April tips 2015
‘Those April showers that come our way
They bring the flowers that bloom in May
And when it’s raining, let’s not forget,
It isn’t raining rain at all, it’s raining violets’
~A popular ballad sang during World War II by Dame Vera Lynn in England.
To create and maintain a healthy organic garden, please discard any pesticides and herbicides that you may have used in the past. They have the same effect as second hand smoke on you, your children and pets. Scientific research has shown that these chemicals are responsible for many diseases including cancer.
My mission through my Garden Earth lecture, which I give to hundreds of people throughout New England, is to encourage all of you to garden organically. Reconnecting people’s hearts, hands and minds with the nourishing energy of Mother Nature’s Life giving gardens. In this lecture I tell you how to create and maintain a beautiful organic garden. Organic farming and gardening has been my family’s philosophy on tending the earth for over four hundred years. Please check my lecture schedule on this website.
In Mid to late April Manure all the borders with composted manure, which can be purchased in bags from the garden center, or aged manure from the bottom of the pile at a farm. Then as the ground warms up in May, mulch with fine brown hardwood mulch.
In the vegetable garden, I suggest you mulch with composted manure. Composted manure does not ‘cap’, which means that it does not form a crust like other mulches, consequently air and water can get through to the roots of the plants where it is needed.
Well finally, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed when I say that spring is here. I just put on my coat and stepped outside, lifting my face to the sun. In front of the kitchen window the Daffodils are peaking above ground.
Around the corner on the West side, the Iris is showing foliage and buds will soon bloom on the flowering Almond. I picked up branches from the grass that had been broken and blown during the winter and observing one of my butterfly bushes and lavender, put them on the agenda for pruning within the week.
Near the barn wall the buds on my Carlesii viburnum will open in another few weeks and their perfume will fill the air.
I filled the bird feeders and heard my feathered friends telling the others ‘lunch is served’. Ian and I stirred The English Lady Manure tea and Seaweed tea, and those potent brews will be ready to be purchased in May and can be found on this website.
I consideher April a month of awakening activity, when gardeners experience new energy and enthusiasm, just itching to get their hands in the soil. I am only just beginning to see the faint flush of red on the maples soon, our old nemesis, and weeds will begin to rear their heads. As soon as you see them, I suggest you get busy and pull them up by hand before they get ahead of you.
Did you know that all our cultivated plants began as weeds and at some point humans decided which ones they wanted in our gardens? Some that were not chosen have turned out to be beneficial weeds, like nettles, which are food for butterflies, clover takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil and oil from jewelweed soothes poison ivy rash. With that thought in mind, Comfrey which is not a weed and for centuries has been cultivated as a medicinal plant soothes the rash from poison ivy when added to bath water or used as a tea.
Young Dandelion foliage is nutritious and tasty in salads. Soon they will appear in my field on the west side and my mouth is watering in anticipation. Some beneficial weeds encourage songbirds and other wildlife to linger in the garden; the weed seeds are an important food source for them.
In the garden, after problem weeds have been pulled, apply an organic corn gluten based weed pre-emergent by Bradfield Organics. This product will keep weeds at bay for quite a few weeks. However, do not use this product on newly seeded lawns, as it will prevent grass seed germinating.
I checked on my David Austin roses today and tomorrow will prune any stems that were broken in the winter and in mid April prune the roses that have been in the ground for more than one year, by two to three feet depending on the type of rose. Do not prune roses that were newly planted last season. I remove the old mulch from around the base and add more composted manure and mulch.
I prefer David Austin roses, which are trouble free, repeat bloomers, fragrant and have beautiful colors. Plant bare root roses at the end of April and container roses in mid May.
Note – Planting depth of roses only as deep as they come in their container
Add manure to the planting mix and fill the hole about half full of soil then add water and wait a few minutes to ensure the roses have good drainage.
Do not fertilize at this time. When buds appear in early June add more composted manure and the brown fine bark mulch about four inches away from the base of the plant. You may apply an organic systemic rose food at this time and once monthly until mid August and then stop feeding the roses to allow them to go into a slow dormancy.
David Austin roses I enjoy are as follows:
Evelyn – apricot
Gertrude Jekyll – pink
William Shakespeare – dark pink with a strong damask rose fragrance – reminds me of my Grandmother’s favorite rose ‘Crimson Glory’.
Heritage – pale pink
Fair Bianca – white
All David Austin roses are repeat bloomers, beautiful colors and fragrances.
To give the roots of newly planted roses a boost, add our Seaweed tea which has a root growth hormone with many nutrients ensuring strong, healthy growth.
Be careful clearing winter debris from around rhododendrons, mountain laurel and azaleas, these evergreens are shallow rooted exposing roots to the air can damage them. If winter has eroded soil around any roots, cover them with soil, peat and add compost manure and gently resettle them into the ground. In late April a layer of fine bark mulch, but do not mulch up to the trunk as this encourages rodents to nest and gnaw on the wood.
Conditions in April are the most favorable for new plant-root development. In April evergreen shrubs may be transplanted and new evergreens planted. In the planting hole add composted manure and peat. At the end of May, when the new batch of Seaweed tea is available for purchase, soak the soil with our seaweed tea to quickly establish strong root. Give the roots a work out before planting to release them and open them up so the roots will reach into the surrounding soil for nutrients and water.
In late April plant Gladioli corms at two-week intervals. By following this method, you will get a succession of bloom. Plant the corms eight inches below the soil surface with composted manure; the extra depth helps prevent the heavy blooms of the gladioli from toppling over.
The Red Lily beetle will soon be rearing its ugly head soon; the solution to this problem is organic Neem oil. Add the Neem oil as soon as the foliage reaches four inches in height; this will eliminate the beetle larvae.
Soil solarization – is an effective way to control many soil borne problems, especially tomato blight that results in fruit rot. This blight has been epidemic in New England in the last few years.
In early April cover the soil with clear plastic 4 mils thick where you will be planting your tomatoes. Dig a trench several inches deep around the bed, and press the plastic into close contact with the soil overlapping into the trench. Keep the edges in place by filling the trench with soil that was removed. Leave the plastic in place for two months, during this time the heat from the sun will suffocate nematodes, weed seeds and many disease organisms including the tomato blight.
This process has proved invaluable for gardeners and farmers for years and the beneficial effects last through several seasons.
Apply an organic grub control on the grass in April and again in May to eliminate grubs thereby offering less food for the mole population.
The soil is the most important component of the growing business, compost, composted manure and peat for evergreens; amend the soil to rebuild its structure. The ratio is one part compost to three parts manure. Composted manure, at least three inches on the soil in April, July and October will ensure a rich growing environment.
Good soil structure helps with drainage issues, retains moisture and prevents compaction, particularly important with clay soil. Compost and composted manure breaks down in water, an ideal scenario, encouraging the millions of soil animals beneath the surface to produce nutrients for roots of the plants.
On the Shore in a light sandy soil, humus in the form of compost and manure binds the sand particles together and in heavy soil such as clay the more compost and manure helps to break up the clumps. Grow the soil and it will grow the plants.
When I moved into my farmhouse on the shore seventeen years ago, the soil in my garden was, as you can imagine, sandy – good for drainage but without nutrients. I began adding a quite a few inches of manure to all planted borders in April, July and October and within a few months I could see the color deepening and becoming richer. Within a couple of years the soil was black gold.
When working with composted manure in the garden, gloves should be worn as bacteria is present in this animal bi-product. The bacteria are great for the plants and the soil but not good for your health. When Daffodil foliage is about six inches tall add composted manure around the plants and again when the foliage has gone yellow, add the manure, which will fortify the bulbs for next season.
As well as the amendments of organic aged manure, peat and/or compost you can incorporate an organic root development enhancer like our seaweed tea by soaking the top four inches of the soil around the base of all trees, shrubs and perennials. Organic soil enhancers like our manure and seaweed tea when applied throughout the season to the soil, dissolve in water and are most quickly absorbed by plants and are especially useful for container planting.
Foliage (aka leaf) feedings with the Manure tea in the late afternoon when the pores of the plants are open are a quick acting tonic, supplying nutrients to all plants, including vegetables. Roses in particular like the tea foliar feed especially in the heat and humidity of mid summer, helping to prevent black spot and many insect infestations.
The Daffodils will soon be in bloom and when the bloom has past do not cut the leaves of any of your spring flowering bulbs, the leaves send down energy into the bulbs to store for next season’s nutrition.
April is the time to tackle a new lawn or patch seed, use only good quality seed and organic fertilizers.
The soil is still damp and wet and we can still get a late frost, I can hear you groan, me too! Keep an eye on the weather forecast.
Do not panic if you are not able to get the April tasks done until May, your garden will wait for you and the constancy that is Mother Nature will continue to keep your patch of earth flourishing.
Enjoy the pleasure of being outdoors now, inhaling the warm fragrance of awakening soil and experience the connection with growing things. Do not overdo it; warm up the body before any garden labor and stay well hydrated with lots of water.
We are inexorably entwined with the earth and know that even the smallest gesture of a garden has positive rewards and the effects not only on you but our planet. I’ll see you next time in your garden.
“Those March winds will blow\
And we will have snow
And what will the Robin do then, poor thing?
He’ll hide in the barn, to keep himself warm
And hide his head under his wing”.
March is a very unpredictable month and I know you are really itching to get out in the garden, but it pays to be cautious. Do not work the soil around your plants as its too cold and wet and can damage friable root systems. A clean edge with a sharp spade makes the borders look neat and is a first step to you getting back in shape after winter’s hibernation.
In late March APPLY A TOP DRESSING OF MANURE: Manure builds soil structure, aids in drainage and encourages dormant nutrients to come alive for a good planting environment. Poultry manure contains about 2% nitrogen, one of the highest levels of all manures; the drawback to this manure is that the odor is rather objectionable. Horse manure is about .5% nitrogen and cow manure, is .25 % nitrogen. If you get horse and cow manure from the farm ask the farmer to give you manure from the bottom of the pile; the oldest stuff, as fresh manure will burn the plants. Or buy bags of manure from the garden center.
You can use The English Lady Manure Tea and The English Lady Seaweed Tea, the recipe passed down through my family for hundreds of years. These teas are excellent for soaking seeds overnight before planting in March. To be eco conscious start tender annuals in old milk or juice cartons; make sure all containers are clean.
Seaweed from the shore is excellent as mulch or compost it; rinse it first to remove sea salt. Seaweed contains trace elements that plants need and also growth promoting hormones. If you spread it like manure apply 1-2 lb per 100 square feet of garden each spring.
ON A CLOUDY DAY – Remove protective covering gradually from shrubs and perennials. In exposed garden areas where wind is a problem, leave the covering on until mid to late April depending on the weather. Cold wind is more damaging and drying than extreme cold and frost.
FROST HEAVE: If some of the perennials, trees and shrubs planted last fall heaved out of the ground, cover the roots with fresh topsoil until mid May when they can be replanted.
Butterfly bush and the Smoke bush (Cotinus) to two feet from the ground in late March.
Prune Forsythia after it has bloomed, pruning out sparse flowering old wood.
Prune roses when the forsythia blooms. For their first full year in the ground do not prune roses. Do not remove the winter protective mulch from around the base of the roses yet, wait until early May, then apply a dressing of manure and mulch. Do not begin to feed an organic rose food until the end of May and discontinue feeding roses in mid August.
Hedges can be sheared for shape, so that any stubby ends will be concealed by the new spring growth.
Prune Spirea down to six inches from the ground.
Prune Lavender in April
Sweet Pepper Bush (Clethra) prune out oldest branches in late March
Lilac – before leaf growth begins, cut back all old branches to various lengths from two to five feet, keeping in mind a good shape of the shrub. Sprinkle lime around the base and add manure.
BACKSCRATCH: When the lawn is dry, rake it lightly and remove excess debris such as leaves and dead twigs. Raking gently will also raise the mat up so the lawn can breathe again. Aerating machines are useful to develop a healthy lawn. Puncture holes with the aerator and pull out plugs of soil every four to six inches; after this treatment, root development takes off and thatch is reduced. Stay clear of those large thatching machines, they damage the grass.
GRASS Fertilizer: Apply an organic fertilizer before the grass begins to grow. Reseed bare or sparse spots reseed in April after loosening the soil, liming and fertilizing, cover the seed with salt hay to keep the seed warm and to prevent wind from blowing the seed away. Water the seed for the first three weeks. Do not blast the area with water, which will also scatter the seeds.
MOLES: to keep down the mole population in your garden; apply organic grub control once a month for four months; less grubs, less food for the moles. Apply organic pre-emergent crabgrass formulas in March and April.
DEADHEAD: the crocuses when they start to look a mess; do not cut off the leaves; the leaves make food for in the bulbs for next season’s bloom.
DAFFODILS: When the green shoots emerge, spread an organic bulb food around the plants and water in well. Do not let the fertilizer come in contact with the unfurling foliage.
DAFFODILS FOR INDOORS: the stems release a sap like “goop” that harms other flowers. Before adding Daffodils to an arrangement, cut the stems at an angle, and leave them in a vase half filled with lukewarm water for a couple of hours. Discard that water and add the Daffodils to the other flowers. If you recut the stems you will need to repeat the process.
ORGANIC FERTILIZER FOR PERENNIALS: When perennials are about four inches above soil level, about the second or third week of April, depending on the weather, apply an organic fertilizer, but if you put down manure you will not need the fertilizer. Be careful working around any plants in the garden when the soil is still wet and cold as roots can be disturbed.
At the end of April DIVIDE late blooming perennials that have become too large or have not been flowering as profusely. Discard the older, inner parts of the clumps and plant the new outside portions. Do not plant the new divisions any deeper than they were before and certainly not with Irises; just barely cover the root system so they do not fall over.
PLANT Pansies: pick the flowers regularly to encourage more bloom.
Before planting soak seeds in manure or seaweed tea and now sow SEEDS indoors of gaillardia, salvia, marigold and zinnia indoors, also seeds of petunia, snapdragon, stock and verbena in sphagnum moss to prevent damping off if these did not get sown in February. Cover pots and seed trays with plastic wrap creating a mini-greenhouse, which provides the moisture the seeds need to germinate.
NOTE: Remove the plastic once the seeds have germinated, the soil needs to drain and air circulation is needed around the stems.
If you are going away on business, vacation etc. put the plastic covers back on the pots and trays and prop some sticks or skewers in the corners; they will stay moist, but be sure the plants do not come in contact with the plastic.
START tuberous begonias, and caladiums indoors.
DORMANT SPRAYING of fruit trees, flowering cherry, crabapple, hawthorn, mountain ash and lilac can be done before the leaf buds open. Spray with The English Lady Seaweed Tea to encourage fruiting and call in a professional company if you notice any disease on the trees. Ask the company is they use organic products; you do not want chemical pollutants in the garden.
HOUSEPLANTS: As a general rule I suggest repotting of house plants when they are growing vigorously in spring and summer. Water the plant, turn it sideways on a newspaper and gently slide it from the pot. Repot in fresh potting soil in a pot only two inches larger than the original. With the plant firmly in place, with the soil about one inch from the rim, water it and give a dilute application of organic fertilizer to lessen the shock of repotting.
Some trouble free foliage plants are: Rubber plant, Spider plant, Aloe, Succulents and Cacti (if you have a sunny window), Ivy, Philodendron, Monstera and Spaphyllum.
Some blooming plants for amongst the foliage ones – I keep my plants in groups touching one another; they enjoy and flourish in the closeness. Cyclamen, African Violets, Kalanchoe and Primula.
To keeps pets from damaging the houseplants, add some cayenne pepper to the water when watering.
GERANIUMS: When the new side shoots appear on those that you brought in at the end of last season and cut back in February, repot them in pots about and inch and a half larger.
Well I think that’s given you plenty to think about at the moment and to get started. Enjoy your garden indoors and out.