By Julie Harris, Master Gardener
April is the month when we can finally spend time out of doors, breathing fresh, cool air and watching plants and trees “green up.” April is also the month to get your garden in gear for the season. But do so slowly. Starting too early can compact the soil and disturb pollinators that may still be asleep in the garden. This article will review steps you should be taking now in your flower or vegetable gardens to set the stage for a successful growing season.
This month, cut back any perennials that you left standing last fall and rake out leaves and winter mulch from your perennial gardens. It is also the time to divide your established perennials as they begin to emerge from the ground. For many perennials, division helps the plant perform better because there is more space for roots to grow and absorb nutrients and water. (Hint: if you see a hole in the center of your hosta, it wants to be divided!) Plant division is also a cost-free way to expand your garden. Check out this page for more information about how to divide perennials.
If you plan to start vegetables or annuals by seed this year, note that some perform best when they are started indoors in March or April. Zinnias, Nasturtium, Morning Glories, Sunflowers and Marigolds are easy annuals to grow from seed. Some vegetables that can be started by seed in April are: peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, sweet potato roots and cabbage. Here are a couple of articles and videos explaining how to start seeds indoors.
Some cool-season vegetables can be planted outside in mid to late April. The soil must be thawed and easily workable before you plant. Check the soil temperature to determine when cool weather vegetables can be planted. Here are some examples of appropriate soil temperatures for some vegetables:
- 40 degrees – arugula, kale, lettuce, bok choi, peas, spinach, radishes, radicchio
- 60 degrees – beans, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots
- 70 degrees – tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, squash, corn melons
Preparing the soil
Spring is also the time to prepare your garden soil. If you are going to till your soil, do so in the spring. Tilling the soil helps to warm it and removes existing weeds. But, note – tilling also stimulates germination of new weeds which should be promptly removed as they emerge. Read the article under Garden Glitches in this newsletter “To Till or Not To Till,” by Master Gardener Jim Lakin on alternatives to tilling. Tilling should not be done when the soil is too wet because it may become compacted when it dries. If your soil sticks to a shovel and holds a ball, it is too wet to till. If you are going to add amendments to the soil, do so before tilling. For more information, consult this article.
Cleaning Garden Tools
Disease from an infected plant may be spread to a healthy one by using dirty garden tools. Proper cleaning of your tools can reduce the spread of disease. If you haven’t cleaned your tools in the fall, do so in the spring. You should also clean your tools when you have used them on plants that may be infected with a disease. Cleaners such as Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner, a bleach solution and alcohol may be effective cleaners. However, refer to the following article regarding the proper methods to use with these cleaners.
The last time you were able to work in the garden, you were raking leaves, cutting down plants, putting garden ornaments away and covering patio furniture. Take pleasure in doing the reverse and watching your garden come alive again.