For advanced gardeners who want to branch out, Cornell offers a distance-learning course on grafting

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ITHACA, N.Y. -- This holiday season, go out on a limb -- give the gift of graft.

Without leaving home next spring, gardeners can learn to graft multiple fruit varieties onto a single fruit tree, create unusual growth forms and apply these skills to propagate plants that do not root easily. Cornell University's Department of Horticulture is registering students for a distance-learning course, "The How, When and Why of Grafting for Gardeners." The noncredit course includes Web-based lectures and quizzes, video demonstrations, hands-on grafting and interactive discussions.

Kenneth Mudge, the Cornell associate professor of horticulture who teaches the course, says the 10-week class requires about four to eight hours of work per week and will be offered March 17 through May 23, 2003. Students can read weekly lectures, view still images and video clips of grafting procedures, participate in online discussions and take multiple-choice quizzes. Students then will demonstrate their knowledge using hibiscus plants. The last day to register is March 10.

The compact disc developed for the course is integrated with the Web site to show step-by-step procedures for three grafting techniques: chip budding, T-budding and top-wedge grafting. Mudge and William Head, professor emeritus, State University of New York at Morrisville, developed the video instruction for the CD.

The course is limited to 50 students, and Mudge suggests registering early. There are two registration options. One costs $225 and includes a password to access the Web site, a CD with videos of grafting techniques and a certificate of completion issued by Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; students are required to supply the plants and grafting supplies for hands-on grafting exercises. The second option costs $300, which includes the instructional resources plus four hibiscus plants, a grafting knife, grafting supplies and shipping costs; students are responsible for pots and soil for repotting the hibiscus plants, which are shipped with planting instructions.Course prerequisites include completion of a high school or college biology course, previous gardening experience and convenient access to a PC or Macintosh computer, the Internet and e-mail. Mudge also suggests a commitment and motivation to undertake serious learning. Other requirements include a CD-ROM drive, a Java-capable browser and QuickTime, version 4.0 or higher.

To register, to view a sample lecture, "Reasons for Grafting and Budding," or to see a listing of all lectures and laboratory exercises, visit the course Web site at: http://instruct1.cit.cornell.edu/courses/hort494/mg/ .