To get those beautiful May flowers, you have to put in the work in April (and we don’t mean just relying on the weather). In fact, April is so key to gardening that USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has declared April to be National Garden Month.
“National Garden Month is an opportunity to learn more about USDA’s People’s Garden Initiative, begun in 2009,” said Vilsack. “Today, 2,116 People’s Gardens thrive on public and private lands across the United States and its territories and in 12 foreign countries. These People’s Gardens serve as models for uniting individuals, groups and neighborhoods in a common effort to benefit communities, promote food security, utilize sustainable practices, help mitigate pollinator habitat loss, and address environmental issues.”
Celebrate National Garden Month in your own plot of dirt with this garden to-do list for April from Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening by Deborah L. Martin.
Heavy spring rains may reveal erosion and drainage problems, especially on bare or newly planted beds. Watch for places where water runs off the soil surface and consider mulching or changing the surface grading to stop runoff and prevent erosion.
Fight the temptation to work the soil too early when it’s still cold and wet.
Begin soil-building activities. If spring cover crops are in your rotation plan, plant them now. If you planted a cover crop last fall, incorporate it as soon as you can work the soil. Dig it into your vegetable and flower beds.
Give summer crops such as peppers, melons, and tomatoes an earlier start–lay black plastic over the planting bed for a couple of weeks to warm the soil.
Plant seed potatoes and lettuce, spinach, and mesclun seed directly in prepared garden soil.
The radish, carrot, and beet seeds as well as onion sets and shallots.
Near the end of the month, plant broccoli and cabbage seedlings.
Make sure to mulch your beds or you’ll spend the next 5 months or so weeding.
Reduce weed potential in garden beds by lightly cultivating bare soil and leaving it uncovered for a few days to let weed seeds freshly brought to the surface germinate. Once you see sprouts, grab a hoe and lay them low. Do this a couple of times before you plant. Use mulch between seedling rows and around transplants to keep light from reaching any weed seeds that remain.
Rake mulch away from your strawberry beds and rosebushes, but keep the materials nearby in case of a late frost. Give your soil the spring squeeze test. If a handful crumbles in your fist and doesn’t form a dense ball, it’s dry enough to work in.
Break out the bulbs: Time to plant summer-flowering bulbs and tubers, such as gladiolas, lilies, begonias, and cannas. Mix organic bulb fertilizer, compost, or leaf mold into the planting hole to get them off to a strong start.
Dig, divide, and replant perennials such as asters, bee balm, chrysanthemums, hostas, and phlox.