April Garden Tips


Never work or walk on wet soil.   Having been kept at bay since November, we’re all anxious to get started in our gardens.  However, wet soil will compact into an airless mass that won’t grow much of anything, and the much-needed rains and/or wet snow that fell at the end of March and beginning of April pretty much ensure that the top several inches of your soil is waterlogged. Pull up a handful every few days and test it.  Only when the soil crumbles in your hand like a piece of cake is it ready to be worked.  That same advice goes for your lawn.

It’s always chancy in April, but you can start seeding some vegetables and flowers.  Peas, radishes, leaf lettuce, spinach and onion sets can go into the garden as soon as the soil is dry enough.  Floating row covers placed over the planted area will give you a couple of extra degrees of protection on cold nights.  If you garden with a raised bed, check to see if crops such as spinach survived the winter.  You may be pleasantly surprised.

If you grow your own warm weather seedlings
, tomatoes, squash,

eggplant, peppers and so forth, now is the right time to start them.  It takes them eight or more weeks to be ready to plant out and June will be here soon.  By the end of the month, you need to have planted peas, carrots, beets, arugula, spinach and lettuce.  These crops are happier getting started in cooler temps.

Mulch do’s and don’ts.  Pull back mulch anywhere green is showing on perennials, including strawberries and bulbs. But be prepared to add some cover if night time temperatures drop in the twenties.  Conversely, never put fertilizer on top of mulch unless you want to help any weed seeds that may have fallen there.  Place any fertilizer on the soil after you have pulled the mulch back.  Before you put down fresh mulch, remember the two-inch rule: if the mulch is deeper than your forefinger, it will prevent water and air from reaching the roots of the plants that you want to benefit.  And colored mulches (red and black, for example) may be colored to disguise the use of recycled wood from industry.  Steer clear of them.

Soil Test.  The soil should be diggable to 6 or 8 inches so now is the time to send in your soil test to UMass (http://ag.umass.edu/services/soil-plant-nutrient-testing-laboratory/ordering-information-forms).  The lab will soon be busy and you want to get your results quickly so you can add whatever amendments are needed.  You’re certain to save time, money and energy by not putting down products that are not needed.

How to be nice to your lawn.  First, keep off the lawn until you know it is no longer soggy.  New England lawns should not be fertilized in the spring.  Grass roots growth in the fall.  If you fertilize now, all you’ll do is feed your weeds.  As to weed control, keep in mind that ‘weed-and-feed’ and ‘weed-plus-insect-control’ products kill not only weeds, but also beneficial insects and the micro-organisms that make up healthy soil. 

Arbor Day & Earth Day
April is the month to think about our Earth.  Planting a tree, particularly a native tree, is an investment in summer shade, fruit, a better view, or a place for birds to live (and eat).  A tree will grow to be ‘home’ for a game of It.  It can anchor a bed of flowers, provide great autumn color, or a million other things.   Don’t have room to plant a tree? Donate one to a town or a school.  Or plant a shrub or flowers or vegetables.  But most of all think about how we can protect and enhance our Earth. 

Lawn Care
Start your season with a sharp lawnmower blade.  Dull or nicked blades tear the grass, opening it to disease.  Need a new lawnmower—battery operated mowers reduce noise and air pollution in your yard, where you and your family and pets live and play.

Don’t start mowing until grass is at least three inches high.  It is using up last year’s food supply to start growing and needs a chance to produce some new food before being cut.  Grass is much happier when it is kept at  3 inches high.  There it shades the ground reducing the loss of soil moisture and helps to shade out weeds.  Short grass is more easily damage by traffic than longer grass.

Are your lilacs looking crowded (dense) with branches?  Removing some limbs to improve air flow and avoiding high nitrogen fertilizers will help reduce bacterial blight, a serious disease for lilacs that occurs during wet springs.

Once bulbs are up and growing, add a small amount of fertilizer around the plants.  They need to build up food reserves in the bulbs during this spring for next year’s flowers.

Remove winter mulches, clean up debris and rake lawns and gardens. Don’t apply mulch to flowerbeds too early; you may miss emerging seedlings. Garden ponds can be mucked out and filtration and pumping started. Fish are not fed until the water temperature is dependably > 50 degrees. Prune roses when the Red Sox come back to Fenway.

Tender vegetables and flowers can be started now inside to be set out next month. Our frost free date is approximately May 15, so do not try to get a head start by setting them out too soon. Seeds of early cold tolerant spring crops can be planted outside as soon as the ground is crumbly and can be worked: peas, spinach, radish, kale, lettuce, carrots, beets, chard. Later in the month broccoli, cauliflower and kale plants can be added as long as they have been hardened off by gradually exposing them to outdoor temperatures. They can survive light frosts. Cover them with a Remay row cover to keep off pests.

When you see the flower stalk emerge from foliage in the spring, it is time to apply 20-20-20 fertilizer. If your tulips lack blooms, it could be overcrowding. In the late spring or early summer, dig up bulbs and pull off the small bulbs around the main bulb and replant.

Don’t forget your sunscreen and insect repellent!

Now is time to prune summer or fall blooming shrubs. Wait until after spring blooming shrubs have finished flowering. Roses, lavenders and caryopteris are pruned when they are just starting to show signs of new growth, usually about the time the Red Sox return to Fenway.

When the forsythia is just coming into bloom it is time to spread crab grass treatment on your lawn. It is also the time to plant early spring vegetable and annual flower seeds outdoors: radishes, peas, sweet peas, poppies, carrots, chard, lettuce, spinach, calendula, alyssum, cornflower, and baby’s-breath.