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April in the garden

If March was the time to “start your engines,” then April is the time to zoom away from the starting gate. There is so much do this month and so many possible vegetables to choose from.

This year, I made a garden plan because I often get over-enthusiastic about planting early crops and don’t have enough room for later ones. I like to try new varieties, but I have a hard time giving up the old favorites. Maybe that’s why my garden gets a little bigger each year.
I warned you last month that March weather could be unpredictable. As I write this in mid-March, looking forward to balmier April temperatures, there is about an inch of snow on the ground and lining the branches of my Yoshino cherry tree where the sun has not yet melted last night’s surprise snowfall. It’s pretty, but today it is getting in the way of pruning, spraying, and fertilizing my 63 rose bushes.

Yes, I’m a little late pruning roses this year, but by the time you read this in April, the job will be behind me. I have several roses that are sprouting below the graft and need careful attention. Some are now old enough to have considerable dieback that needs to be pruned out, which can be tricky. You can still do that in April, but you may sacrifice some early growth and bloom. The biggest danger for roses in Spring is that the deer love to munch on the tender new growth. Unless I protect them with netting, I lose the early bloom before the deer move on to find other emerging shoots to eat. I have tried “deer/rabbit fence” spray, but I’ve never found that it deters the hungry packs of young bucks. Deer also love the young growth of fruit trees and can damage them severely. I enclosed a new Elberta peach tree with a netting fence, and so far, it has survived several howling March storms. I plan to have peach pie in August.

April is prime time for sowing many seeds indoors for transplanting in May: basil, cabbage, cantaloupe, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, squash, celery, and watermelon. Many of these seeds require 60-70 degree soil to germinate and like warm soil when they are transplanted. Heat mats are a great investment to improve germination. Squash, melons and cucumbers only require about 2-3 weeks before they are ready to set out in the garden after danger of frost is past, so plant those late April to early May or direct sow in the garden in May-June when nighttime temperatures are above 55 degrees. Some seeds, such as cucumber, celery and squash are best started in peat pots which are later planted with the pots directly in the garden to avoid disturbing the roots. Many of the others listed here require 4-6 weeks of growth before transplanting.

Many vegetables can be direct sown in the garden during April: beets, carrots, chives, cilantro, collards, dill, Florence fennel, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, parsley, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, scallions, and Swiss chard. Most of these seeds are very small and are planted shallowly, so I find it best to cover them very loosely with straw to keep them from drying out from wind or the ever-warmer sun in April.

Those cool weather vegetables you started in February and March can now be planted out when large enough: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, endive/escarole, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, lettuce, onions, oriental greens, Pak choi, parsley, and rhubarb.

Don’t forget to prune and fertilize your blackberries and established artichokes this month; divide plants such as daylilies and asters that bloom later in the summer and fall; spread snail and slug bait around; and fertilize fruit trees, if you haven’t already. Enjoy the April sun on your face after a long winter.


April garden guide

Here a a few of the many things to do in April:

Sow for transplant: Basil, cabbage, cantaloupe, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers.

Direct seed: Beets, carrots, chervil, chives, cilantro, collards, corn (beet), dill.

Transplant: Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, endive, escarole, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, lettuce, onion, Oriental greens.

Fertilize and prune: Established asparagus, blackberries.
For more, check out the Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley