April showers bring...that's right, flowers! That means we must be getting pretty close to the gardening season in earnest. Depending on where you are, Mother Nature may still be tormenting you with snowstorms tucked between perfect spring days. But you need only look to the crocuses and snowdrops blooming, and the geese squawking overhead, to know that spring truly has sprung. Which means it's off to the races! Nearly. This month, we're going to suggest a few more garden prep tasks that will go a long way towards a bountiful season, and provide you with plenty of helpful resources to guide you. So this April, get your garden cleaned, prepped, and strengthened, and then...get growing!
It's like cooking with no pots or pans, or like giving a speech without a microphone: you can have the freshest ingredients and all the practice in the world, but you're not set up to succeed. Gardening is the same way—without a properly prepped garden bed, your seeds will be at a disadvantage from the start. For a complete tutorial, check out this article. Here are some tips to get started:
- Time to till: Your soil has sat still all winter, compacting and harboring weed seeds soon to sprout. Tilling your soil will improve the texture, kill any weeds currently growing, and let any waiting below the surface sprout in time to catch them before you plant. If you don't have a tiller, never fear: a fork or shovel will do for most home gardeners.
- Occultation: As in...occult? Yes. But we're not suggesting bringing your garden into the realm of the esoteric; in gardening, occultation refers to covering your garden bed with a tarp (at its root, occult just refers to something that's hidden). If you still don't have the ability to loosen up your soil, or if you practice no-till methods, place a tarp over your growing space and weigh it down. Do this now and leave it until planting time. Weeds already growing will wither. Dormant weed seeds will sprout in the moist conditions and then perish in the lack of light. Occultation also improves the texture and nutrient content of your soil: beneficial bacteria and fungi will thrive in the anaerobic conditions, and earthworms will appreciate the darkness and work their way to the surface. All with just a tarp!
- Test your soil: See our March Gardening Checklist for tips on what to do.
- Amend your soil: Got the results of your soil tests? Great! ...Now what? Take your results to your local garden center or consult your county extension office. They'll help you find the best ways to improve the texture and nutrient content of the soil. Our favorite go-to is organic compost. Either use your own pile or invest in some from a local garden center, farm, or municipal supply. While chicken, horse, and cow manure are popular fertilizer choices, it's important to know the source: what the animals are fed, if they're given antibiotics, or if pesticides are used on the grass they eat can all affect the quality of the manure. You'll also want to make sure it's been aged properly; fresh manure can do damage. A good option? Contact your local farmer! That way, you'll know just what's in the manure you use, and you'll connect with your neighbors, too. Just take care not to apply too much, or you could see nutrient burning on your plants.
TOOLS & SUPPLIES
If you're eager to get seeds in the ground, it's easy to forget the supplies you may need to grow your garden right. For instance:
- Hoses and irrigation: You'll be glad, once your seeds are in place, to have a hose that doesn't leak and an irrigation system ready to turn on.
- Pots and planters: Whether it's for starting seeds or growing mature plants, it's time to buy your containers.
- Tools: Whether for weeding, planting, harvesting, pruning, or deadheading, there's a hand tool to help you along. Chances are our tool collection has what you need!
- Cleaning and sanitizing: If you're reusing pots, knives, tomato cages, or other tools, it's a good idea to give them a scrub; you'll be less likely to carry over diseases from last season.
If your garden is primed and waiting, it's time to plant those cold hardy crops! Here are some of the best early season seeds:
- Greens: Lettuce, spinach, arugula, chard, kale, Asian greens, and other greens all like the cool of spring better than summer heat.
- Roots: As in carrots, radishes, beets, turnips, and rutabagas. Plant them now and harvest just in time for a second succession!
- Tubers: It's just about time to plant potatoes, sunchokes, and dahlias. You won't see the results for many months, unlike your roots and greens, but trust us—they're worth the wait.
- Herbs: Lots of those hardy perennials like it cold, such as thyme, oregano, chives, and skullcap.
- Flowers: Many flower seeds need a cold snap to get started. Think poppies, pansies, snapdragons, alliums, and echinacea.
Yes, April really is quite a busy month for gardeners. It's the time when preparation and planting vie for attention. We hope this checklist and these resources help you navigate what's to come. And don't forget, our blog is chock-full of articles on nearly every seedy subject. So go forth and garden!