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- Use a good layer of mulch on any bare soil to keep soil temperatures even, reduce moisture loss, and prevent erosion. Landscape plants should be mulched as needed.
- Plant annual flower seeds. Most can be sown in soils warmed to 55°F. - middle to end of the month.
- Finish garden cleanup and fertilizing and start a spring compost pile.
- Start your garden log now, assuming you didn't start in January - or buy a Moongarden Journal
- Check the plants in protected areas (under the eaves of the house and under tall evergreens) to see if they are getting enough water. In many cases, these places are bone-dry and the plants there in dire need of water.
Year-Round Kitchen Garden:
- Don't put those row covers away quite yet. There's always a chance of a cold snap even in late April. Keep a pile of mulch near your potatoes and be ready to cover the tender growth until the danger of a sudden cold snap passes.
- Turn under the green manures, if you haven't already done so, in the beds where you'll want to grow your hot-weather crops (corn, squash, cucumbers). Soils are still fairly cool, so it may take several weeks to break down even nitrogen-rich plants.
- Kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower and parsnips can be sown directly in the ground. Remember that Brassicas tend to be fairly heavy feeders, so work some fertilizer into the bed first. If you have problems with cabbage maggots, cover the bed with a floating row cover.
- Direct-seeded crops should be thinned as they sprout. Just cut off the unwanted seedlings to keep from disturbing nearby plants you want to keep. The trimmings make for a fine baby greens salad.
- Plant onion bulbs after the middle of the month, making sure the soil is warm enough. (Use a season extender like a cloche or row cover fabric to hold in the soil's warmth.) These will be harvested in August or September, depending on the variety.
- During the first week or so of April, warm weather vegetables can still be started indoors under lights and you can still sow cool-loving, quick growing plants outdoors. But it might be smart to switch over to bolt-resistant summer lettuces as spring temperatures go higher and don't wait too long to start those tomatoes, peppers and eggplants - you want them ready to set out by mid-May or so.
- Tomato plants can be hardened off by setting them outside on nice days. Unless it is unusually warm, they will do much better if given the protection of a cold frame or cloche. Remember to bring them in at night. Later this month, they can be planted outside under a cloche or hoophouse. This is not recommended with store-purchased plants, or plants that have been grown in warm conditions. When setting out tomatoes, remember to bury half the stem. Water evenly and don't stress your plants to prevent blossom end rot. Rotate your tomatoes through your planting area from year-to-year to help keep diseases from building up in the soil.
- Plant herbs after the danger of frost has passed. Herbs can be planted directly into the ground or in containers.
- Basil, however, likes it warm so start it inside around the 15th of the month. If you grow it in 4" pots, they'll be ready to go outside about the time the nights are warm enough. Basil really does love tomatoes and can be planted beside or right in your tomato beds. Basil seed has been linked to the transmission of soil-born pathogens, so be careful to buy clean seed from reputable sources.
Woody and Ornamental:
- April is a good time to feed all your roses by spreading an inch of compost around the base. For strong growing hybrid roses, cut the canes back to just above a strong new shoot when bud growth starts. For weaker growers, just remove diseased wood and pinch back the top. Make sure that the plants have good air circulation and a fresh cover of good quality wood chip, bark, or pine needle mulch. Avoid splashing water from soil to leaves. (The old fashioned roses have much greater disease resistance).
- Prune and shape azaleas and other spring blooming shrubs when they are done blooming.
- Early April is also good time to spread an inch of good compost around winter and early spring flowering plants. Keep an eye out for winter damage.
- Spring is the ideal time for pruning evergreens. Keep the pruning cuts within the green (foliage) parts of the plant. Cutting back into bare branches means it may be difficult or impossible for the plant to re-grow from the old growth - there are few if any buds on the old growth.
Soil and Maintenance:
- Spring is a good time to start compost piles, using garden refuse and winter leaves. A good active pile gives you a place for the weeds and other plants being cleaned out over the next couple weeks. Spring compost is frequently ready to use in fall, since decomposition happens so quickly in the heat of summer.
- It's also a good time to begin using your compost from last fall, though it may not be completely ready for another month or so. Check if the pile is completely cool, mostly brown and crumbly, with a sweet soil-like odor. If it is ready, use it as a top dressing (about 1") or add it to (2"-4") your annual beds.
- Prepare annual (vegetable and flower) beds by adding compost to the soil. This is also a good time to add other soil amendments if a soil test indicates they are needed.
- Check all irrigation systems (AKA in-ground sprinkler systems) - Many areas require a yearly professional check of irrigation systems prior to May 1.
- Aerate your lawn. Water will penetrate deeper into the soil so it will not be necessary to use as much water to keep the lawn looking nice.
- Fertilize warm season grasses in late April, using a 3-1-2 ratio slow-release or natural organic formulation. Cool season grasses, like fescue, bluegraa, and ryegrass should be fertilized in the fall.
- Mow regularly - tall fescue should be kept at about 3" so it can out-compete the weeds.
- Recycle grass clippings on to your lawn - this lowers the need to fertilize by returning nutrients to soil.
Critters Good and Otherwise
- Make sure your bird houses are cleaned out and ready to go, as lots of birds are looking for homes. Keep feeders filled since natural sources of seeds have not yet become available.
- At the woodpile and in the underbrush, step carefully and look before you reach, since reptiles are becoming active with the warmer weather and you don't want to startle them.
- Those little white diamond-back butterflies flitting around your early Brassicas are cabbage butterflies. Their caterpillars are a major nuisance that can be controlled by hand picking. For heavy outbreaks try Gardens Alive Green Step II. As a preventive measure, cover the bed with a floating row cover.
- Protect your new transplants from cutworms by making 'collars' from small plastic soda bottles. Cut off the bottoms and tops and make sections long enough to slip over the seeding and into the soil an inch or two. Leave the collars on for a couple of weeks (until the plants are big enough to resist cutworm attack), then remove the collars by cutting with scissors and pulling them up.
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