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Ask the Gardener: When to pick peppers and tips for healthy azaleas

Ask the Expert Gardening
An Gloria azalea in full bloom.A Gloria azalea in bloom.
An Gloria azalea in full bloom.A Gloria azalea in bloom. David L. Ryan/Globe staff/file 2016Globe file 2016

What to do this week: Watering in the morning discourages slugs and fungus, but doing it anytime is better than not at all. Most plants need an inch a week, so check the Globe weather page for past rainfall amounts or buy a rain gauge. Small-container plantings that sit in the sun need a daily soaking. Deep weekly watering is a must for young trees, especially those in front of your house that must contend with heat from paved areas. Tree roots extend up to five times the width of the canopy, so water over a large area. Harvest bell peppers at any size, but eggplants only after they reach 4 inches but still have their shine.

Q. I had a mature azalea that died over the winter about five years ago. I replaced it with an azalea from a garden center. After two years, it also died over the winter. I replaced it with a small azalea from a big-box retailer. That one lasted only a year. What could have caused this? The other shrubs near it are fine.

M.M., Marblehead

A. I seldom buy the same type of plant again after one dies. I figure it doesn’t like it where I planted it, and I put in something else. If you are set on planting another azalea this fall, I would try improving the soil, adding a little Holly-tone to make it more acidic, and then buying a more expensive azalea from a local nursery that offers a guarantee. But what I would rather have you do is plant something different and easier, such as a dwarf weigela or a Japanese spirea. If your spot is part shady and you want an evergreen that flowers, try a leucothoe, a mountain laurel, or a Brouwer’s Beauty pieris.

Q. I recently found four growths (tumor-like and the size of a golf ball) on two rhododendron at least 50 feet apart. The growths are as hard as an apple and white. I have to cut them off with a hand-pruner. What do you think the problem is?

M.J., Duxbury

A. It sounds like azalea gall, or Exobasidium vaccinii, a fungus that attacks only rhododendrons and azaleas. It spreads via white spores. The growths look bad, but they don’t kill healthy shrubs. Continue pruning off the growths, preferably when they are green and flexible. If they turn white, dip your pruner in alcohol between cuts so you don’t spread the spores. Humidity makes it worse. There is no way to control them chemically.

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