Springtime tips: When to mow your lawn, bring pepper and tomato plants inside

Meet Mike in Reston next Sunday! Mike will give two garden talks at the Reston Town Center Garden Event on Sunday, May 5 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Peppers go outside when the nights are warm

Jamie in Fredericksburg writes: “I’ve been bringing my hot pepper plants inside for the winter and keeping them under lights for the past couple of years just like you recommend — and it works pretty well. Since these plants are so much bigger than little starts, can I put them outside early? Or do I need to wait until mid-May; the same time I put my new tomato and pepper plants outside?”

In this case, size doesn’t matter, Jamie. Three-year old pepper plants are just as cold-sensitive as babies fresh from the garden center. They can go outside and enjoy bright and sunny days. In fact, it helps them acclimate to the outdoors. But they should be temporarily brought back inside when nighttime temps are predicted to drop below the mid-50s.

Too cold for peppers and “tamatas” this weekend!

The weather has been excruciatingly tempting lately, with nighttime lows rarely dipping even close to 50 degrees — and my advice has always been to wait to plant tropicals like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant until nights are reliably in the 50s. In fact, this is the first year I can remember having to add “and until we’re firmly in the month of May.”

It’s supposed to get really cold throughout our area on Sunday night. As I’ve said before this season, do leave your plants outside on warm days and nights but don’t plant them in the ground until there are no nighttime 30s or 40s in your future.

Saving Private Pepper and Tactical Tomato

If you’ve been leaving your baby tomatoes and peppers outside in their pots to enjoy our ridiculously warm spring, bring them back inside for a few days.

If you planted prematurely, don’t panic.

• Before it starts to get cold on Sunday, place an upside-down cardboard box over each of your tender plants — like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant — and remove the boxes after it warms up the next morning.
• You can also use a product called ‘Wall o’ Water’ on individual plants or floating row covers over multiple plants; both can be found at your local independent garden center.
• No sheets of plastic — you’ll crush the poor plants!

Eggshells and tomato planting

Stan in Gaithersburg writes: “You say that tomatoes need calcium. I’ve heard you can add ground-up eggshells when you plant. If this is true, how fine should they be ground up, and how many shells per plant?”

Of course it’s true, Stan — because you probably heard it from ME; I’ve been advocating eggshells for tomatoes the entire 20 years I’ve been on the air here at WTOP!

When nights are reliably in the 50s or above, here’s what you can do to incorporate eggshells into your tomato planting:

• Dig a deep hole.
• Pull all the leaves off the bottom half of your young tomatoes (the buried stem will grow auxiliary roots that will find more food and water).
• Drop the plant in the hole.
• Place the dried, crushed shells of a dozen eggs on top of the rootball to combat blossom end rot — a cultural problem that causes tomatoes to turn black and fall apart at the ‘blossom end’ (their hineys) just as they ripen. (Crush them as finely as you can.)
• Fill the hole back up with the soil you removed; do not improve the soil in the planting hole.
• Then mulch the surface of the soil with two inches of shredded leaf compost — not composted manure and no wood mulch of any kind.

Are you ready to mow your way to terrific turf?

What do warm, sunny days, mild nights and lots of rain equal?

Trees dropping allergenic pollen in record amounts, weeds flexing their muscles like Popeye when he finally gets that darn can of spinach open, and grass that seems to grow tall overnight.

Let’s focus on that last one, because the first cut is the deepest. How you start the season can determine the health of your lawn the rest of the year.

  1. Do NOT mow until you’ve had your old blade sharpened or replaced; cutting with a dull blade can destroy your lawn.
  2. Raise the cutting height of your mower as high as possible; just take an inch off the top to start the season.
  3. Do not mow a wet lawn or you’ll rip the grass blades apart. Better to wait for dry turf even if the grass gets a little long. Hint: lawns are always drier at the end of the day than in the morning. (Unless it rains, of course …)

Mike McGrath was editor-in-chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated public radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and WTOP Garden Editor since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at MikeMcG@PTD.net.

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