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Garden Q&A: Wait until after last frost to plant annual flowers

For The Baltimore Sun
When is it safe to plant annual flowers?

When can I plant annual flowers? The nurseries are full of them. Is it warm enough?

Annuals are not frost-hardy. The traditional "safe" planting date is Mother's Day, but in most areas of Maryland you can plant before then. For a breakdown of expected frost dates are in your area, check this chart on the Home and Garden Information Center website. If you plant early and frost or extreme cold is predicted, protect your plants overnight with row cover, pots, quilts or other protective cover. Be sure to remove the cover the next morning, or the plants may bake when the sun comes out.

I've grown my vegetable transplants from seed for years with pretty good success, but I'm having trouble getting red and green bell pepper seeds to germinate. Any tips?

Pepper seeds are slow. They can take up to two weeks to germinate, although there are some chili pepper seeds that take up to a month. If you can keep the soil temperature around 80-85 degrees, they will germinate more rapidly. Some gardeners place a hot water bottle under their seed-starting containers. Or place your container in a plastic bag and set it on top of your refrigerator. Keep a close eye on the container for signs of germination; when you notice them, remove the bag. Before planting a pepper variety that is notoriously slow to germinate, try soaking seeds overnight in water.

Digging deeper

Catfacing on tomatoes

It's tempting to rush tomato transplants into the ground as soon as the weather breaks, but that can cause catfacing. This physiological condition deforms the blossom end of the tomato, causing deep crevices or holes. It occurs when temperatures fall below 52 degrees for even a few hours, disrupting fruit development. Even flower buds that are not open can be affected. Large-fruited tomato varieties are more susceptible. Pull catfaced fruit immediately. They will not outgrow the damage, and they divert plant resources from other developing tomatoes. To be safe, set out transplants about one or two weeks after the last expected spring frost.

—Ellen Nibali

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Send in your gardening questions

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click "Ask Maryland's Gardening Experts" to send questions and photos.

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