University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

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HELPING THE EARTH AND OTHER APRIL GARDENING TIPS

Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant

Helping our planet through Earth Day activities, starting seedlings, and sowing early crops outside are some of the gardening activities for this month.   

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. 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. This widespread concern by citizens about what was happening to the earth inspired the Congress to pass the Clean Air Act in the early 1970’s.

Fast forward to 2018, when Earth Day is celebrated on Sunday, April 22 once again, and concern is even more intense by many on helping our planet.  Since Earth Day Network—the organization promoting and coordinating events and efforts globally—began promoting “A Billion Acts of Green”, it has recorded over 2.6 billion and is aiming for 3 billion.  These acts could be as simple as eating less meat (which creates lots of greenhouse gas emissions during production and distribution), using reusable not plastic shopping bags, or planting a tree. 

Other ways that you, as a gardener, can make every day an Earth Day are to minimize your use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to protect the soil.  You can water with a drip irrigation system rather than an overhead sprinkler to conserve water.   Switch to electric garden tools like trimmers and blowers (many have quite long-lasting batteries now).  Reduce mowing by leaving large areas not used for recreation unmown, except once or twice a season, and replace other seldom-used or shady lawn areas with groundcovers.

Make sure that 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. If you use a compost-based mix, make sure it is for seed germination.  Moisten the soil before planting seeds but avoid overwatering, which may cause seeds and seedlings to rot.

The first crops that can be sown in the ground once the soil has dried out enough are beets, carrots, lettuce, parsley, peas, radishes, spinach, and Swiss chard. Plan to make successive sowings every couple of weeks to prolong the harvest.  The end of the month or early May you can plant asparagus and onions from small plants, roots or “onion sets” (aka bulbs) that you buy. 

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. For variety, plant both traditional shelling peas and snow, or snap, peas with edible pods.  Determine if you want bush varieties, or vining ones that will need some means of support.   

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.

(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach; gardeningwithcharlie.com).   

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