April is an amazing month as perennials and flowering bulbs emerge from the warming earth with fascinating speed. It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly plants grow from week to week. As I am writing this, there are still crusty patches of snow in the yard, it’s 32° outside and flurrying. When I walked through the yard yesterday picking up fallen branches for the bonfire, I noticed that the crocus, tulip and grape hyacinth foliage have already emerged. With mid-40’s to low 50’s predicted for this week, I know that by the upcoming first weekend in April, they will have grown another inch or two high. And before you know it, they’ll be bouquets of beauty!
Last Spring I made the decision not to plant pansies and violas in our container gardens and wall troughs. I just ran out of time and let the containers sit bare until the danger of frost was over so that I could plant summer flowering annuals. Well…after the winter that we’ve had….I can’t wait to see color in the yard! I’m on the lookout for my favorite varieties, especially Tiger Eyes (pictured on the right). It reminds me of the drawing game we had as kids….Spirograph…OK, dating myself here 😉
This past weekend, I sowed some Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate (Persicaria orientalis) in six-packs. This is an old-fashioned annual flowering plant that Thomas Jefferson was fond of growing in his Monticello gardens. It’s a tall annual, usually topping out at 6-8 feet tall but I found a shorter, more compact variety from Select Seeds. ‘Cerise Pearls’ will reach 4-5 feet which will be the perfect height to mix them with Spider Flower (‘Cleome’). Both of them will self sow and attract pollinators en masse! Songbirds, especially cardinals, love to eat the seeds from mature flowers. The clusters of pink flowers that hang down from tall stems have a light fragrance and make great cut and dried flowers. KMOTGG needs a cold period in order to germinate and moisture because of the hard outer covering of the seed. After I planted the seeds and watered them in, I placed the six-pack in a baggie. Then into the fridge it went for a 30 day stay…well worth the wait! I can’t wait to grow these for the first time!!!
Two weeks ago I seeded State Fair Mix Zinnias. Our friend JenJen always grows them and brings us bouquets that last FOR…EV…ER!!!! They are also disease resistant, come in a wide array of colors, love the heat and attract butterflies, hummingbirds & hummingbird moths. They took only 5 days to sprout and are happy underneath the grow lights. I’m excited to grow them for ourselves this year and when they go to seed, we’ll have what we need to start plants for next year.
Being an avid birder, April is one of my favorite months. So many birds are returning….Phoebes, Catbirds, Wrens, Towhees, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Orioles, and one of my favorites…Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Scientific studies suggest that the return of migrating Hummingbirds coincides with the bloom time of our native wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). This wildflower offers an early and reliable source of nectar that is vital in assisting them to return to their breeding grounds. There are several clumps of this Columbine in our “Welcome Garden” and once you plant one, you’ll have many more because of their self-sowing ability. Here in northeast CT, the hummingbirds usually show up during the last 2 weeks of April. So around April 10th every year, I put up 4 feeders throughout the yard and then wait for the first sighting. For me, the anticipatory excitement never gets old, it’s like welcoming back an old friend and I am truly honored to have them return to nest on the property.
It’s easy to make your own Hummingbird food by mixing 4 cups of granulated sugar into 1 gallon of water and boiling it for several minutes until the sugar has dissolved. After it cools, I fill the feeders and the remainder goes into a gallon jug in the fridge. Feeders must be changed twice a week to ensure that the food doesn’t ferment. Never add red dye or honey to the liquid because it is harmful to Hummingbirds.
Yikes! The Prime-Ark Freedom bare root blackberries I ordered showed up at the end of last month and the ground was still frozen. Also my pile of used nursery pots was still deeply buried beneath a mound of snow. What to do? Reuse, recycle and repurpose 🙂 The blackberry plants had long roots so even if I could get to my used pot pile, I probably wouldn’t have any that were tall enough. While I was soaking the roots in a bucket of water, an idea came to me. Why not use empty 2 liter club soda bottles? I cut off the top neck portion and then drilled drainage holes in the bottom portion for drainage. I used Penobscot Blend to plant them in and now, 2 weeks later, they have sprouted new growth. I’ve started putting them outside during the daytime to harden them off when the temperatures are mid-40’s or warmer. Now, a little bit of information on why I was so eager to obtain this variety. It’s a brand new release from the University of Arkansas and is the world’s first thornless (this is huge in my book!), primocane-fruiting blackberry. Primocane-fruiting blackberries flower and fruit on new branches each season. Prime-Ark Freedom fruits very early in the season, and where the climate is suitable (zones 6-8), fruits again in the fall. It has exceptional fruit size, great flavor, excellent disease resistance and heat & humidity tolerance. Can’t wait!
Other gardening chores you can do in April…
- Fertilize deciduous evergreen, broad-leaved evergreens and needle-leaved evergreen trees and shrubs with a product for acid-loving plants.
- Apply fertilizer to roses as the new growth begins.
- Add lime to the vegetable garden and topdress with 1/2″ – 1″ of compost.
- Set out summer flowering bulbs like amaryllis, calla, cannas, dahlia, gladiolus, lily, tuberous begonia, and tiger flower.
- Repot houseplants that are root-bound and too large for their containers. Start to fertilize them a few weeks after re-planting them.
- Start seeds indoors of warm weather vegetables such as squash, beans, pumpkins, melons and cucumbers.
- Prune spring-flowering shrubs and trees after their blooms are spent.
- Cut flower stalks back to the ground on daffodils, hyacinths and other spring flowering bulbs as the flowers fade. Don’t cut the foliage until it dies naturally. The leaves are necessary to produce strong bulbs capable of reflowering. So many vegetables can be planted in April! First determine if the soil is ready to work. Squeeze a handful into a tight ball, then break the ball apart with your fingers. If the ball of soil readily crumbles in your hand, the soil is ready to be worked. If the soil stays in a muddy ball however, it is still too wet to work. Spinach, lettuce, peas, beets, carrots, Swiss chard and radishes can be directly seeded into the garden as soon as the soil is thawed and workable. I always add 1″ of Quoddy Blend Lobster Compost to the top of the soil and seed directly into it. I will also purchase six-packs of seedlings at local independent garden centers for vegetables that take a little more care to start from seed. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale are all cool weather loving vegetables and are often referred to as “cole crops”. These plants enjoy a higher pH of 6.0 – 6.8 and appreciate a fertile soil that has been amended with a good amount of organic compost. Cole crops are also heavy feeders and need micronutrients not often found in standard fertilizers. Top-dressing your soil with Schoodic Blend Composted Cow Manure 3 weeks after planting will ensure a steady source of these micronutrients and supplementing with organic fertilizer will provide your crops with all of the nutrition that they need.
- By Sue Lavallee