Shredded newspapers make a great garden mulch (but don't use the comics)

Q. We've been using a dandy shredder for cutting up newspaper to use later as a mulch in our garden. Is it all right to use the colored pages? Use only the black-and-white pages, as these contain no toxic material. The colored pages in magazines and newspapers may contain lead, cadmium, and other toxic elements that could contaminate the edible plants.

Q. Last summer our peppers were somewhat bitter, not sweet and crispy as in other years, even though we used the same variety. The crop also was smaller, but we can blame that on the dry weather. Our soil is sandy and we were able to water only sparingly. Any suggestions?

Pepper plants need moisture in the soil in order to bear sweet, solid, juicy peppers. The addition of humus to the soil in the form of rotted organic matter (composted garbage, leaves, sawdust, newspapers, grass clippings, and the like) will improve the taste by retaining the needed moisture.

A mulch around the plants will not only conserve water but will also eliminate weeds, which are moisture robbers. Humus can loosen a heavy soil as well as tighten up a sandy one such as yours.

You could increase your yield by 100 percent or more by using these moisture-conserving methods. For maximum yield, be sure to use varieties that are suited to your area.

Q. When a friend moved out of state, she gave me an elephant foot tree about two feet tall. When she had it, the long, flowing, grassy leaves were very green and sturdy, but now they have become pale and limp-looking. It is in a northeast window where I grow my African violets. I can find no insects. My friend told me to let the soil dry before watering and to feed it once a year.

Elephant foot tree, so-called because the basal bulb resembles an elephant's foot (gray and tough-skinned) as the plant gets older, is the same as ponytail (Beaucarnea). The directions for feeding and watering are correct. The problem appears to be the lack of sunlight, since the plant needs at least half a day of bright sun, much more than it would get in a northeast window suitable for African violets.

Move the plant to a sunnier spot gradually, giving it one-half hour more sun per week until it gets the right amount. Moving it suddenly into full sun may burn it.

Q. You told a while ago how to revive roses when the heads flopped over. Most florists know that roses must be recut under water with a sharp knife when a shipment is received, since they've been out of water for several hours. If the whole rose, after recutting, is left submerged under water, it will revive. You might want to tell your readers. Thank you for your good tips.

Many thanks to our reader for the kind words and for reminding us about the alternative method of reviving roses. We use this method often when cutting home-grown roses on a warm day. Perhaps it would work for other flowers as well.

Our method of cutting an inch or two of the stem and standing the flowers in three or four inches of water warm enough to be tingly to the touch has worked for Dutch iris, flopped spider mums, calla lilies, and others.

Slipping a plastic bag over the flowers while they're in the water and moving them to a cool place will help to perk them up faster.

If you have a question about your garden, inside or out, send it to the Garden Page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass., 02115. Doc and Katy Abraham are nationally known horticulturists, authors of several books on gardening, and greenhouse operators for more than 25 years.m

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