suggestion is fertilize.

  • Notice how much (or how little) sun your containers get, then get out and see what containers you lust after that get a similar amount of sun over the course of the day. Figure out what is in them – I think (?) there are apps that will do that if you don’t recognize something & no one is around to ask. Next year, get those exact plants – don’t bother with things that need more sun or less, they are unlikely to do well. Plant, fertilize, and water well initially. I use compost for things in the ground but containers need a stronger dose of fertilizer and Osmocote works well for me. It’s slow release for about 4 mos, your season is so long you probably will need to re-sprinkle halfway through but otherwise you won’t have to think about it again. The only thing left is to make sure you water whenever they start to get dry – you need to check *daily*!!! ( It’s good if the container has a drainage hole which prevents the plants from drowning – over-watering is at least as bad as under-watering!) Also, I agree with Lyn: plastic pots don’t dry out as fast as clay, so I have a collection of plastic pots that nest perfectly inside nice looking clay containers, which look nicer IMO.
    You’ve got this: right plants, fertilizer, regular watering as needed!

  • Excellent suggestions, knitters and crocheters! I love to garden and especially growing pretty flowers. As I get older and hopefully wiser, my plantings have now become small container plants.

    Last summer, here in hot, sunny British Columbia, I tended herb plants for a friend who has little sunshine in her place. The herbs, Basil, Oregano & oh, I don’t remember, all thrived their little heads off in the bright sun! They loved a drink twice a day. Friend was thrilled and made pesto, etc.

    This year I’m growing a beautiful red Geranium on the deck. Unfortunately I wasn’t watering it as much as I should’ve b/c the blooms started quickly drying up and some leaves turned brown & brittle. I started generously watering it twice a day & it’s much happier! I read someone’s wise post here that mentioned geraniums love lots of water. Good luck, it’s a wonderful journey!!

  • I plant nasturtium in with the others after trimming them. They will provide shade for the worst of the heat, giving them a chance to rebloom come cooler air.

  • Just pay them attention. Don’t let them dry out. Feed them. It’s an artificial environment that you’re responsible for, so you have to be present for them.

  • My suggestion…watch Garden Answer on YouTube. Laura is such an inspiration.

  • Hit up the community gardeners at The Nashville Food Project. They’ll know just what you need.

  • Good luck in the season of 90+ degrees. I typically plant drought tolerant plants like moss roses, marigolds, gaillardia. Also stared putting all on my pots on plant feet since the deck gets so hot during the day. I have been out in the wee hours of the AM to give everyone a drink of water. Have moved pots into shadier spots on the deck until the heat wave passes. They still get sun, but are not burning up. My peppers and tomatoes are still hanging in there. The herbs are troopers, but by the end of the day they are just worn out.

  • I live in NE Ohio but it is quite hot here this summer and my two simple containers have 1 bedding geranium each and 1 tall bedding begonia each. It doesn’t take them long to spread out. The geraniums love sun but accept shade and are happy with less moisture than most annuals. The begonias seem to prefer partial shade but the shiny leaves shine even more in the sunshine and are okay with dryness. Both come in various bright colors. (You have to deadhead the geraniums as they lose their petals to keep the plant blooming regularly.

  • 1 take a few days and observe your light conditions where you want the containers – how much sun, how much shade. etc

    2 do you want green and flowers or just green ad color (like coleos)

    I would go to the best local nursery and describe your planting areas and ask for advice.
    At this point of the season there is not as much as a month ago – but you can still get enough to make your containers look nice. And dont forget the clearance section – some things are just there to make room .. some may be wilted some may be dying. but you can be surprised what you find. (this is mainly big box stores)

    Decide if you want all annuals (replant next year) or perennials and some annuals. of course in Tennessee you have a longer growing season.

    The comments about terracota pots are right. I have a mix of both – and water a bit every day (containers) – in the heat waves i do two waterings. you do have to keep up on the watering for containers.

    • I have chrysanthemums in pots. They come up each year . A huge variety of colors. Snip off new growth every few weeks for a bushier look or leave them alone . Basil is great in pots and my lilies thrive. A handful of small rocks looks pretty and let the weeds grow through.If you have room butterfly bushes smell heavenly and yes butterflies will come! such fun to have them floating around.
      Just have fun don’t make it a job.

  • I too have trouble with pots and must tell the world about something I stumbled upon that has ABSOLUTELY CHANGED my pots this year! I searched “terra Cotta plant spike” on Amazon and ended up with the ones from Remiawy. (Not a sponsored ad, I just ended up ordering more because I put them in all my pots when the first batch worked so well!) Here’s the idea:

    You put the 6″ cone-shaped spike into your pot when you plant everything else and you leave it in the dirt. Then you grab a plastic water bottle or wine bottle out of your recycling, fill it full of water, and flip it upside down and leave it in the spike. These little beauties water my pots continuously and I just come by and refill the water bottles when they are empty every other day. The pot never dries out! Brilliant!

  • My “gardening” strategy is benign neglect. My plants should generally not expect much from me. Take a fresh look in alleys, roadside medians, open spaces, and the less well-tended yards. Are there ways to plant what does well there that you’d like? Could you make the pots fancy and the plants plain?

  • The only thing I put in pots are trees. A small maple, an espaliered Asian pear, a fig that will eventually need to go in the ground, a bay, oh, and mint.

  • 1. Take the time to clean and sanitize your pots. Clear our the old dirt, fill a bucket with water and a little.bleach, and submerge your pots in the bucket. This will really help, I promise it is worth the time, both submerging and rinsing. Martha S has guidelines.
    2. Plant coleus, all colors. Grow like weeds, rarely need deadheading, will last for months and give you a for little money.
    3. Fertilize, even rarely. Works magic.
    4. Don’t overwater, about once a week will do it, unless drooping occurs then water immediately.

  • Trim back your annuals and feed them with a fertilizer that says it is for blooms . Some people say annuals don’t need fertilizing but I found that they do. It will keep them blooming until frost. Good luck.

  • Colorful Interesting, and creative ideas to become enthusiastically engaged into great hobby experience. I thank you for stimulating my mind and creating a time I can be involved with while watching sports with my hubby.

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