A fading tulip is still remarkably beautiful.
Garden Chores for April
In This Issue
Hello Fellow Gardeners,
There’s so much to do in the garden this month, I must confess it’s a tad daunting. The list of garden chores and my monthly articles are numerous and lengthy. There’s no getting around it – it’s spring and the garden needs attention.
I didn’t have time to give my garden the attention it deserved last month, so regretfully I still have the lawn to work on, garden beds to amend with organic goodies, freshen the outdoor planters – the list goes on.
Meanwhile my lettuce, broccoli, peas and other cool season veggies seedlings are in our small greenhouse are still alive. Despite some very cold evenings, the heater and the heating pad under the seedlings helped to keep things warm. Since my potted-up dahlias are out there in the greenhouse too I am relieved, nothing got frostbitten.
My tomato, pepper, petunias and other heat loving babies are in the house under lights on top of heating pads. The are waiting for me to thin and transplant them up into bigger pots. I can hear them nagging me as I write this.
In fact, the entire garden is nagging me. I’m afraid to go outside now, because of all the complaining. ‘Hurry up!” they say. The lawn is yelling the loudest – typical! It’s got such an attitude. It’s all about its little grass plants; it doesn’t care about new blueberry plants that are still in their cramped plant pots, or the potted primroses that are hitting their prime waiting for me to plant them.
I am so looking forward to working in the garden, it’s driving me crazy so much so that the plants are talking to me. Nah, that’s silly – or is it?
The only other factor on preventing me getting down and dirty, other than time, is something I have no control over – and that is the weather.
It had better work with my schedule or else I shall be quite cross and coming to think of it - so will the garden.
Hope you are not being ‘garden nagged’ and if you are, welcome to the club.
Let’s stay strong together and hope for more time and good weather.
It's not going to take long for the soil around the roots of these boxwoods to erode away, exposing their roots. The bed is so steep and narrow that the roots will dry out quickly. It's also impossible to add a mulch on top such an acute slope. When mounding soil for a garden bed, it should be at least 3 feet wide, a couple of inches deep and with a gentle slope. To reduce maintenance, install edging between the lawn and the bed. This prevent grass from encroaching into the garden.
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April PLANT COMBO
Combine pink mid-season flowering tulips with dwarf Japanese skimmias. They both prefer a rich loamy soil with good drainage. Although the skimmia doesn't like full sun, unlike the tulips, they both enjoy this east facing location. They receive full sun all day except during the afternoon where the sun is the hottest and brightest.
Northern BC Home & Garden Show
Visit the Exhibition Park in Prince George for the home show, April 21, 22, 23. There's vendors galore, super events and speakers, including a talk on Sunday by Amanda Small Gardens and Container Growing. Click here for more.
April Garden Stars
April Lawn Care
Unhealthy, mossy, grub eaten lawns need help. The first thing to do is to get a soil test. The results come with recommendations of what to use to fix your lawn. Look for local sol testing labs in your area, my local horticultural lab is Terralink. Home testing kits are also available; however, they are not known to be accurate.
Renovate and install new lawns while it’s still cool and rainy. For newly seeded lawns and areas, apply a gentle flow of water two to three times a day for about 15 minutes 3 times per day. Consider using a timer attached to the sprinklers. Germination will not occur if the seeds dry out. Give newly sodded lawns an inch of water ever morning every week. To learn more, click on Lawn Reno, Seed & Sod.
Soil pH: If a soil test indicates the soil is too acidic (pH below 6.0) then add dolomite lime. For alkaline soils (over 7.0) apply sulfur, aluminum sulfate. Follow the instructions to the letter for both products as too much lime and sulfur will do more harm than good.
Aerate: Hire someone to aerate the lawn with a core aerator as it’s a tough job.
Topdress: It’s not necessary, however, it’s a good idea to spread up to an inch of compost, or a good garden mix on top of the lawn. Don’t use sand!
Reseed: Use a drop spreader to sow more seeds. Select one with fertilizer included, and follow instructions.
Moss killer: Ferrous sulfate kills moss. The liquid works faster than the granular. Follow the instructions for effective control. For more click on Moss in Lawns.
Mow: Set the mower at 2.0 inches for your first cut, then raise the to 2.5 inches for subsequent cuts. In June, raise it to 3 inches. Take only take off a third of the grass blades at each mowing, which means you must mow more often.
Clippings: Leave the lawn clippings on the lawn, but only if they are small and don’t clump, which also means you must mow more often.
Fertilizing: Don’t give the lawn a massive amount of nitrogen. Fertilizers high in nitrogen such as 23-0-3 or 30-0-0 encourages foliage at the expense of the roots. Also select a fertilizer with all three elements: nitrogen, phosphorus, potash such as 6-8-6. An organic fertilizer is best of all, followed by a slow release. Water thoroughly after applying. To learn more about fertilizers click on the following links: Feeding Plants 101 - Fertilizers & Ratios - Organic Plant Food
Water: Water when needed. Lawns should receive at least an inch a week. Don’t allow lawn to dry out unless you want weeds and grubs to take over.
For more on lawn maintenance click here. For Spring Lawn Care click here.
Grub Control: Basically, its mow high and water. Click here for more.
Lawn Alternatives: Toss in the towel if you are fed up trying to grow a nice lawn as there are numerous options: For more info click on Lawn Alternatives.
Wait for spring flowering plants to finish flowering before cutting them back. Remove dead, diseased, spindly, broken and diseased branches from all plants. Refrain from pruning when they are in flower, or have just put on all their leaves. Remove stubs from branches that weren’t completely cut off and from ones that are broken. For more click on Pruning Basics.
Suckers & Watersprouts: Stems that grow straight up without branching are not true branches and they must be removed. Try to pull them off to prevent them from regrowing. If that’s not possible, cut them off as far as you can. Suckers that arise from the roots or the base of a stem, are best removed by digging down to where they are joined at the roots. Pull or cut them off.
If you need instructions for pruning in your garden, click here to make an appointment. I’ll show you what to do.
Seedlings to Starters
Seeds that were started indoors in February and March should be ready to put into their own individual pots by now. Once they develop two to three sets of true leaves, transplant each one into their own 2-inch pots. Use potting soil, not garden soil, water well and place in bright but indirect light until they perk up, which should take a few days.
After 3 to 4 weeks (more or less, depending on the type of plant and the conditions), they’ll need to be planted in 4-inch pots. Tomato plants are the exception to this rule. By the time I plant them in the garden in May, they are in one-gallon pots. That’s because each time I repot them, I bury the stem up to the four sets of good leaves. The buried stem soon develops roots, which makes for healthy and happier tomato plants. To learn more about growing tomatoes from seed click on the-life-of-tomato-seedlings.html
Before planting your starter plants outdoors, they must be prepared for the outside world. This process, hardening-off, takes a week or two. Take the plants outside for an hour in a sheltered, shaded location and bring them back inside. Each day thereafter, increase the time by an hour, and give them more direct sunlight. For more on growing seeds indoors click on Growing Seeds Indoors.
Protecting Seeds & Baby Plants: Protect seeds and seedlings from critters with floating row covers, cloches, chicken wire or sturdy netting. Mylar balloons and shiny tape work to deter birds. Use diatomaceous earth (available at garden centres) to control cutworms, wireworms, slugs and snails.
Seedlings Disappear Overnight: Cutworms are usually to blame. To protect starter plants, wrap their stems with a strip of newspaper when planting, or place a paper cup with the bottom removed, an inch into the soil, around each plant.
Wilting Seedlings & Death: It could be wireworms, they are orange and shiny. Pluck them out of the ground and discard. Alternately, place a cut potato on top of the soil or stick a carrot into the soil. In couple of days, check them for wireworms. To reduce wireworm populations, rotate crops with plants they don’t like such as alfalfa, lettuce, sunflowers, buckwheat or onions.
Although it’s not that difficult, don’t be discouraged if there are a few crop failures. It’s quite common. Hungry insects and slugs insects are also an issue. This is why you must plant extra. Here’s some tips and techniques that should help you grow some delicious organic food.
Raised beds: Lower your maintenance with raised beds, but don’t make them too wide, deep or long. Four feet wide is perfect as you can reach in from both sides. Make the depth of the raised bed 18 to 24 inches. The length of the bed depends on available space, however four-foot-long beds are a bit small, so consider beds 6 or 8 feet in length.
Veggie beds: The size of veggie garden beds follow the same guidelines of raised beds. Four feet wide and 4, 6 or 8 feet in length. Don’t make the beds too long as you must walk around them. That becomes annoying over time.
Access & Paths: To make gardening, maintenance and harvesting easier, place paths between all beds, whether they are raised or in the ground. Paths should be at least 2.5 feet wide, and at least 3 feet wide for wheelbarrows and wheelchairs.
Easy paths: Avoid rocks as debris and weeds settle inbetween the rocks. Instead lay landscape fabric down, then a few inches of cedar mulch or bark nuggets. The thicker the better.
Prepare the soil: A week before planting, mix in a couple of inches of compost, SeaSoil, llama manure, composted steer or sheep manure. This is especially important if you haven’t added any for a while or you’ve never done it, or you regularly have used synthetic fertilizer. For more click on Soil Building.
Add lime: Mix in dolomite lime to deter club root on cabbage, broccoli and other brassicas, but avoid applying where potatoes are grown.
Speaking of potatoes: To encourage sprouting, prepare seed potatoes by 'chitting' them before planting. Place each potato upright in an egg carton and place in a sunny location indoors. Click here for more information on Growing Potatoes.
Starter plants to plant outside: Plant cool season starter plants in the ground: broccoli, lettuce, kale, cabbage, bok choy, spinach, peas, cauliflower.
Outdoor seeding: Prepare the soil by removing weeds and debris, mix in a couple of inches of compost, SeaSoil, llama beans or composted manure. Rake level, water, wait a few days, then sow seeds directly into the ground: radish, carrots, peas, leeks, spinach, as well as onion sets and garlic cloves. Click here for more on Direct Sowing.
Don’t plant all at once: Avoid planting all the seeds in the seed packet unless you want feed radishes to the entire neighbourhood. For a more continuous harvest, stagger your plantings 10 days apart. For more on Succession Planting click on Crop Rotation, Succession & Companion Planting.
Don’t plant crops in the same spot: To reduce insects, diseases and nutrient deficiencies, rotate crops every year, from one bed to another. To learn more about crop rotation click on Crop Rotation, Succession & Companion Planting.
Mix crops together: Planting different crops together improves disease and insect resistance, plant health and flavour. Companion planting is an age-old technique that has stood the test of time. For more information click on Crop Rotation, Succession & Companion Planting
Wait to plant the hot crops: Wait to plant tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers and other warm season crops until mid-May. In the south coast of B.C. the beginning of May is usually safe, mind you, who know what the weather gods may have in mind.
Protecting plants from naughty bugs: Protect cabbage, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots from carrot rust fly, leaf minor and cabbage worm by covering them with a floating row cover (cloche). To learn more about Controlling Insects click here.
But wait, there’s more, lots more so click on Growing Food.
Spring planters are the big thing in local garden centres. As nice as they are, they are quite expensive. It’s easy to make your own and much cheaper. Spruce up planters from last year or fill a planter with potting soil and combine daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs with primroses, pansies, and other early bloomers. Find these pretty bloomers as garden centres and even grocery stores. Add as many plants as you need to so it’s full and lush. For more on container growing click here
Summer Planters & Hanging Baskets: Plant them up now with petunias and other annuals so they will be ready to put out in May. Keep them in a sunny area and protect them from frost. To learn more about growing in containers, click here.
April Garden Chores
Visit your garden: Frequent visits to the garden are not just good for the soul, it alerts you to what plants need your help and what needs to be done. Take pics as you go along or take notes. Click on Garden Inspections to learn more.
Planting: Plant trees, shrubs, perennials and vines, but wait until after the danger of frost has passed to plant tomatoes, peppers, basil, petunias, impatiens, and other frost sensitive plants outside. Plant them during the Victoria Day long weekend. Read plant labels and seed packets for instruction on when to plant and how. To find out what your last frost date is in your area click on your country:
Canada, America, Great Britain and France. To learn more about planting click on Planting Know-How.
Veggies & Fruits to Plant Outside Now: When the daffodils flower, begin to plant peas, radish, asparagus, onions, shallots, garlic, leaks, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries, and fruit trees and vines. For more on spring veggie gardening click here.
Flower Seeds to Sow Outside: Sunflowers, nasturtiums, sweet peas, calendula, marigolds and lavatera. Don’t forget to label and water. They can also be sown indoors if you don’t want them to keep them safe from insects and slugs.
Sow Seeds Indoors: Sow petunias, zinnias, sunflowers, cucumbers, squash, melons, beans, nasturtiums, sweet peas, calendula, marigolds and lavatera. Learn how to grow strong and healthy seedlings click on Sowing Seeds Indoors.
Planting Success: Water plants a few hours before planting unless the soil is already moist. Similarly, irrigate dry garden and veggie beds the day before planting. For more click on Planting Know-How.
Sweet peas: To encourage more blossoms, pinch the tip of the stems off just above a leaf when they are 4 to 8 inches tall.
After Planting: Handwater each newly planted plants as soon as they are planted. Don’t rely on rain, automatic irrigation systems, driplines or soaker hoses. Water every other day, not every day. Note that wilting is a symptom of overwatering as well as underwatering so feel the soil if in doubt, before adding more water.
Slugs & Snails: Crushed eggshells, diatomaceous earth work well but must be reapplied until it rains. For other methods click here.
Hellebore leaf spot: Remove diseased foliage from lenten and Christmas roses (Helleborus spp.) as soon as possible and discard to reduce the spread of the disease.
Cuttings from Trees & Shrubs: Multiply your favourite trees, vines and shrubs with cuttings. It’s surprisingly easy and fun (especially when it works!). Another option is to take root cuttings (basal cuttings). To learn more click here.
Heathers: To keep heathers compact so they don’t get scraggily, cut off the spent flowers a couple of inches just below the flower spikes. Also remove any dead stems at their base. Click on Heathers for more.
Ferns & Ornamental Grasses: Remove dead fronds and leaves before new growth starts to grow.
Clematis: Cut back spring flowering clematis (Group A), such as Montana, right after flowering. Prune Nelly Moser clematis and other mid-season flowering types (Group B) before they leaf out. If in doubt, experiment by cutting back stems at multiple levels leaving some untouched. Don’t forget to note which type produces flowers this year. Click on Pruning Clematis for more.
Stake Plants: Support floppy plants such as peonies and delphiniums with cages, stakes, trellises and other devices as they grow.
Perennials: It’s a good time to divide overcrowded summer & fall flowering perennials such as chrysanthemums, daylilies, shasta daisies, black-eyed-susans, coneflowers, michaelmas daisies. After digging them up, use a sharp knife or a pruning saw to cut the root ball into pieces. Or place two garden forks back-to-back in the plant’s centre and pry the roots apart by pulling the forks in opposite directions. Discard the non-productive centre. Add a handful of bonemeal when planting the divisions and water well.
Dahlias: Since dahlias are frost tender, don’t plant them outside until the danger of frost has passed. To give them a head start and to protect them from slugs, plant them in pots. Use potting soil, not garden soil and label. Water, then place them in a frost free but sunny location. Click here for more on how to grow dahlias.
Tuberous begonias & Fuchsias: Pot them up now with fresh potting soil and a bigger pot if need be. Place in a frost-free location in bright light. Click on Tuberous Begonias for more.
Spring Flowering Bulbs: Pinch off the dead blossoms from tulips, daffodils, fritillarias, lilies and other spring flowering bulbs so they don't set seed. Keep their foliage on until they yellow. Or dig them up being careful not to snap off the bulbs from their stems. Replant them elsewhere or in pots so they’ll go dormant in their own time. Replant in the garden in fall.
Mulch: Even if you don't like the look of mulch and rather have bare soil, mulch your garden beds anyway. The benefits far outweigh personal preferences. Mulch protects soil from erosion, heat & cold, provides nutrients and reduces weeds. Apply a 3 inch layer of chipped wood, leaves, fir etc on top of the soil and around plants. Don't put fabric underneath. For more info click on Mulch & Mulching.
Birds: Spring is obviously a critical time for birds as it’s nesting season. They need food, water, places to nest and nesting materials. To help them out, hang a suet cage filled with yarn, twine, hair, shredded paper and skinny sticks. Cut everything into 3 to 6 inches pieces; no shorter nor longer. They don’t like little pieces and they become tangled with the longer ones. Disinfect feeders with soap, water and bleach, dry thoroughly and restock with fresh seed. Disinfect bird baths, rinse thoroughly and add fresh water. Also disinfect hummingbird feeders and add fresh nectar.
Composting: Give the compost a last turn with the garden fork before you add to your gardens. Remove all the large pieces, then put the remainder through a sieve. Once finished place the larger pieces back at the bottom of the compost pile or bin. This helps ‘seed’ the next batch. Mix the compost into garden beds, containers and around plants. For more information about composting click here.
Weed: Hand weeding is much easier to do when the soil is moist. Hand weeding tools make the job easier. If using a herbicide, select an organic product such as fatty acids, a horticultural grade vinegar or other organic herbicides. Apply numerous times every 5 days, as one application is ineffective. Protect neighbouring plants from spray drift with a piece of cardboard or plastic. Cut flower heads off before they spread their seeds.
Horsetails, morning glories (bindweed) are the most difficult to control. Don't let them start to grow! Pull them out as they poke their wee heads out of the ground. Remember to pull, don’t dig them out as it spreads them even more, been there done that – argh! For more click here.
Spring Rose Care
It's spring, and roses are in need of some love and attention. If you haven’t done so already, prune and feed them.
Remove any winter mulches including protective mounds of earth from their crowns.
Roses benefit from rich soil so mix in a couple of inches of compost or SeaSoil. Follow up by spreading a 3 inch layer of organic mulch on top of the soil around the plant, away from the stem. Go easy on the nitrogen as high nitrogen fertilizers promote lush growth that aphids love to devour.
For the roses that suffer from blackspot, the location could be too shady; they need 6 hours of direct sun a day.
When pruning, cut off all dead canes at their origin. Also remove any diseased, broken and spindly branches. Prune back the remaining canes back by one-third, just above an outward facing bud.
Click on these links for more information: Growing Roses - Pruning Roses - Rose Insects & Diseases - Rose Types - Easy Roses - Portland Rose Test Garden - .Climbing Roses
April's arrangement consists of contrasting maroon hellebore flowers with yellow daffodils, variegated euonymus and some white magnolia blossoms. For a numbered guide to the specific flower names and for other arrangements go to Monthly Flower Arrangements
April Plant of the month
Common Name: English daisy, lawn daisy
Botanical Name: Bellis perennis
Form: low growing, flattened rosette
Plant Type: herbaceous perennial
Mature Size: 8 inches by 10 inches
Origin: Europe, Great Britain, North Africa
Hardiness Zone: 4 to 8
Foliage: small spoon shaped leaves, up to 2” long,
Flowers: March to July, composite, ¾ - 11/4”in diameter, daisy-like, yellow central disk floret surrounded by white ray petals,
Fruit: one seed, dry, indehiscent fruit, achene
Exposure: sun to partial shade
Soil: prefers rich, moist, well-drained soils
Uses: ground cover, wildflower gardens, containers, window boxes, also used as an annual
Propagation: seeds, basal cuttings, rhizomes
Pruning: deadhead to reduce self-sowing
Problems: does not tolerant dry soils, plants tend to die out in the south due to the heat and drought, in the north, plants spread by seeds, spreading crowns and rhizomes, common lawn weed in cool climates, no serious insects or diseases
English daisies often pop up in lawns in spring, hence their common name ‘lawn daisy’. They are considered weeds wherever summers aren’t too hot nor too dry. These temperate little perennials like it cool and wet and fade away when it isn’t. That’s why, in southern gardens, they are considered annuals as they don’t reappear the following year.
The flowers of English daises are heliotropic, which means their little faces follow the sun throughout the day. Blossoms sit singly atop leafless stems and emerge from a rosette of leaves. Their crown consists of short rhizomatous roots that multiply and form deep green mats, which are dotted above the ground with little daisies. Since they also self-sow, they can become a tad invasive, so dead head flowers before they set seed if you want to keep them in check.
The small daisy-like flowers of the common English daisy have come a long way, thanks to the work of plant breeders. Bigger flowers sit atop longer stems. Longer petals are in shades of pinks and reds, with brighter whites. There are now many varieties that don’t resemble the original daisy-type flower. Instead, they resemble pompoms with so many petals that the central disk is hidden.
English daisies are perfect companions to spring flowering bulbs. They happily grow at their feet adding another layer of colour and interest. They are perfect for adding early and continuous interest to planters and window boxes. These neat and well-behaved little guys pop out flowers willy nilly, if they don’t dry out or fry in the sun. As the spring progresses into summer, position them so they don’t receive hot afternoon sun. This will increase their longevity and flowering period.
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for the tropical Gardener
While working in Florida as horticultural consultant, it became apparent that there was a need for a book on tropical shrubs. There are so many wonderful shrubs to choose from, so I wrote a reference book to make the selections easier. Ornamental Tropical Shrubs includes pictures in full colour and information about the plants in point form. So if you live in the tropics and subtropics and need a reference book on tropical shrubs, or you just want to have a look-see click here.
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