Q. At Christmastime last year we bought several little pepper plants full of cone-shaped, red- and cream-colored peppers (eventually they all turned red). The recipients of these colorful gifts couldn't have been more pleased. Would it be possible to start them now from seed and have them ready by the holiday season?
Commercial growers allow about 20 weeks to grow ornamental peppers from seed. Fruiting may not make the Christmas holidays, but if there are special friends you want to please on Valentine's Day, why not start some anyway?
You will need to keep the seeds at a temperature of 72 to 75 degrees F. to get them to germinate well. Use one of the soilless seed-starting mixes, cover them lightly, and keep moist. A glass or clear plastic covering over the seed box will keep the moisture in.
Your friends may appreciate getting the started plants and growing them to the fruiting stage themselves. Hot-pepper lovers will be pleased to know the ornamental peppers are edible.
Cone-shaped and candle types are easily recognized as peppers. Make sure the round ones are peppers (Capsicum) and not Jerusalem cherries (Solanum), which are not edible.
Q. As you suggested some months ago, we set our poinsettia plant outdoors after repotting it in a size-larger pot and cutting it back to 4 inches above the pot. We set it on a tray along the foundation of our house and have kept the soil moist. It now is a well-shaped plant, but we have forgotten how to get it to bloom by Christmas. Can you help us?
Beginning the last week in September and continuing until about Thanksgiving time in November, the plant must get 14 or 15 hours of darkness. This coincides with the natural light it would get in the wild state in its native Mexican habitat. If it gets more light hours, blooming will be delayed. This is what happens when the plant is in a lighted area of the house until late evening.
It can be moved into a dark closet about 5 p.m. and then moved out again between 7 or 8 the next morning; or you can cover it with a paper bag or a black cloth during those hours.
Q. We have just built a small greenhouse on the southwest side of our house. What vegetables could we grow that would need a minimum amount of heat through the fall and early winter? Our first frost usually comes in mid-October, but the nights are cool from September on.
There are several vegetables that are cold-tolerant, growing well even though the night temperatures may drop to 40 degrees F. Turnips (choose a fast-growing variety), lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, beets, broccoli, and radishes are good. Cole crops (kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, and turnips) will stand some frost.
You can also sow the seeds of bunching onions for scallions; you could even sow some Sugar Ann (edible podded pea) for a real treat.
Q. Several months ago you wrote about a new flower called eustoma (also lisianthus). We promptly bought some seeds and started them indoors. We kept some as potted plants, which have started to bloom. The pink is so delicate, the blue so intense, and the white so pure. However, we don't expect the ones we planted outdoors to make it before frost, except for a few plants next to our brick wall. We have come to the conclusion that the cool summer nights are not conducive to good growth, but the brick holds the heat at night so that those in that location are now starting to bloom. Here in upper Michigan we feel that's the best way to grow them outdoors. Otherwise, don't hesitate to grow them as pot plants. We appreciate your telling us about this delightful flower.
Thank you for your kind comments. We, too, have found that this flower, which is a perennial in the Southwest, does not like cool nights.
The ones we have planted in a bed circled by large stones have done well, but the ones that are not getting a constant temperature of 60 degrees F. or above are only half as large.
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.