There is an opportunity to squeeze much more gardening from the month of April than you likely realize. By “squeeze” we mean enjoy, well before what has traditionally been the start of the gardening season in May.
Sow and Grow
Start vegetable and flowers seeds indoors now. Many garden seeds can be sown now indoors. Frost tender flowers like marigolds, alyssum, zinnias, cosmos and a host more should be started in the next couple of weeks either under grow lights or in a sunny window. Same with tubers of dahlias and tuberous begonias.
There are many opportunities to sow crops directly in your garden. Onions by seed and bulb, carrots, beets, kale, radishes, Swiss chard and peas can be sown now. Prepare the soil by turning it with a garden fork or spade once, bang the clumps out of it and add lots of compost. For root crops, add generous quantities of sharp (sand box) sand at least 30 cm deep to open the soil up and improve drainage.
Wait a few more weeks for flowers that are cold hardy, as we do expect frost for the next 6 weeks in the GTA (zone 6 and north of Highway 7, zone 5). Sow calendula (pot marigold), dusty miller and alyssum outdoors any time from April 15 onwards.
All woody, winter hardy plants are good to go for April planting.
If the plant is dormant and leafless when you buy it you know that it is in its natural state, versus forced in a greenhouse. It is important to know the difference. A plant that is in full leaf is soft and susceptible to frost damage. A dormant tree, shrub or rose plant is naturally protected from temperatures below 0 Celsius. It might not be as attractive but it will transplant more easily.
Perennial divisions from your own garden or that of a friend or neighbour, can be planted now. Again, if you are shopping for perennials and they have soft green foliage or flowers, it is best not to plant them yet as the new growth is frost tender. But a dormant hosta or rhubarb root is safe to dig and transplant now. This is the perfect time of year to move most herbaceous perennials around your yard or divide the mature ones and give away the divisions.
Prune fruit trees
Apples, peaches, plums, cherries: most fruit trees respond best to an early spring pruning. As a rule of thumb, we remove up to one third of the growth, concentrating on the upright growing water sprouts and the criss-crossing branches in the interior of the tree.
Perennial food plants
Asparagus, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, and the like, are best planted in April, while they are dormant. Buy strawberry plants as one year old roots and plant in compost-rich soil about 30 cm apart.
Raspberries are usually sold as rooted cuttings, about 30 cm high. Plant them out about 50 cm apart. Don’t wait for May, get out in the garden now.
Mark and Ben Cullen , professional gardeners, are broadcasters, writers, and public speakers.
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