Time to plant those peppers

Wait until Memorial Day for most outdoor planting. You won't be able to pick a peck of peppers this fall if you plant peppers too early. Poor fruiting can be due to cold temperatures, plus cold soils. Temperatures below 65 degrees F. can cause flower loss. Take advantage of differences in varieties. Try Gypsy, Canape, Ace, Lady Bell, or Staddon's Select. All are resistant to flower and bud drop due to low temperatures. Plant peppers and melons through black plastic mulch. It's safe to prune back winterkilled rose canes. Save all the green wood possible . . . just cut out blackened wood. The more green wood you save, the more flowers. Mulch roses with grass clippings, sawdust, shredded bark, or anything else to trap moisture and thwart weeds. Grow your own ``hamburg'' onions. Sow seeds one inch apart and cover lightly. Or set out plants three inches apart. Keep onions watered in summer for sweetness. For scallions plant onion ``sets'' close together. As you eat, practice a thinning-out process; the remainder will grow into larger onions. You can grow scallions from seed sown now, also. If you have had indifferent results growing sweet onions in the past, don't cry. Send us a self-addressed, stamped envelope for our guide ``How To Grow Fat Onions, Sweet Leeks, and Great Garlic.'' Keep that perennial bed neat and clean. Cast an eye on your neighbor's collection and swap plants for an inexpensive buildup. Don't forget to add a few biennials -- they take two seasons to grow, and should include hollyhocks, canterbury bells, foxglove, honesty, and even pansy. Pinch blossoms out of store-bought petunias before setting them out. Leggy snaps can also be pinched for bushy effect. In first part of May, most all vegetable plants can be set outdoors safely. In high elevations you might get later-than-expected frosts. If crows and other birds snip out tips of tomatoes and peppers (some are pulled out of the ground!), cover with potato crates, wire baskets, or plastic jugs until roots are anchored firmly. Train tomatoes early on wire corsets or fence. Give roses an all-purpose spray to check aphids and leaf chewers on young growth. A good mulch does much to produce fat blooms by trapping moisture and cooling roots. Shredded bark, bark chips, peat moss, and the like are all good materials that make the rose bed rosier. Put amaryllis pot outdoors and keep it watered all summer. Cut poinsettia back to within four inches if you plan to rebloom it for Christmas. Water plant regularly and feed once a month from now until fall. Bring indoors before frost. (Later we'll tell you how to trick it to bloom around Dec. 25.) Snap beans taste best if harvested daily. Pick when leaves are dry to prevent anthracnose disease. Those peas you started back in February should be ready to pick. Check vines daily because if they overripen, they'll get hard and tasteless. Also, flower production will halt. Pick summer squash daily, even if you have to give some to the neighbors. Allowed to get too large, vines will produce less. Hot weather matures fruit fast, so pick them when four or five inches long. Okra pods have best flavor if picked when four inches long. Water lettuce regularly and pick daily or plants will ``bolt'' (go to seed). As soon as tops of potato vines die, pull them up and dig for tubers, then store in dark, cool spot. Light causes skins to turn green and poisonous. May is a good time to make a second planting of okra, peanuts, collards, sweet corn, and cucumbers. Cut back potted poinsettias for bushy effect. If geraniums are leggy, pinch tips back to get bushiness. ``Head back'' rhododendrons -- that is, cut out spent flower clusters to prevent seed formation. Take hardwood cuttings of jasmine, roses, and other ornamentals. If you missed out on planting annuals, there's still time to set out plants (or sow seed direct) of cosmos, marigolds (dwarf or tall), and zinnias. Look for bargains on leftovers in garden centers. Plant cannas, caladium, dahlias, or whatever is available. These will take summer heat in full sun if watered regularly. In May rain is what grows the golden grain. Often it can be too heavy in the Great Plains. Take advantage of it. When the water percolates back into the soil, trap the water by using your favorite mulch material. As soon as the soil is workable, get your first sowing of bush beans, sweet corn, cukes, and pole beans. Set out tomatoes and peppers. If tomato plants are tall and gawky, set them deeper in the soil, leaving four inches of the tops sticking out. Roots will form on stems and they'll be as good as the stockier plants you set out. Memorial Day is a safe time to set out everything. Sometimes a frosty night can sneak up to catch your plants -- good reason for not planting too early in May. If you do, use plastic jugs or ``hot caps'' with slits in to let heat escape during the day. Spring-flowering shrubs (forsythias, almond, and others) have finished their show. Thin out long canes (don't ``crew-cut'' them). If in bad shape, take out one-third growth this year, another third the next year, and remaining third the following year. Divide hardy mums and replant. Discard old, woody growth. Replant only small, tender sections. Divide dahlia roots and plant each ``toe,'' or tuber, that has an ``eye'' (sprout). Caladiums, tuberose, glads can also be set out now. Check shasta daisy plants. If a crowded mess, divide and replant sections for larger blooms. Prune out ``suckers'' (also called ``watersprouts'') from base of fruit and nut trees. Still time to prune out center of your apple and peach trees so light can enter and ripen fruit. Good time to set out strawberry plants. Use two or three different varieties. Avoid deep planting. Also be sure to spread out roots. Soak plants in weak fertilizer solution before planting for quicker start. High-elevation areas have a short growing season, plus tricky spring frosts. Indoor-started plants can be set out the first week in June in spots where May frosts threaten. In other areas west of the Rockies, planting season is much earlier. Especially in valleys, gardeners may use Mother's Day as a guide for their main outdoor planting time. Valleys between the Rockies and the Cascades are safe enough for peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and other heat-loving crops. Melons can be set out also, but keep hot caps on hand. Black plastic mulch holds heat and traps much-needed moisture, as well as thwarting weeds. Cole crops (cabbage family) can still be set out the first part of May, and corn and beans can be planted as soil temperature warms above 55 degrees F. Annual flower plants can be set out, but keep plants watered as sun and wind can easily dry the soil. Get in the rest of your cannas, gladiolus, and dahlias. The first part of May is safe to plant all your warm-weather crops (except in high elevations), such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants, melons. In mountain regions, frost is possible so keep hot caps handy. In these areas, plant early maturing varieties as frosts can hit early in fall. In warmest areas, plant several crops of beans and corn two weeks apart for fresh eating all season long. Do the same with lettuce. New Zealand spinach (not a true spinach) will withstand summer heat. Plant peas and broccoli in coastal regions only, as they are not heat lovers. Keep Chinese cabbage, celery, kale, cabbage, cucumbers, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts watered regularly. Onions will develop a hot flavor if not kept moist. Grow at least six herbs near the kitchen (they do very well in containers). Basil, parsley, chives, French tarragon, rosemary, and oregano are useful choices. Grow mints in pots so they won't spread. -- George Abraham

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