By Pete Prown
As you already know, April is one of the best months for gardening. By and large, the weather is still cool, so you can plant hardy trees, shrubs, and perennials without the stress that summer heat brings. Let’s have a quick checkup on fun garden activities for the month.
This month is fine for starting veggies from seed, or setting out hardier plants in the vegetable patch. There are many sources online or at the library for a deeper dive on the subject, but outdoor-ready options include the direct seeding of lettuce, spinach, arugula, radishes, and peas, or transplanting seedlings of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.
Indoors, you can start warmer-weather edibles like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons and winter squash from seed.
Use a sterile soil-less mix to encourage germination and provide plenty of light and moisture with proper drainage. (Note that seedlings can rot or get fungal outbreaks if sitting in water.)
I have tender potted plants that bloom year-round in a sunroom, and like to bring them outdoors onto a part-sun deck for the entire summer. Our last frost date in the area is May 15th, but with the vagaries of climate change, that date is now a moving target. If you’re worried about frost killing your favorite geranium, wait until mid-May; I usually get my plants outside earlier, but keep a close eye on the weather. If nighttime temps get anywhere below 40 degrees, I’ll quickly drag my pots of begonias, pelargoniums, and succulents back indoors or cover them with a tarp.
Conversely, in the dog days of summer, I’m ready with a hose to keep my pots well-watered during hot spells. In any event, my container-dwelling plants seem to enjoy summer on the deck and I’ve had quite a few survive for well over a decade.
Flowering Annuals & Perennials
If you’ve improved your garden soil with compost, now is a great time to set out flowering perennials, as well as tough biennials like pansies, and mulch them for the hot weather ahead. Read up on each plant’s individual plant and soil requirements, but otherwise, April is go time.
As for annuals, they are typically tender tropicals, so wait until the last frost date before setting them out. Water and mulch accordingly.
As you walk around your property, April is perhaps your last opportunity to remove invasive vines before they become unmanageable in the warmer weather. The key is to observe these thugs leafing out before they become hidden by the leaves of more respectable plants. I’m always on the lookout for the tendrils of Mile-a-minute weed (Persicaria perfoliata) or Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), among many other vines that terrorize our area.
Here’s a link covering many kinds of Pennsylvania invasives and how to deal with them effectively: dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/plants/invasiveplants/.
Every homeowner’s approach to grass is different — one neighbor may like a weed-free, perfectly manicured lawn, while the next might prefer a wilder, more unruly look. I’m certainly more of the latter. There’s a magic moment in April when the grass starts to grow and your lawn suddenly looks like a sweet springtime meadow, at least for a week or two. I enjoy that look and accordingly don’t start mowing until the end of the month when things start to look shaggy.
The same holds true for fertilizing the soil — it’s a matter of preference. I have never fertilized my lawn and would never use weed killers, but obviously that’s a personal choice. As for cutting depth, the rule of thumb is to cut your grass no lower than three inches; anything less than that can stress the grass and cause disease.
For me at least, a less-is-more approach has always worked best for lawn management.
Pete Prown is communications editor at Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia, bartramsgarden.org.