PLANTING PEAS AND OTHER APRIL GARDENING TIPS
Dr. Vern Grubinger, Vegetable Specialist and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
Don't be fooled into thinking that April is the month you can finally plant the garden. While the weather is certainly warming up, the soil will still be too cold to plant many flower and vegetable varieties, especially tender transplants like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and marigolds. But crops that like cool weather, including peas, potatoes, onions, spinach, lettuce, and parsnips can be planted later this month.
To prepare the soil, the first criterion is to make sure that it isn't overly wet. You'll be able to tell by scooping up a small handful. Squeeze to test. Does it fall apart or clump together? If the latter, then be patient. It's still too wet to work the soil. Doing so can cause compaction and lead to poor drainage and weak root growth later in the season.
Once the soil is dry enough, it may need to be loosened and residues incorporated to prepare a good seed bed for planting. In large gardens, you'll probably need to turn the soil with a rototiller, spading fork, or plow. In smaller plots or in gardens with individual beds, a few passes with a shovel or garden fork may be sufficient.
To maintain your soil organic matter levels, work in a thin layer of compost or aged manure. If your soil is already very fertile, peat moss or leaf mold may be substituted. A soil test will tell you how much fertility your soil has. It also will tell you if the pH is low and if so, how much lime is needed. Pick up a soil test kit at your local University of Vermont Extension office. The cost is $10, payable when you send in the sample, and your results will include fertilizer recommendations.
One of the first crops you can plant in the spring are peas. This vegetable thrives in cool, moist climates with early plantings normally producing greater yields than plantings later in the season. Wait until the soil temperature is at least 45 degrees F, then plant seeds one to two inches deep and one inch apart in single or double rows. Space rows about 18 to 24 inches apart. Tall growing varieties may require the support of a trellis.
As soon as the soil is dry enough to rake, loosen it up and then sprinkle spinach and lettuce seeds in beds, covering very lightly. These "broadcast" sowings can be thinned later to allow adequate space among the plants, but leaving enough to fill in the beds. Or you can sow in single or double rows about a foot to 18 inches apart. Plant a new row every 10 to 14 days for a continuous harvest from spring to mid-summer.
In mid to late April start plants indoors for transplanting in late May in most Vermont locations, or in early June if you live in one of the colder pockets. That's the average time of the last frost. Plan on six to 10 weeks from seed to size to transplant, depending on the crop. Your seed packet or seed catalog should give you this information.
Seedlings grown in warm conditions of 70 to 75 degrees F will be ready for transplanting sooner than if the temperatures are kept a bit cooler. Unless the plants are growing in a very sunny window or under supplemental lighting they may become leggy.
When it first warms up outdoors, resist the temptation to remove winter mulches from your flowerbeds. Mulch protects plants from changes in temperature and chilling winds, which are still common in April in this part of the country. Instead gradually pull aside the mulch as plants show signs of new growth, allowing air and light to reach the plants.
Get your containers ready for planting next month. Salt-encrusted clay pots can be soaked in a solution of 10 parts water to one part chlorine bleach for about a week to remove the salt and disinfect from diseases. Scrub pots and hanging baskets and stock up on potting mix (choose a blend of perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss) in preparation of planting containers.
It is probably too late to order seeds for annuals to start indoors. But you can flip through the catalogs to decide what you would like to plant as many popular varieties, including the All-America selections, are sold as bedding plants at garden centers.
April is the month for crocuses, grape hyacinths, snowdrops, and other harbingers of spring. These flowers will start to grow with a warm spell in early spring although are hardy enough to survive a snowfall. It's also the month for Easter flowers, including white azaleas and the ever-popular Easter lily.
If you purchase or receive a lily this month, extend the bloom period by placing it in a location that gets moderate, indirect light as direct exposure to sunlight may burn the flowers and shorten the bloom time. Temperatures of 65 to 70 degree F are ideal.
Water daily. If the plant came wrapped in decorative foil, remove that foil or make sure you drain off any excess water every time you water. Another way to extend the bloom is to remove the anthers (yellow pollen-bearing structures) from the center of the flowers. As individual blooms fade, remove to encourage new growth. However, keep in mind that Easter lilies are forced flowers, grown under controlled conditions in the greenhouse, so you probably won't have any luck forcing them to bloom a second time.
Other activities for April: fill your home with vases of tulips, daffodils, and other spring flowers; apply dormant sprays to fruit trees, ornamental shrubs, blueberries, and raspberries to prevent pest damage; divide overcrowded summer and fall flowering perennials as they start to grow but before they get too large.