Author and poet Margaret Atwood said “In the Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” And what a glorious time Spring is in the garden! The lengthening hours of daylight give us more time to be outside, and each day brings hope and possibilities. Meals from my kitchen are transitioning from the winter kales, carrots and leeks to the first of the spring artichokes, peas and baby lettuces. And eggs. So. Many. Eggs! Now is the perfect time to start a garden, or get to work on the tasks for an existing ones. Make sure to take time to notice the flowers, listen to the chatter of birds, and observe how many shades of green are out there.
The Northern California & Sonoma County April Checklist
- Weed! I could spend entire weeks pulling and digging up weeds, and have little to show for it. But really, try and dedicate some time each day to this chore. If it seems to daunting to tackle them all at once, choose just a section and deal with the others later. At minimum, make sure to get them pulled before they go to seed. I’ve taken up the practice of going outside first thing, often still in my pajamas, and pulling the burmuda grass and bindweed around my fruit trees while my tea cools.
- Transplant seedlings and start hardening off. If you started your own seeds inside, you’re likely at the point of needing to transplant into 4″ pots. I transplanted my tomatoes yesterday, and plan to transplant peppers early next week. Its also time to start hardening off starts, by gradually acclimating them to the outside.
- Shop for starts. If you didn’t start your own seeds, or you had some varieties not germinate, now is the time to start shopping for starts. Nurseries now have all the summer veggies in stock, as well as 6-packs of annual flowers. Check back in a few days for a post on my recommended places to shop, what to look for, and what to avoid.
- Plant veggies!!! For the first few weeks of April, you can still sow seeds or transplant lettuce, beets, carrots, radishes, chard, kale and spinach. The summer veggies need to wait until the later part of the month. Remember we still have a change of frost until around April 10. Even if there is no frost, heat-loving veggies like tomatoes need day and night temps of 55 degrees and up, so planting out earlier likely won’t jumpstart your season. Keep an eye on the weather and take your chances, but we are still in the 40’s right now at night. Once we past the frost date, follow these planting guidelines:
- Tomatoes, 0-1 week after
- Basil- 1 week after
- Corn- after
- Cucumbers- 1-2 weeks after
- Eggplants, melons, peppers & squash- 2 weeks after
- Plant citrus. Once the danger of frost has passed, plant citrus trees.
- Bulbs. Plant summer blooming bulbs like dahlias and gladiolus. Leave the faded foliage on spring blooming bulbs, instead of cutting away, so the nutrients are drawn back to the bulb.
- Watch for pests and beneficials. If you’re having an aphid invasion, its tempting to spray them all away, but consider giving nature a chance to find balance. Ladybugs and other beneficials are arriving to the garden in masses, and for them to stick around, they need to have food. Before you deem a plant lost and pull it out for the chickens, check to see if there are beneficial larva or eggs present, and consider leaving the infested plant.
- Prune off frost damage. If you had plants that suffered any frost damage, its now safe to prune off the dead or damaged parts.
- Feed. If you didn’t get to it yet, feed roses and citrus. Feed azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons when they are done blooming.
- Help out the bees and birds. The drought is also hard on birds and bees, so make sure to have water available. If bees have to spend all their effort finding water, they won’t be able to pollinate and the constant stress will shorten their life. In my garden, bees drink from my birdbath, as its rough sloping sides make it easy for the bees to gradually approach the water. You can also set out a tray filled with rocks or float branches or corks in a bucket.
- Watch for mosquitos. While it is important to have water out for the birds and the bees, you don’t want to provide a breeding ground for mosquitos. Empty any standing water every few days (make sure to water plants with it!) and ensure rainbarrel openings are covered with a screen.
- Thin fruit. When baby fruits are about as large as a dime, thin so the remaining fruit gets larger and weight on young branches is reduced. Cherries, figs, persimmons, citrus and pomegranates usually self thin, dropping what they need to around June, but stone fruits like plums and peaches, and pomes like apples and pears will need thinning. Keep the largest of fruits, and thin to every 2-5″, depending on final size of fruit. University of California has a great handout for more information. Some people think thinning isn’t necessary, and according to neighbors, my Blenheim was never thinned. I’m unsure of my philosophy on thinning yet, so I’ll be doing more research.
- Water. We are now in irrigation season, and California is still in our epic drought. I’ll have a post soon about gardening in a drought, but here’s a quick summary on some water guidelines. Deep-water trees and established plants, and prioritize watering young trees, perennials, and edibles. Before watering, check the soil’s moisture content. Hot days may cause plants to wilt, giving the impression it needs water, but a well mulched bed may still be moist. Dig down a few inches with a trowel or stick a finger in the soil to see if still wet or if it needs water. Water at the base of plants, not overhead on the foliage, so the water goes where it is most needed.
- Kill your lawn. We don’t have water we can waste, and your lawn should be the first thing to go. Especially if you don’t use your lawn. Nothing screams asshole like keeping a perfectly manicured and bright green front lawn you never step foot on in the middle of a drought. Add an extra notch of douche-bag is you’re overhead watering in the middle of the day! (which is also now illegal, btw.) Let it go into a wild meadow, sheet mulch, plant natives, or replace with a low-growing groundcover. If you’re still convinced you need your lawn because your kids/dog/etc. love it, consider if a trip to the park could satisfy that need. Save your water for your shade trees or for things you can eat. And I now climb off my soap box….
What are you looking forward to this month?
“To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves”. — Mahatma Gandhi