Spring is here!
April nears and the ground grows soft. Winter thaw drains into ponds where nubile salamanders dance water ballet, darting from bank to bank. Spring peepers peep in chorus, nudging drowsy Daffodils into bloom. Hyacinths, too, poke their already-budding tips through the leaf litter. Tree buds swell in the misty air and, soon, the mythical Green Man will disgorge the leaves from his mouth and everywhere it will be green. Spring is here!
And we are here with your April Checklist for the garden. This is an exciting month for gardeners, as we edge ever closer to frost-free days (arriving mid-May to our area). Read on for this month's task list and sowing schedule.
First, take care of your your soil.
This month, the top layer of soil is much more workable, and it’s a good time to add compost ahead of your direct sowings. For soil amendments, see this page. But, until it’s time to plant, keep beds covered with leaves, mulch, or cardboard; this will benefit earthworms, microorganisms, and fungi to create a more hospitable environment for young plant roots.
Avoid compressing mucky garden soil when possible; if you need to walk in your garden beds on a wet day, lay down a piece of plywood to walk on. Install pavers or stepping stones for high traffic areas.
Another way to protect the soil is to spring-sow cover crops. White Clover, Hairy Vetch, Buckwheat, Oats, or a combination of Oats and Field Peas can all be sown in springtime to suppress weeds, add nitrogen, and improve tilth for the growing season.
By now your compost pile should be thawed out and ready for some TLC. If your kitchen scraps have built up over the winter, you’ll want to add carbon-rich materials like leaves, pine needles, and cardboard to help restore the balance. Aim for a ratio of 3 parts carbon-rich “browns” to 1 part nitrogen-rich “greens” (e.g., kitchen scraps and grass clippings). Give the pile a good turn and keep an eye on the moisture levels as the season unfolds: compost should be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. This means adding water during dry weather or covering your pile with a tarp when you expect a week of rain.
Clean up. But slowly.
No need to go crazy cleaning up the garden right away; in fact, it might be better for pollinators and other beneficial insects to take a slow approach. For those of us in northern climes, the Xerces Society suggests waiting until mid- to late April for cutting back perennials and clearing garden debris. Once the apple trees are done blooming, most of the pollinators have emerged and it’s safe to clear debris.
Speaking of wildlife, make sure your birdhouses are cleaned out and ready for new spring inhabitants. See here for a brief overview of placing and caring for birdhouses.
Another essential cleaning task is to sanitize your planting containers. Disinfect containers in a 1:9 solution of one part bleach to 9 parts water for at least ten minutes. Use a bristle brush to scrub mineral deposits and soil debris, rinse, and allow to dry. Don’t neglect this step; otherwise, plant diseases can spread and undermine all of your hard work.
Sow vegetables! (But be mindful of frosts.)
Seed starting tender vegetables can now begin in earnest, either indoors under lights or outdoors in a cold frame. You may have already sown a few rows of Peas, Spinach, Arugula, and Radishes. If not, now’s the time.
Brassicas: It's prime time for sowings of Kale, Collards, Cabbages, Kohlrabi, and Broccoli. These brassicas are all adaptable crops that can be started any time from now until mid-July, providing healthy greens for the table from May until December.
Salad Greens: Lettuce and many herbs for fresh salads--Parsley, Cilantro, Chervil--can be sown now under protection. Direct sow Spinach and Arugula without protection; both love the cold.
Peas: Get Peas in by the first or second week of April. Soak them overnight, inoculate, and sow 1-2 inches below the soil surface. Peas need something to climb: add trellis netting, chicken wire, or stakes with twine.
Roots: Radishes are quick and easy crops that thrive in cool weather. Succession sow radishes every two weeks and don’t forget to sauté the delicious greens. Carrots can be direct-sown in our area mid-April.
Tomatoes: Start Tomatoes anytime from now until late April; the earlier you sow 'em, the earlier you reap your tomato bounty. That said, tomatoes started earlier require more coddling. If you use a cold frame, they must be amply protected from frosty nights (by bringing them inside or covering the cold frame with a blanket when temps dip into the low- to mid-twenties). If you start them indoors, make sure they get sufficient light.
Peppers and Eggplants: Both plants can be started from now until mid-April or so, but if you much prefer ripe peppers to green ones, start early--it ensures the largest number of red (or orange or purple) peppers before frost (though the same difficulties apply to early sowings of these plants as to tomatoes). Peppers and Eggplants need good heat and plenty of time to germinate. Start them indoors in your warmest spot, and be patient. Put a tray full of sown peppers in a plastic bag to keep the environment moist until germination takes place; once a few seedlings emerge, get them out of the bag quickly to prevent damping off.
These are just a few of our favorite vegetables to sow in April; for a full schedule of vegetable sowings through May, consult this regional Spring Planting Guide. And we haven’t even covered flowers! Check our “Growing Instructions” and “Quick Facts” under each seed listing for more sowing tips.
And one more April to-do: don't forget to read a poem! April is National Poetry Month, and poetry and gardening go hand-in-hand.
A Green Man motif by Sebald Beham (1543)