Westward Independent

April Gardening Tips!

by Westward Independent
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Dear Gardening Friends, what a glorious change in weather! We went from nightly frosts to fabulous sunny days that made you want to stay outside all day revelling in the warmth!

This winter with its extreme cold snap in January hurt many of my plants. I had sown Mesclun and Bok Choy in big pots in fall with the expectation of having fresh from the garden vitamins and minerals by March as I had last year. But no! 99% of the Mesclun was killed off, and out of the fairly large amount sown, only two Arugula survived. I seeded the area again in early March but I also bought starters to make up for the late start and I am babying them along to encourage faster growth. It feels wonderful to get my hands in the dirt again!

Have you ever bought starters in one of those 2”x4” pots where there are lots of seedlings but the roots are so tangled that you feel half will die when you plant due to trauma? What I do is I put a Tablespoon of Starter Pro Transplanter in a large margarine container, fill with water and mix. I then put the plants from one of these little 2”x4” pots right into this mix, removing any dirt that doesn’t have roots in it. Let the plants lie in this solution for a little while and you will see them visibly relax and separate. Take the container to your garden and plant directly from it. I put the watery dirt from the container around the plants after I’ve finished planting. This process ensures a really good start to these little plants.

Spring is such an invigorating time. The apple and pear trees have been pruned as have the roses. The next big pruning job will be after the spring shrubbery has finished blooming.

As soon as the Heathers have finished blossoming shear them to renew growth and keep them in a nice shape. Heathers are full of bees at this time of year and they are a mainstay of a bee’s diet, so don’t prune until they are totally finished flowering. Heathers give you colour in the garden and look lovely planted en masse. In fact you can grow heathers year round for colour and for the benefit of all pollinizers. As well, there are winter-blooming heathers that will feed the bees on mild winter days. Rhododendrons benefit by having the blossoms snapped off immediately below the blooms as they finish blooming. Azaleas enjoy a trim to keep them in shape after their flowers have finished. I usually use my hedging shears for this job as it goes much quicker and I find I can get the shape just right. Pieris Japonica only needs a light shearing after it has finished its bloom period.

Hellebore is another lovely winter and early spring blooming perennial. Both the Christmas and the Lenten Hellebore are great additions for the front of your garden bed. I have a small garden but have several of these must-have plants.I leave the dying flowers in place so they will seed under the skirts of their leaves. Their handsome shiny thick dark green leaves make them a good accent plant all through the season.

Give your garden a good spring clean, getting rid of weeds before they can set their seeds. Then plump up the soil with several inches of compost. I sprinkle a light dusting of dolomite lime over the veggie garden except where potatoes will grow. When planting seed potatoes, put them in bright light for a few weeks so that the sprouts will start to grow. Once the potatoes have sprouted, I cut them so that each piece has two or three sprouts. The reason I cut the potatoes is so that the potato plant’s roots do not become overcrowded and tangled with less ability to draw nutrients from the surrounding soil and consequently will produce smaller potatoes. A small piece with a few eyes will have a better chance of producing bigger potatoes. I leave them to sit for a few more days until the cut part has calloused and dried. In my heavy clay soil, I like to hill potatoes, planting them in a shallow hole of only a few inches deep and then covering with dirt. As they grow up I continue to pull more soil over them to encourage lots of potatoes. If your soil is sandy, you will want to dig them in deeper, at least six inches deep. I put a little bonemeal with the potato and then wait until the upper branches are about eight inches high and then cover the plant by at least half with compost and surrounding soil. You can add shredded leaves or dry grass clippings to the soil. Keep doing this until the plant is about eighteen inches high or when the potatoes start flowering. Potatoes must grow in complete darkness so make sure your plant is well covered with soil. Green potatoes can make you sick and no one wants that!

I planted Brokali which is a cross between Broccoli and Kale. I am fond of these very hardy plants which produce lots of tender delicious flavourful side shoots, and best of all, the more you cut, the more the plants produce! I put several inches of compost over the area and then cake it with dolomite lime. What does caking mean? Covering the ground with lime so you can’t see any soil. This sweetens the soil as all cabbage plant families love a sweet soil and it also deters the cabbage moth larvae. I put the starters in the ground and then put a little more lime around them. If you have Kale from last year cut it above a bud that is about six inches above the ground and use the Kale you cut to make salads, stir-fries or chips. The Kale will re-sprout again.

Peas and all of the Lettuce family can be planted now. You can interplant Lettuce amongst your Brassicas (Cabbage plant family). You will be eating the lettuce as it matures, giving the Brassicas more room to grow. I also plant Dill or Onions near Brassicas.

Start your heat lovers such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons and squash in early April inside a greenhouse, sunroom or on a sunny window sill. Start them in small containers but once they have a few of their true leaves, pot them up into a one-gallon size pot and continue growing them inside. This timing should be perfect for planting out in mid-May or whenever the nighttime temperatures hold steady at 10 degrees throughout the night.

I have been chopping up banana peels into one-inch segments and putting them into a plastic bag in the freezer. By the time the heat lovers are ready to go into the garden, I will have lots of chopped-up banana peels to put in the tomato’s planting holes. This will give them a good source of potassium and calcium which will deter blossom end rot.

It’s finally spring, and plants are raring to grow! For me this is a wonderful time of year as you can see the garden change almost daily. There is a lot of work to do in the garden, but it is also life-enhancing to stop and admire the loveliness around us. The world is filled with beauty; birds singing their hearts out, bees are buzzing, flowers are blooming and our food is growing right before our eyes. You can’t have a better life than that!

‘Til next month, happy gardening,
C. Money

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