Timely Gardening Tips

By Staff
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Photo courtesy Fotolia/S.H.exclusive
Gardening has taught me one important lesson: Do not rely on the past year's weather for this year's planting schedule. Because every spring is different, watch the long-range weather reports.
Edited by Carol Mack

New England & Maritime Canada

The wood frogs are in full chorus. Deer brave the open
fields, hungry for tender, new grass. It’s time to put up
birdhouses, and to feed and re-mulch fruit trees and
berries. Tomato and pepper seedlings need to be
transplanted into bigger pots. Start brassicas early but
wait on squash and melons until three to four weeks before
setting them out. A few pots of fast-growing annuals like
morning glories and nasturtiums give a jump on the blooming
season. Outside, weeds pull easily from the asparagus patch
and perennial beds. When the ground can be worked, sow
hardy greens, parsley, cilantro, onions, leeks, peas, and
fava and garbanzo beans. May brings the return of the tree
swallows, swooping and twittering as you plant carrots,
beets, brassicas, annual flowers, herbs and lettuce. Summer
squash and swimming are within sight, at least for the
optimistic and the adventurous.

Mid-Atlantic

April is the crucial time to get a handle on pests like
harlequin bugs — enlist your chickens for a
search-and-destroy mission. Continue biweekly sowings of
carrots, beets, chard, radishes, spinach and some late
garden peas. When the first asparagus spear emerges, hoe
the patch and mulch it loosely with hay. Try sowing some
white Dutch clover between the rows of peas and carrots
after a vigorous hoeing. Thin both carrots and beets within
two weeks of emergence. About the fifth of April,
transplant bulb onion seeds and sets. Take a gamble on
setting out some early tomatoes, but be prepared to protect
them from frost. Hill the potatoes when they are 8 inches
high and squish the potato bugs or call in the chickens
again. Come May, it’s time to plant warm weather crops and
weed all that stuff, too — phew. Hoe annual weeds on
dry days, and hand-pull long-rooted biennials and
perennials when the soil is wet.

Southern Interior

It seems to be a Southern tradition to direct-sow summer
veggies on Good Friday. Last year, monsoon-like rains made
it impossible to plant until late May. Hopefully, we can
return to our traditional April timetable this year and get
summer staples like squash, pole beans, butterpeas, corn
and okra in the ground just like Grandma used to do.
Whenever you plant squash, be sure to give it plenty of
room to spread out– thin squash seedlings to two
plants per hill with hills 2 to 3 feet apart. For healthier
plants and bigger yields, inoculate pole beans, cowpeas
(aka field peas) and butterpeas with nitrogen-fixing
bacteria before sowing. Soak okra seed for 24 hours in warm
water for better germination. Then turn your attention to
spring-flowering shrubs. Azaleas, spiraea, viburnum and
forsythia can be pruned after flowering, and May is prime
time to do so before energy-sapping heat makes the job
worse.

Gulf Coast

What a season for wildflowers! But if you want to plant
them, remember that most of the ones in bloom now
germinated late last summer, and mark your calendar
accordingly. Continue planting heat-loving crops. If we
have a wet spring, expect early blight fungus to be a
problem on tomatoes. Adequate spacing (try them 3 to 4 feet
apart in the row) and removing the bottom leaves up 12
inches will improve air circulation and reduce infection.
Otherwise, apply low-toxicity wettable sulfur to the
foliage (be sure to cover the bottoms of the leaves) to
keep this disease in check. The sulfur also will reduce the
build-up of spider mites if we have a dry spring. Pecans
need a foliar application to supply zinc. Anticipate that
the pecan case-bearer caterpillar may be wreaking havoc on
developing nutlets in early May, and ask your local
extension office for organic spray programs.

Central/Midwest

Gardening has taught me one important lesson: Do not rely
on the past year’s weather for this year’s planting
schedule. Because every spring is different, watch the
long-range weather reports. Purchase a good soil
thermometer and monitor it carefully. Seed packets contain
important information about optimum soil temperatures and
weather conditions, or read about each variety in gardening
books. Sudden spikes of warm temperatures unfortunately out
of our control — may cause broccoli, lettuce, greens
or onions planted in these months to bolt. You can,
however, control cool-weather growing conditions by using
season extenders such as row covers and mini-hoop
greenhouse tunnels to raise the soil temperatures and keep
a blanket of warmer air near the soil surface. These will
speed up growth of cold-tolerant crops planted throughout
these months and create better conditions for the tender
crops planted in late May.

North Central & Rockies

Gardeners with cold frames or plastic-covered hoophouses
already are enjoying a harvest of early greens, while the
rest of us are still looking for spots warm enough to
plant. Even a small angle of slope to the south can
dramatically increase soil warmth. Large rocks or concrete
walls collect the sun’s heat during the day and protect
from frost at night. We plant cold-season crops up to a
month early in these areas, including arugula, kale,
lettuce, pac choi, pea, radish and spinach. Inside, it’s
time to start flats of seedlings, to be ready for
transplanting when the soil finally warms. Start tomatoes,
peppers and broccoli extra early only if you can transplant
them to larger pots to prevent stunted root growth.
Consider saving your own seed this year — it’s
relatively simple for many varieties. (See “Grow Your Own
Seeds,” October/November 2003.) Mountain gardeners, whose
growing conditions vary widely, will especially benefit
from long-term selection of plants best adapted to their
particular sites.

Pacific Northwest

The great tomato race of 2004 starts now. Harden off young
plants by exposing them to outdoor conditions for a week to
10 days before planting. Red mulch, hot caps and other
insulating devices help develop productive plants faster.
Heirloom and beefsteak tomatoes are absolutely luscious,
but don’t overlook fine extra-early varieties such as
`Legend’ or `Oregon Spring’ for a harvest starting in July.
Lettuce, spinach, arugula and other greens sown outside
will appreciate cool April temperatures. For spring salads
that have a variety of flavors, colors and shapes, scatter
seeds of a mesclun blend in a 4-by-4-foot area. As the
greens continue to grow, harvest the outer leaves. Other
April sowings include many of our favorite flowers,
including zinnias, sunflowers and cosmos, as well as beets,
carrots, radishes and virus-resistant peas such as `Oregon
Sugar Pod II,’ `Cascadia’ and `New Century.’

Southwest

At higher elevations, lovely warm April afternoons may fool
you into thinking summer has arrived, but wait until late
May to plant out tender seedlings like tomatoes and
peppers. Straw bales stacked around transplants will shield
them from intense sun, wind or cold while they harden off,
and the bales can be covered easily on cold nights.
Throughout April, sow cold-hardy crops, including lettuce,
greens and radishes. Plant cilantro in mid-April near where
the bean patch will be planted in early June. The flowering
cilantro attracts a parasitic wasp that naturally helps
control bean beetles. In mid-May, direct seed summer crops
like corn, squash, melons and root vegetables. At lower
elevations, follow the same planting advice, but warmer
nights allow for starting a month earlier. Plan ahead now
for summer water conservation by landscaping with
drought-tolerant plants, mulching with straw, using drip
irrigation and setting out rain-collection barrels before
the monsoons arrive.

Our thanks to the following for their contributions to
the Almanac: Roberta Bailey, FEDCO Seeds, Waterville,
Maine; Cricket Rakita, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange,
Mineral, Virginia; Lori Hardee and Karen Park Jennings,
Park Seed Company, Greenwood, South Carolina; William D.
Adams, Burton, Texas; Connie Dam-Byl, William Dam Seeds,
Dundas, Ontario; Bill McDorman, Seeds Trust, High Altitude
Gardens, Hailey, Idaho; Rose Marie Nichols McGee, Nichols
Garden Nursery, Albany, Oregon; Josh Kirschenbaum,
Territorial Seed Company, Cottage Grove, Oregon; and
Micaela Colley, Seeds of Change, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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