By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
Lisa Halvorsen, garden writer
University of Vermont
In April we celebrate the earth, not just by getting back into the garden, but by observing a very important day--Earth Day.
Never heard of it? Well, Earth Day has been around for more than 30 years. It was started by Gaylord Nelson, a 53-year-old Wisconsin senator, as a way of bringing attention to how people's actions were endangering the planet.
Nearly 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 by picking up litter, collecting recyclables, and holding "teach-ins" to talk about the environment. This widespread concern by citizens about what was happening to the earth inspired the U.S. Congress to pass the Clean Air Act in the early 1970s.
Although you may not celebrate Earth Day, per se, if you are a gardener, every day is Earth Day. To protect the soil you minimize your use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. You use natural mulches like straw and hay instead of black plastic. You water with a drip irrigation system rather than an overhead sprinkler to conserve water. All these things make you a good steward of the land.
And while we are thinking of holidays, don't forget the other ones this month: Palm Sunday, April 8; Easter, April 15; and Secretary's Day, April 25. Appropriate plants for the first two include, of course, the Easter lily and white azalea, although for a change you could buy potted or fresh cut daffodils, tulips, or colored lilies.
Honor a hard-working secretary with a bouquet of fresh cut flowers or a perennial plant such as a primrose to enjoy indoors now and plant outdoors to bloom year after year. Colored lilies usually are hardy and good in this respect as well.
After all this celebrating, it's time to get to work! First, make sure you are all set for the growing season by buying your onion sets and seeds, mapping out the garden, cleaning and oiling your tools, and getting your soil tested.
In mid- to late April you can start many transplants. As a rule of thumb, most annuals and vegetables need to be started six to ten weeks before it's time to transplant them into the garden. Check the seed packet for instructions.
If you use peat pots, these can be planted directly in the garden as the pots will decompose. Or plant in flats, using a soil-less mix containing peat, perlite, vermiculite, and a small dose of fertilizer. Moisten the soil before planting seeds but avoid overwatering, which may cause seeds and seedlings to rot.
Outdoors, you can plant your peas, providing the soil isn't too wet to work. Peas like cool temperatures, but avoid wet spots with poor drainage as this will cause the seeds to rot. If powdery mildew has been a problem, select varieties resistant to this fungal disease.
You will need to erect a trellis of chicken wire or netting for support of vining varieties. Bush types can grow without support. Plant your seeds one to two inches deep, about three inches apart, in rows 24 to 30 inches apart. For variety, plant both traditional shelling peas and snow or snap peas with edible pods.
You also can plant your spinach and onions at the end of this month. But wait until May to plant all other crops as the ground is still too cold for all but these few cold weather crops.
Other activities for April: remove winter mulches from perennials, strawberries, and roses; prune summer-flowering plants and evergreens; build a bat house for your backyard.