Spring is officially here, and if you haven’t yet been tempted to break out your shorts here in the Pacific Northwest, you almost definitely will be in April! Warmer weather and longer days mean the soil is workable and there’s more time to spend outside working it — or just enjoying the sights and sounds of the season. This is the month when the formerly bare branches of deciduous trees and shrubs fill with leaves and flowers, and songbirds make their annual debut. There’s so much to do, and we’re excited to get out and commune with the plants in our gardens and across the landscape.
If fall is the ideal planting time for most woody plants, early spring comes in at a close second, with cool weather and rain clouds still lingering in the air to help your plants root in before the heat of summer. Plus, the timing of our spring shipments means that this is the month when you will find the best selection of spring-flowering trees and shrubs at the Farm, from rhododendrons and azaleas to magnolias and cherries, plus a wide array of deciduous shade and specimen trees to cool your yard — or just up the cool factor! And considering that we celebrate Arbor Day this month, what more perfect time could there be to add a tree to your garden? We would also encourage you to consider native options that offer increased wildlife value in honor of Earth Day, which we will also celebrate this month.
Whatever you choose to plant, April is a good time to think about adding summer-blooming annuals and perennials like marigolds, geraniums, and coneflowers. Sowing seeds outdoors is another great way to be able to connect with nature and observe a plant through its whole lifecycle. This is a wonderful option for half-hardy flowers like borage, nigella, nasturtiums, and calendula.
Warmer days also mean more — you guessed it — weeds! The good news is that the annual weeds sprouting in our gardens are easier to control when they are still small and manageable this time of year. Rather than wait for them to bulk up, you can scrape many young weeds out with good success by using a hula hoe. Applying corn gluten to the area you just disturbed is an additional organic measure you can take to help prevent more seeds from germinating in their place.
Thankfully, the same biological processes that are waking up the weeds are also waking up the plants we care about in our gardens. As plants mobilize their tremendous energy stores to push out new spring growth, you can help to give them a boost with a slow release organic fertilizer like E.B. Stone. There are different formulations for a wide variety of plants, but it’s hard to go wrong with the All Purpose option. Organic fertilizers have the advantage of gently feeding plants over time to support their natural growth rate, rather than prompting them to quickly push out lanky growth, and E.B. Stone in particular contains mycorrhizae to help improve plants’ vigor and disease resistance. These special soil microbes can be destroyed by direct sunlight, so it’s best to “scratch in” fertilizers that contain them to help ensure that they reach plants’ root zones to do their good work.
Apart from taking these measures, April is also the time to continue garden maintenance by cleaning out brown, dead foliage, cutting back ornamental grasses, and fertilizing lawns. (Thinking of Earth Day again, you could also pursue lawn alternatives like creating a native meadow!)
Were we feeling more celebratory about their arrival, April begins what could perhaps be described as a festival of slugs. If you struggle with these pesky garden visitors leaving your plants ragged, you can bait them with Sluggo or put out copper strips to discourage them from munching on your prized specimens. Aphids and spittlebugs also emerge this time of year, but these are more of an aesthetic issue than anything. A good strong hose stream will knock them off, and they generally don’t return. If you miss any, they are capable of reproducing overnight, but you can always leave them as food for birds and other beneficial insects. The best strategy to avoid insect problems is growing a diverse garden and keeping it well fed and watered so that your plants are better able to fend off and recover from damage.
If you grow fruit trees like apples and pears, you should strongly consider pest prevention measures like Bonide Orchard Spray to ensure a successful harvest later in the year.
The Great Indoors
Plants inside take their cues from the changing seasons, too! As we enter the active growing season, you’ll likely find that your houseplants need to be watered more often, and you can begin to up your fertilization regimen, as well. While you may be able to get away without fertilizing plants in the ground, plants in containers only have a limited volume of soil to pull nutrients from and require more frequent inputs to make sure they look and perform their best. With that, this is also a good time to go through your collection and repot any plants that are overdue for a housing upgrade.
If you overwinter certain containerized plants indoors — citrus being the classic example — hang on for a few more days before setting them out on your porch or in your garden. Nighttime temperatures are still a far cry from the warm interiors of our homes, even though things may warm up quite a bit during the day. Waiting until nighttime temperatures at least hover around 50 will help tremendously, and when you do eventually move them out, you will want to gradually “harden them off.”
Vegetables are the name of the garden game this time of year, however, the weather can still be unpredictable, so it’s best not to get too far ahead of yourself early in the month.
If you haven’t already set them out, onions, potatoes and other root vegetables can safely go into the ground in early April, and you can also direct sow seeds of half-hardy vegetables that appreciate the cool weather and moisture this month provides. This includes root veggies like carrots and beets, greens like spinach and lettuce, brassicas like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and alliums like scallions and chives — plus many more. With that said, seeds and starts are different! Be cautious about setting out starts that are already growing until later this month, especially for heat-lovers like tomatoes, peppers, and basil. By using a soil thermometer, you can easily determine if it is time to plant warmer weather vegetables; soil should be consistently 60°F or above. (And just to be safe, it’s always a good idea to have a frost blanket on-hand in the event that we get a late-season frost.) As the soil warms towards the end of the month, you should look to direct sow seeds for cabbage and runner beans, and you can start seeds indoors for cucumbers, melons, gourds, and tomatillos to be transplanted into the garden even later.
Support your existing edibles by weeding around your berries and perennial vegetables and applying a layer of compost or mulch, which can help to deter pests, conserve water, and make for easier all-around gardening. Blueberries, in particular, get a boost from adding acid-balanced E.B. Stone Rhododendron, Azalea, and Gardenia fertilizer.
The important thing is to enjoy the warmer, spring days and remember to get outside whenever you can. There’s a lot to do, but breaking outdoor gardening tasks into manageable, 30-minute chunks is a great way to improve your mood and lay the foundation for a fantastic summer garden.