Those April showers that come our way
They bring the flowers that bloom in May.
And when it’s raining, let’s not forget,
It isn’t raining rain at all, it’s raining violets.
April is the month of activity in the garden, and our old nemesis, weeds are beginning to rear their heads, so we need to extract the little devils before they take hold and are difficult to remove.
Having said that, I must point out the benefits of many weeds. Nettles are food for butterflies, clover extracts nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil, and oil from jewel weed soothes poison ivy rash. The young foliage of Dandelions is great in salads, it is healthy and contains many nutrients and when the foliage is cooked, it tastes like spinach. I also do not want to forget our songbirds and other wildlife, who depend on weed seeds as a food source.
Weeds must be pulled gently so the weed and roots do not break apart for if this happens thousands of weed seeds will reseed and you will find yourself with an endless cycle of unnecessary weeding. When careful weeding has been accomplished, apply an organic weed pre-emergent, with a corn gluten base by Bradfield Organics; this natural product will keep weeds at bay for about six weeks.
Plant bare root roses at the end of April and plant container roses in mid- May. In the middle of May when the soil temperature has reached 55 degrees, add manure and on top of manure, add a fine bark mulch about one foot from the base of the roses. Check my March tips to remind yourself on pruning roses.
Be careful clearing winter debris from around rhododendrons, mountain laurel and azaleas; these evergreens have shallow roots and do not grow well when the roots are exposed. If the winter weather did erode soil around some roots, add some soil to cover the exposed roots, at the same time resettle the plant in place, then in the middle of May apply manure and fine bark mulch as well as some peat, which adds much needed acidity for evergreens.
Plant Gladioli corms at two-week intervals in late April. Planting in two-week intervals ensure you will get a succession of bloom. Plant the corms eight inches below the surface; this extra depth helps to keep the heavy blooms erect.
The Red Lily Beetle will soon begin to appear, so I suggest applying organic Neem oil on the Lilies when they are about four inches above ground, which helps prevent and deal with this beetle problem.
Soil Solarization is an effective way to control many soil-borne problems, specifically the tomato blight that causes fruit rot. Covering the soil with clear plastic at the end of April for one to two months can generate high enough temperatures in the top six to 12 inches of soil to kill pests, nematodes, weed seeds and many disease organisms like the tomato blight. This process has proved invaluable for home gardeners and the beneficial effects last for several seasons.
To solarize, dig a trench several inches deep around the bed, and spread a thin, clear plastic film (1-4mils) over the bed. Press the plastic into close contact with the soil and seal the edges by filling the trench with soil. Leave the plastic on the soil until you are ready to plant tomatoes or other vegetables in about six weeks.
When the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees, manure all the borders with composted manure in bags from the garden center or aged manure from the bottom of the farmer’s pile, then mulch with a fine, brown, hardwood mulch.
In the vegetable garden after preparation and planting, then it is time to mulch. Mulch with the composted manure, which will not ‘cap’ — this means that it does not form a crust like other mulches so that air and water can get through to the roots of the plants where it is needed.
If you did not apply an organic grub control on the grass in March, apply now to keep the grubs down, which will cut down on the mole population.
The soil is the most important component of the growing business; compost, organic manure and peat alter the soil to rebuild its structure. The ratio to use is one part compost to three parts manure and apply peat to the planting mix in the ratio of one part peat to three parts manure when planting evergreens. And as mentioned above, peat adds the acidity, which evergreens need.
Good soil structure assists with drainage and prevents compaction. Meanwhile, the rich nutrients, which are the result of these changes, break down and encourage the soil animals beneath the surface to work at full capacity. In a light soil such as sand, humus — which is the combination of manure, mulch and carbon from the atmosphere — binds the sand particles together and in heavy soil, such as clay, it keeps the clay particles separate to make room for air and drainage.
Growing conditions in April are very favorable for new plant-root development and it is the ideal time to transplant evergreen shrubs and new evergreens. Apply composted manure and peat together with the topsoil in the planting hole. Then give the roots a workout with your hands before planting which releases. Opening up the roots in this way enables the roots to reach into the surrounding soil for nutrients and water and not dry out in the heat of summer.
Many years ago, when I moved into my farmhouse on the shoreline, I discovered that my soil was sandy, which is good for drainage but sadly lacking in nutrients. I began adding a few inches of manure to all planted borders in April, July and October. The result today is when I put a spade in the ground to check the color of the soil in spring, it is, ‘black gold’.
Gloves should be worn when handling manure, which contains bacteria; the bacteria is great for the plants and the soil but not good for your health. These natural soil amendments tend to be slow acting; gradually making the nutrients available to the plants and the rewards are infinite. Composted manure is applied in spring around mid May when the soil temperature has reached 55 degrees and when the plant shows about six inches of growth. This method allows for the nutrients and soil animals to become active at the time when plant growth is occurring at a rapid pace.
When the Daffodil bloom has past, do not cut the leaves from Daffodils or any of your spring flowering bulbs, the leaves send down energy into the bulbs to store for next season’s bloom.
April is the time to tackle a new lawn or patch seed, use only good quality seed and organic fertilizers.
Do not be lulled into complacency with a few back-to-back warm days; we can still get frost, so I caution that you not to plant annuals until Memorial weekend. Do not cultivate around the perennials in the borders until mid-May. Do not panic if you were not able to get the April tasks done until May, your garden will wait for you and the constancy that is Mother Nature will continue to keep your patch of earth flourishing.
Enjoy the pleasure of being outdoors in warmer temperatures, inhaling the pungency of awakening soil and your connection with Mother Nature. Do not overdo it; warm up the body before the garden labor and stay well hydrated with lots of water. We are inexorably entwined with the earth and know that even the smallest gesture of a garden has positive rewards; the effects are not only on you but on our planet.
I will return with more gardening tips in May when you will be out in the garden in full force.
About the author: Maureen Haseley-Jones is a member of a family of renowned horticultural artisans, whose landscaping heritage dates back to the 17th century. She is one of the founders, together with her son Ian, of, The English Lady Landscape and Home Company. Maureen and Ian are landscape designers and garden experts, who believe that everyone deserves to live in an eco-conscious environment and enjoy the pleasure that it brings. Maureen learned her design skills from both her mother and grandmother, and honed her horticultural and construction skills while working in the family nursery and landscape business in the U.K. Her formal horticultural training was undertaken at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in Surrey.