Add Perseverance to Your April Gardening Checklist
Who could have imagined that our pandemic spring of 2020 would be followed by a paralyzing deep freeze in 2021? Gardening and restarts go hand in hand but the recovery and resets in the season ahead are still to be determined. Like many gardeners, I am wondering about the status of several plants in my landscape. Roses and dandelions act like nothing happened, lantana is showing signs of regrowth, Barbados cherry appears brown and brittle, and poor prickly pear cactus turned to mush. For many plants it’s still too early to tell and I’m hoping that warmer weather brings us all some unexpected signs of life. Nature perseveres and so will we.
Keep Records of What Survived the February Freeze
When it comes to vegetables, I’ve noted some winners, some losers and some surprises. Keeping records of which vegetables – and even which varieties – come out on top will help us choose more dependable plantings for future (and hopefully milder) winter seasons. I did not have an opportunity to cover my plants so I harvested what I could and left the vegetable garden to the mercy of the cold. The one exception was spinach which had been planted from seed in January with row cover already in place. I threw a tarp over the hoops and crossed my fingers.
Onions and garlic survived under a cover of snow and have resumed their growth. Carrots seemed unfazed. Lettuce looked a little rough after the thaw but perked up nicely. The young spinach under cover survived unscathed and older spinach plants that were not protected recovered in no time. All have been growing strong and producing abundant leaves to harvest. ‘Champion’ collards came through like a true champ. However, ‘Georgia Southern’ collards and ‘Dino’ kale succumbed to the freezing conditions.
The extended cold temperatures were just too much for broccoli, cauliflower and sugar snap peas. All might have fared better if they were covered. Parsley, along with beets and radishes did not make it. Borage turned to mush – not a surprise but definitely a disappointment because it had been planted from seed in the fall and had grown into a full, beautiful specimen.
Looking at you, cilantro – I did not know you were so tough! Fennel and sorrel looked beaten down after the thaw but they bounced back quickly along with sage, thyme and winter savory. Artichoke that had been planted in late fall died to the ground but soon sprouted new, robust leaves. And strawberry plants, which I usually cover during the coldest winter weather, came through intact, perhaps insulated and protected by the snow.
April Garden Checklist
Here is the April garden checklist for vegetables:
- Plant any of the following warm-season crops: beans (snap, pole and lima), cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, field peas, long beans, peppers, squash and watermelon. Make sure you know the ultimate size and follow directions for proper thinning and spacing. Pole beans, cucumbers, long beans and small melons can be grown vertically on a fence, trellis or teepee.
- Tuck a few herbs among your vegetable garden or plant them in pots near the kitchen where you will be inspired to pick them and incorporate them into food and beverages.
- The spring season started off a little slow as growers and garden centers scrambled to re-stock after the freeze and we must do the best we can to catch up. If you haven’t planted tomatoes yet do it as soon as possible. For the most promising results skip the large beefsteaks and heirlooms and opt for early-maturing varieties that will produce before summer really begins to sizzle. Small-fruited tomatoes are another option since they stand up to heat better than large-fruited types. Note the “days to maturity” on plant tags and opt for varieties that mature in less than 70 days.
- The National Gardening Bureau has declared 2021 as the Year of the Sunflower. These popular plants can be sown directly from seed in an area with full sun and good drainage. Tall, dwarf, bicolor, branched, single-stem, hybrid, native or edible; there are varieties to please every gardener and brighten any space. Be sure to add them to your April garden checklist.
- Once your plants are up and growing spread a 2-3” layer of mulch around vegetable plants.
- Hill corn and potatoes. Hilling is a technique of piling soil or mulch around the base of the plants. The extra soil supports the corn as it grows and helps prevent it from falling over. Covering the lower portion of potato plants allows the tubers to develop laterally along the stem. The goal is to keep them covered so they are not exposed to sunlight.
- Cultivate around plants to control weeds, break up crusty soil and provide aeration.
Diseases/Pests to Look For
- Keep an eye out for aphids – they love tender, new growth. It’s not necessary to eliminate them completely because they also provide a food source for beneficial insects. Young vigorous plants often outgrow insect damage but if aphid numbers increase they’re easy to knock down with insecticidal soap or a strong spray of water. These are persistent pests so be sure to inspect plants regularly and treat as needed.
- Watch out for harlequin bugs which usually show up as collards, kale, mustards and other brassicas decline. Get rid of plants that are past their prime and the harlequin bugs will go away too.