A ruby red saucer magnolia at sunset.
Garden Chores for April
In This Issue
Hello Fellow Gardeners,
I am so very impressed with all the plants that survived through the record-breaking weather events of last year, and are here today. It all started off last June with an oppressive heat dome that lingered far too long and fried us all – plants included. An ‘atmospheric stream’ soon followed with flooded gardens, roads, and basements. Then in December, the temperature plummeted to -15.3°C in December. It was Vancouver’s coldest recorded temperature in 52 years.
It’s no surprise that many plants that didn’t survive such punishing weather extremes. The poor town of Lytton, hit a record breaking 49.6°C, (121.2°F) and even Vancouver hit 32° (90°F) – it’s unprecedented! Even trees succumbed, especially if they weren’t watered during the heat dome. I was shocked to hear that people didn’t think to water their trees and shrubs when the temperatures soared. I felt so sorry for all the plants and animals out there. Shelter and water certainly were precious and life-saving commodities for all the living things no matter if they had fur, skin, scales or leaves.
Some plants that didn’t end up dying, were knocked back a bit. Damaged plants in my garden include some of my heathers, coral bells, a New Zealand flax, the Mexican mock orange, a lithodora and all the hebes. In other gardens I was surprised to see the tough, impossible-to-kill English ivy had suffered with brown, crispy leaf margins.
Tempting as it has been to toss half-dead plants out, I have waited to see if they will come back to life. I want to give them a chance – poor things. I didn’t cut any damaged plants back last month just in case the weather turned foul again. Besides just because the top of a plant is dead, it doesn’t mean its roots are. I was pleased that when I scraped their branches with my thumbnail, many of them were green and therefore alive.
It just goes to show how tough plants are, after all, they were here well before the dinosaurs and survived when an asteroid devastated the planet. Despite their toughness and tenacity, a little TLC when conditions are extreme go a long way. Let’s hope that last year’s weather will not be repeated this year, and our temperate weather will resume. I’m crossing my fingers, toes, arms and legs. I’d appreciate if you do too! Here’s to a good growing year.
Cheers and happy gardening.
This rhododendron as well as the other plants in this garden, are suffering from lack of nutrition and moisture. The reason for this sad and sickly scene is because black plastic was laid under a wee skiff of mulch. The whole idea of mulch is for the micro organisms and macro organisms, such as earthworms, to decompose the mulch. They turn it into food for the plants resulting in a more sustainable and biodiverse garden. Putting plastic underneath it stops decomposition due to the lack of air, water and the ability of the soil organisms to do their thing. For this situation, just remove the plastic, weed, then add at least 2 inches of compost, SeaSoil or well-rotted composted manure. Mix it in to a few inches, then water well. Finish off with three inches of an organic mulch such as fir, chipped wood, fall leaves etc. The addition of compost and mulch will rectify the nutrient deficiencies albeit gradually. A liquid organic fertilizer gets the nutrients to the plants much faster. There are many available including fish and kelp fertilizers, but check for more organic liquid options.
New & Timely articles
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April PLANT COMBO
This is a great combination for partially sunny locations with moist soils. Marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris ‘Plena’) and lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.) look good together and grow well together. Since they flower at the same time, the bright yellow marsh marigold flowers contrast nicely with the blue and pink flowers of the lungwort. When not in flower, they still look good as the round leaves of the marsh marigold are a total different shape and texture compared to the lungwort's delicate and spotted oval leaves.
Burnaby in Blooms Events
Please join the fun during each Saturday in May from 10am - 4pm to celebrate spring in the numerous parks in Burnaby. There's workshops galore including planting up containers, which includes plants, soil and planters as well as instruction and a demonstration by Amanda on May 7th at 10 to noon. For more info click on Growing in Containers. Pick up some tips and techniques on organic vegetable gardening on May 21, 2:00 to 4:00 pm, just click on Grow Your Own Food Naturally! for more details. For more about the festival and the many more wonderful workshops click on Burnaby in Blooms.
April Garden Stars
And Into the Veggie Garden We go!
If you've never grown your own veggies and are a little daunted at the prospect, fear not! Sure you'll kill a few plants, we all do - it's par for the course. But with practice, you'll end up with fewer tragedies and more hallelujahs! Promise. Here's a few tips to get you going. For more details, refer to Spring Veggie Gardening.
Prepare the soil: A week before planting, mix in a couple of inches of compost, SeaSoil, composted steer or sheep manure. This is especially important if you haven’t added any for a while or you’ve never done it. For more click on Soil Building.
Timing: It’s been a wet and cold year so far, so don’t plant if the soil is sopping wet. If this is a perpetual issue with your soil, then consider raised beds.
Add lime but not to spuds: Mix in dolomite lime to deter club root on cabbage and other brassicas, but avoid applying it to the potato bed, as it promotes potato scab.
Plant some spuds. Prepare seed potatoes by 'chitting' them before planting. It initiates buds to form and grow into stems. Don't add lime to the soil before planting potatoes as acidic soil suppresses scab, a common disease. Click here for more information on Growing Potatoes.
Plant Starter Plants: Get those cool season crops in the ground: broccoli, lettuce, kale, cabbage, bok choy, spinach, peas, cauliflower.
Outdoor seeding: Prepare the soil by removing weeds and debris, mix in some compost. Rake level, wait a few days then sow seeds directly into the ground. Sow seeds of radish, carrots, peas, leeks, spinach, as well as onion sets and garlic cloves. Click here for more on Direct Sowing.
Don’t plant too much: Avoid planting too many of one thing at the same time, such as entire packet of 300 peas! Instead, stagger your plantings 10 days apart. For more \on Succession Planting click on Crop Rotation, Succession & Companion Planting
Wait to Plant Hot Crops: Wait to plant tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers and other warm season crops until mid-May. In the south coast of BC, it’s fine to plant the beginning of May.
Plant Eating 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.
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: Companion planting allows different crops together to ward of insects, improve growth and improve flavour. To learn more about this age-old technique click on Crop Rotation, Succession & Companion Planting
But wait, there’s more…..there’s lots to learn about growing veggies so click on Growing Food.
April Lawn Care
Unhappy Lawns: It’s a good idea to do a soil test, especially if your lawn is not doing well. Check for your local testing labs in your area, by doing a search for ‘soil testing near me’. Home testing kits are also available; however, they are not known to be accurate.
New & Reno Lawns
Renovate and install new lawns as soon as possible before it gets too hot, too sunny and too dry. There are many reasons why lawns fail, one of the most common is seeds germinating then dying because they dried out. Lawn renovations and new lawns need aftercare to ensure seeds germinate and don't dry out. Newly laid sod shouldn't either. To learn more click on Lawn Reno, Seed & Sod
You Don't Need A Lawn
If you’ve had it trying to grow a nice lawn, consider your options: clover, micro clover, ground covers, a meadow, a cottage garden or even veggie beds. For more options, click on Lawn Alternatives.
SEEDS, SEEDLINGS & TRANSPLANTS
What to plant outside and when, differs depending on where you live. For most of Canada, it’s safe to plant frost tender plants: tomatoes, peppers, basil, petunias, impatiens, and other frost sensitive plants in mid-May during the Victoria Day weekend. In the temperate south coast of British Columbia, it’s acceptable to plant them in late April and early May. To find out what your last frost date is in your area click on your country: Canada, America, Great Britain and France.
Take a cue from nature to plant hardy plants when the daffodils flower, this includes lettuce, spinach, cabbage, kale, broccoli, radish, peas, sweet peas, pansies, poppies and potatoes. Read plant labels and seed packets for instruction on when to plant and how. don't mind cooler temperatures so read plant labels and seed packets.
How to SOw Seeds Outdoors
Sow broccoli, spinach and other cool season crops in the garden when soil temperatures warm to 10 °C (50°F). Check seed packets for when and how to plant. Water garden beds a day before planting, especially if the soil is dry. Suitable plants to start outside are listed below.
Vegetables: arugula, broad (fava) beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, collards, endive, fennel, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, onion sets, pac and bok choi, parsley, parsnips, peas, seed potatoes, radicchio, radishes, scallions, spinach, turnips. Herbs: borage, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, garlic cloves. Flowers: calendula, cleome, cosmos, foxgloves, marigolds, nasturtiums, poppies, sweet peas, sunflowers. For more information on direct sowing click here. For more on Growing Vegetables click here.
Protecting seeds & Baby Plants
Wireworms, cutworms, slugs and snails love to feast on seedlings and birds love the seeds. It’s a veritable smorgasbord! To protect seeds cover them with a cloche, a floating row cover, chicken wire, bird netting or scare them away with Mylar balloons and shiny tape . Use diatomaceous earth to control cutworms, wireworms, slugs and snails. When transplanting seedlings, wrap their stem with thin strips of newspaper, to deter cutworms. To control shiny orange wireworms, place a cut potato on top of the soil where they will gather.
Sowing Seeds Indoors
There are numerous veggies and flower seeds you can start inside this month. April is the perfect month to sow zinnias, sunflowers, cucumbers, squash, melons, beans, nasturtiums, sweet peas, calendula, marigolds and lavatera. It's a little too late to plant petunias, tomatoes, peppers, lobelia and others that should have been sown 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. To grow strong and healthy seedlings there are a few tips and techniques. To learn more, click on Sowing Seeds Indoors.
SEEDLINGS TO TRANSPLANTS
Re-potting Seedlings: Seeds that were started inside 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 about 3 to 4 weeks (more or less, depending on the type of plant and the conditions), roots should be well established with adequate leaves and stems. Some plants, such as tomatoes, will outgrow those 2-inch pots before it’s time to plant them outside. Transplant into pots two inches larger. Keep on potting them on into larger pots as needed.
By the time I plant my tomatoes outside, they are in one-gallon pots. This does not mean you can skip intermediate sized pots by planting a small plant in a big pot. This is referred to as overplanting and leads to rotten roots and dead plants.
Wait for plants to mature in their pots before planting in the garden. More mature and bigger plants are not as tasty as little plants.
For more on growing seeds indoors click on https://www.thegardenwebsite.com/starting-seeds-indoors.html
For more on potting-on and growing tomatoes click on https://www.thegardenwebsite.com/tomato-growing-tips.html
HARDENING OFF PLANTS
Seedlings grown inside are tender as they are used to steady indoor temperatures with no direct sun or wind. They must be acclimatized before they are planted outside. This process is called ‘hardening-off’. Set plants outside for an hour in a shaded protected spot. Each day thereafter, increase their time outside by an hour or so, as well as their light and wind exposure until they are outside for 24 hours. Check on them often during this process to make sure they are not suffering and have adequate water. They will let you know they are unhappy by wilting, becoming distorted and discoloured.
Pinch off the dead blossoms from tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other spring flowering bulbs so they don't set seed. This promotes bigger flowers for next year. Allow their leaves to yellow before you cut them off so they will produce enough food to guarantee flowers next spring. If you dislike seeing the dying foliage or if you need the space to plant something else, dig up the bulbs while the foliage is still green, but be careful, as their stems snap off easily. You want to keep as many of their leaves on as possible. Once they are dug up, either plant them in pots or in another part of the garden. Don’t forget to label and water. Once the leaves yellow and die, allow the soil to dry so the plants can go dormant. Plant into the garden or in planters in the fall.
April Garden Chores
Garden Inspections: It’s an exciting time as plants are now growing in earnest. Daily garden strolls are not only good for the soul, any issues that are spotted can be dealt with promptly.
Plant: Before summer arrives plant trees, shrubs, perennials, vines and roses. The sooner the better so they will have time to establish themselves before it gets too hot and dry. For more click on Planting Know-How
Food to Plant Now: Asparagus, onions, shallots, garlic, leaks, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries, and fruit trees.
Dahlias: Plant in pots to give them a head start and to protect them from slugs and snails. Keep them in a frost free but sunny location. If frost is predicted, move them inside or cover them with a sheet, tablecloths, or frost blankets. Plant on in the garden once the danger of frost has passed. Click here for more on how to grow dahlias.
Tuberous begonias & Fuchsias: Pot them up now with potting soil and place in a frost-free location in bright light. For more, click here.
Geraniums (Pelargoniums): If you overwintered them inside, remove all dead, yellow foliage and plant parts, including flowers. If they are potbound, plant them in a pot one or two sizes larger. Use a good potting soil with a slow-release fertilizer or purchase one separately. Water well. Place in bright light, but not direct, for a few days until they have perked up. Harden them off before planting outside. For more click on saving-geraniums-coleus-bougainvillea-other-tender-plants.html
Planting Success: Water plants the day before planting. If the ground is dry, water that too as dry plants planted in dry soil results in sadness and tears as plants fail to grow and ultimately die. For more click on Planting Know-How
Planters & Hanging Baskets: Plant them up now with petunias and other annuals so they will be ready to put out in May. Line moss baskets with plastic with holes poked in it to reduce watering. Place newly planted planters away from direct sun until plants perk up, which should take a few days. To learn more about growing in containers, click here.
Cuttings from Trees & Shrubs: Save your money and have some fun by taking cuttings from hydrangeas, fuchsias, forsythias, magnolias, butterfly bush, and many other trees, shrubs and vines. To learn how, click here.
Ferns: Remove all damaged and dead foliage, preferably before new growth emerges.
Heathers: Once they have finished flowering, cut off the spent flowers to keep plants compact and bushier. Don't cut them back too far; just below the flower spikes is adequate. While you're at it, cut off any dead branches.
Ornamental Grasses: Cut them back to a couple of inches before they start to sport new growth.
Clematis: Prune Montana clematis and other spring flowering clematis (Group A) right after flowering. Prune Nelly Moser clematis and other midseason flowering types (Group B) before they leaf out. For more on Pruning Clematis here.
Perennials: Divide overcrowded perennials. Dig up plants, then use a sharp knife or two garden forks placed back to back to pry the roots apart. Discard the centre of the mother plant if it’s old and non-productive.
Composting: Last year’s compost should be ready to mix into garden beds by now. Mix it into garden beds, containers and around plants. Remove any large, un-decomposed pieces and place them in the bottom of the compost bin for further decomposition. Keep a few inches of your compost in the bottom of the bin as it provides microbes for the next batch.
Spring Rose Care
As soon as the brilliant yellow flowers of the forsythias flower, it is time to grab the pruners and tidy up the roses. It’s best to cut them back just as they begin to leaf out. If you wait until they are in full leaf, give them a lighter pruning. Removing too much leafy growth saps a plant’s energy.
Remove all dead and diseased growth then spindly, broken and old unproductive stems. Cut off canes that grow towards the plant’s centre and ones that cross. Finally cut back all rose canes by 1/3rd.
After pruning, place a few inches of compost, SeaSoil, well-rotted manure on top of the soil around the roses bush. For more on pruning Roses click here. If you want to know more about roses check out the following: Growing roses click here. Rose Insects & Diseases click here. Rose Types click here. And if you don't believe you can grow roses check out Easy Roses. Or if you want to check out all different types of roses click on Portland Rose Test Garden.
You Better Mulch
Mulch acts like a blanket to protect the soil and plants from temperature extremes, drought, flooding as well as erosion and weed control. Lay a 3-inch layer of an organic mulch on top of the soil around plants. Don’t dig it in, and don’t put landscape fabric underneath it. As the mulch decomposes it also provides food for plants. Use wood chips, fallen leaves and other organic matter. Keep leaf litter and other organic debris in garden beds, don’t rake it up, as it also adds to the mulch layer. For more on mulch click here.
Spruce up planters by removing dead and unsightly growth of any existing plants. Try to mix in an inch or two of compost, composted manure or SeaSoil or place it on top of the soil. Visit your local garden nursery for bedding plants to add colour. Select ones suitable for the conditions such as petunias, salvia, zinnias for sunny locations and coleus, begonias, and impatiens for shaded ones. When planting up a new container, use potting soil not garden soil and make sure the planter has drainage holes, so plants don’t drown. Fill the planter so it looks full and lush. After everything is planted, place the planter in a protected area away from full sun for a few days until the plants perk up. to become established. For more on container growing click here.
Planting Tips for Success
All plants must shudder when a well-meaning, but unaware gardener is armed with pruning gear. Here are a few tips and rules to stop the carnage.
Weeds Be Gone!
Hand digging is an efficient way to remove most weeds. Weeding tools help pry them out, roots and all.
Don’t let weeds flower and go to seed. If you can’t dig them up, then just remove the flowers for the time being.
To stop weed seeds from germinating, apply corn gluten where weed seeds lie in wait. Be careful when using this granular product as it kills all seeds, not just weeds. Corn gluten does not contaminate the soil nor ground water.
Horsetails, morning glories (bindweed) and weeds with underground stems are the most difficult to control. Don't let them start to grow! Get them as soon as they poke their wee heads out of the ground. Pull them out don’t dig them out as it spreads them even more – argh! For more click here.
Insects in the Garden
This month's floral arrangement includes spring flowering shrubs, spring flowering perennials and bulbs. 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: wood anemone, European windflower
Botanical Name: Anemone nemorosa
Form: low and spreading
Plant Type: herbaceous perennial
Mature Size: 6”-10” x 18”
Origin: Turkey, Europe, Great Britain
Hardiness Zone: 5 to 8
Foliage: 3 (trifoliate), deeply divided, fern-like, soft, green, they dieback in summer
Flowers: borne on short upright stems, 1½” wide, 5 to 8 petal-like sepals around yellow stamens circling green stigmas, colours and shapes depend on cultivar and variety, Feb to May
Roots: spreads by underground creeping rhizomes
Exposure: sun to shade
Soil: humus-rich, moist, well-drained
Uses: woodlands, naturalizes, ground cover, garden borders
Propagation: divide rhizomes when plants are dormant in summer, 2" deep x 6-8" apart
Problems: may spread where you don’t want it to go, pest free
Wood anemones, also referred to as European and woodland windflowers, create drifts of starry flowers in spring, among leafless woodland trees in Great Britain, Europe and Turkey. Flowering begins in early spring as other plants are just waking up. There are many types of anemones, but this species, the nemorosa species, is celebrated for its ability to grow and spread naturally among trees.
Woodland windflowers open-up and magically track the sun on sunny days (heliotropic), and then close when it’s cloudy. They are tolerant of sun and shade but don’t like hot afternoon sun nor too much shade. Too much sun shortens their flowering period, and they may not flower if there’s too much shade.
These dainty little plants evoke images of flower fairies alighting on their graceful nodding blossoms. The flowers rise above the deep green lacy, finely cut, soft green leaves. Flower shapes and colour vary depending on the variety and cultivar. There’s star shaped, poppy-like and even one that resembles a powder puff. Some are blushed with pink or mauve, but they are generally a crisp bright white.
As quickly as they mysteriously arise out of the ground in spring, they die-back in summer. This strategy helps them survive summer droughts. Because they are a woodland plant, they prefer a rich soil and an organic mulch – similar to a forest floor. Improve sandy and nutrient poor soils with compost, well-rotted manure or SeaSoil, then top it off with 3 inches of mulch.
Wood anemones spread underground through small slender rhizomes that resemble stubby twigs. They multiply readily, especially when disturbed. Digging them up or planting something else in their space (which is usually done unknowingly while they are dormant), breaks up existing rhizomes, which makes even more plants. They are not considered troublesome since they go dormant in the summer and are pretty and short, so no one seems to mind.
Wood anemones naturalize readily, therefore they are perfect for woodland gardens, but they are also suitable for urban gardens. They offer a bright and temporary wonderful carpet of flowers for under trees, along borders, in rockeries – anywhere where you want the flower fairies to visit.
THE GARDEN WEBSITE INDEX
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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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