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 April

Happy Earth Day!

Highlights

*  Deer get bolder after a long, cold winter 
*  Seeding indoors and outdoors
*  Spring cover cropping
*  Dividing
*  Tilling
*  Pruning
*  Pest Management

Grazing Deer        (click to enlarge)               Running Deer

In the Seeding Room

Seeding your own plants isn't for everyone.   You're committed to daily watering, thinning, light needs, and other coddling for several weeks.  But it beats being at the mercy of local retailers, especially if you're looking for quality or varieties not normally grown by commercial nurseries. 

lights_far04d (43K) Seeding Under Lights

Plant heating pads, sold by many seed companies, speed up germination time.  They are expensive, but if treated right will last for years. 

It's tough to tell whether poor germination is due to sloppy seeding practices (human error) or seed viability.  Seed package instructions should give seeding tips.  Some seeds require light for germination, some need cooler temperatures.  Depth of planting is critical for all seeds. 

Perennials are not listed here, because we seed them in July for fall transplanting.

As noted last month, hotter peppers (e.g., jalapenos, habaneros, piquin, Thai, Tabasco) are seeded earlier than other peppers (cherry, Hungarian, cayenne, sweet). 

We seed sunflowers and some hollyhocks directly in the garden next month.  

Seeding Indoors - Early April

lettuce (winter)
oregano
sage
sorrel
sweet marjoram

Seeding Indoors - Mid to Late April

Vegetables, Herbs:   

lettuce (winter, summer)
peppers not identified as super hot
tomatoes*
basil
okra

Ornamentals:      

cosmos
marigolds
morning glory
runner beans
zinnias
hollyhock           

*  Paste tomatoes should not be seeded till the end of the month, so they are timed to coincide with the maturity of peppers -- an essential for chileheads who can their own salsa! 

Easter lilies and  forced bulbs may not survive if planted outside after they finish blooming indoors. 

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In the Garden

 Drought and Pest Management

Both are fed by weather and life cycles.  Neither can be controlled without controlling the other.  As weather conditions become more extreme (code for global warming), staying ahead of the game becomes more critical.

Striped cucumber beetles love tomatillos and cutworms love spring-planted brassicas and greens.  We have moved our transplant date forward to mid-June.  See June Archive.

Mulching at right thickness throughout the growing season helps protect soil against freezing in spring or winter and against drought in summer.  In spring, leave just enough to protect tender lily, peony, asparagus buds against late frosts, but not enough to encourage rotting, or to provide critter hiding places.  

Tilling

Tilling Cardinal rule #1  from Planter Master Tiller and Composter (below):   Do NOT till or walk on soil before it is dry!  This compacts it, so it loses tilth and prevents good drainage.  In the seven years of North Country gardening, we have been able to till only once in late March.  Now, we do not even bother, since we have decided to wait out the spring cutting worm life cycle and plant no later than June 10th. We till at the end of this month or the beginning of next month, depending on the weather.

Till some compost or well rotted manure into the soil.  Cover crops planted last year can also be tilled under at this time.  According to Virginia Extension Service, tomato and pepper plants had more aphids when grown in bare soil and less yield when grown in living rye mulch compared with those grown in raised beds.  They produced greater yields and had fewer pest problems when grown in white and black plastic.  Planter uses black plastic for all peppers and some tomatoes.  Four-mil plastic will last for several growing seasons if care is taken when removing it from the ground in the fall. 

 

tilling.jpg (24417 bytes)   (click to enlarge)

 

"Double digging"  is a good way to recycle good topsoil.  Dig down at least "6."   Set the topsoil (about first 3"-4") aside and add any clumps of grass, or weeds if they are seed-free, upside down in the bottom of the trench before filling. 

Double Digging

 

Fill trench with a mixture of dug soil and compost or manure.  Toss out larger chunks of clay or rocks.

Double Digging 2

When refilling the trench, raise the top of the bed at least 3", ideally 6" above the soil line.  It warms up the soil faster, improves drainage, and helps roots get better established.

Virginia Extension Service advises not to dig too far down when planting asparagus crowns. "Yields improve dramatically when crowns are set at a depth of 5 to 6 inches -- not the commonly advised 12 inches. Contrary to the standard practices of deep planting and not harvesting for up to three seasons, recent studies show that harvesting shallow- planted asparagus after the first year boosts yields 40 percent over three years."  That is, if the rodents don't get to them first!

Direct Seeding

Vegetables, Herbs:   

carrot
beets
chamomile
dill, cilantro, and   parsley*
peas
spinach

Ornamentals:  

morning glory
nasturtium
pansy
poppy
sweet pea
sunflowers
zinnias           

* Cilantro and dill should be direct seeded, because these two biennial herbs resent transplanting.  Since both the seeds and the leaves are used in cooking in both plants, and since they each readily reseed themselves, let some flowers go to seed for a fall crop or for  next year's garden.  That's the kind of crop every gardener likes!  Cilantro readily reseeds, even after tilling.   Save a spot for succession planting in the same spot, so you will have some available for salsa when tomatoes and peppers have ripened.   

Jerusalem artichoke and horseradish are very persistent perennials and may become weeds in your garden. Plant them only where there is ample room for their growth.  

Cover Cropping

Gardeners who have the space can seed a  cover crop this month of buckwheat, which  matures in 30 days, in time for a fall planting of greens. 

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Dividing

Most  perennials s can be divided in early spring or fall, though one source says fall gives plants more time to become established before the drought season sets in.   Most sources agree on a general rule of thumb: spring and summer floweringshould be divided in fall and fall flowering plants, in spring.   

Planter grows   spring-blooming delphinium, columbine, foxglove.  (We also grow summer-blooming gaillardia , Shasta daisy, Sweet William, and bee-balm.)

Fall-flowering perennials (asters, mums) can be divided, although some say it's best to wait till after spring-flowering plants have bloomed.

Erratic weather conditions -- early frosts or a spring heat wave --can confuse  perennials like daylily, shasta daisy, and echinacea.  Mulch helps protect against these rapid changes.

Hardy bulbs like gladiolus, iris, and daylilies can be planted later in the month.   In some areas,  bleeding heart, roses, rhubarb, berries, and strawberries can be set out, though many catalogue companies will not deliver them till after your frost-free date.

Cuttings from shrubs and trees may be rooted. 

Pruning

"When forsythias bloom, roses are pruned."

Hybrid tea, floribundas, and grandiflora roses can be pruned before blooming.  Wait till after flowering before pruning climbers and ramblers.

Trees should be pruned before new growth begins.  Late flowering shrubs like buddleia and hydrangea can be pruned, but use caution.  Some varieties should not be pruned till after blooming.

Pest Management

The first line of defense against pests this summer are some good preventive measures when preparing the garden for planting and transplanting:

* not crowding plants
* using drip irrigation
* controlling weeds with mulch or black plastic
* adding organic matter to soil while tilling
* mulching
* consider the plant's needs when siting (soil, sun, moisture, etc.)
* disposing of diseased plant material. 

All these practices will give plants a head start in fighting the elements.    And, they conserve water and energy.

Visit our Weather and Pest Log.

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