Sweet warmth and sunshine!
If you are in zone 8b with me, then you’ve noticed everything waking up. I’m waking up too. I get up earlier and have more energy, which is great because it’s time to do everything.
If you haven’t prepped your beds yet, check out my easy guide. If you have prepped your beds, but have yet to plant in them, give them a good once over with a scuffle hoe to loosen the top ½” of soil and to remove any weeds that are germinating. If you’ve struggled with weed control, give the stale seedbed method a go.
Stale Seedbed Method of Weed Control:
- Prep your bed several weeks before you wish to plant.
- Keep soil moist (our usual rain does this) to coaxes the weed seeds to germinate.
- Scuffle hoe them down. This also churns up new weed seeds.
- Let them germinate then scuffle hoe them down again.
That’s all there is to it. Now you should be able to plant in your beds without nearly as much weed pressure.
What to Sow this Month
For a bigger picture of what to start when see my Planting Guide.
Direct Sow: (soil temp: 40+ degrees)
- Potatoes (soil temp: 45+ degrees)
- Swiss Chard
For herbs and flowers you can direct sow: alyssum, calendula, chamomile, cilantro, garlic chives, nasturtiums, and most other annual flowers.
If you haven’t already, it’s still OK to direct sow peas and radishes.
All of these crops are in the curcurbit family. Curcurbits are warmth-loving and vigorous growers. To give you better odds of success, use plantable pots to minimize root disturbance. Curcurbit roots are fibrous with delicate hairs that are essential for vigorous growth.
It’s almost time to transplant some of the broccoli, arugula, onion, and other cool tolerant crops that got a head start inside. To get them ready, they need to acclimate to the rigors of the great outdoors. To get this process going, I haul my starts outdoors for an hour or two. Then I slowly increase the time they spend outside for at least a week. Two weeks is even better. Check in on them to watch that they don’t dry out or blanch in direct sunlight.
The sun, wind, and temperature stimulate a response in the plant that hardens their cell walls preparing them for rigors of outdoor life. This vastly increases your odds of transplanting success. Try not to be discouraged if a few die in the process, they probably wouldn’t have made it in your beds either.
Your garden is at its most vulnerable when the seedlings are young and tender. Garden slugs rise from the crevices of the earth to mow them down. And there are also leaf miners, cabbage butterflies, oh my!
Slugs are my #1 nemesis and I have created a full Slug IPM plan to keep their hoards from ravaging my crops.
For the flying insects, (cabbage moths, and leaf miner flies) you can use a floating row cover to keep mother bugs from laying eggs on your transplants. The cloth is gauzy, allowing light and air exchange. Weight the edges down and check underneath occasionally to make sure nothing got under there when you weren’t looking.
While these critters can be annoying for sure, once my plants are established I let nature do her thing. The birds and spiders generally eat pests within a few days and the plant survives without obvious detriment to the harvest. I once saw a robust black spider feasting on a moth larvae, half of it was blackened and empty and the other half was still bright green. I gave her a high-eight and left her alone. If I want to keep these predator insects around they need to have a reliable source of food. I only intervene and pick them off if the plant is being totally denuded and might die. With the crash of insect populations world-wide I take the less-is-more approach to overall ecological health and value of my yard.
All your cane fruits, blackberries, raspberries, etc, should have plump flower and leaf buds ready to break at any moment. This signals that they are going to need a boost of a well balanced fertilizer to support that lush growth or add a well rotted manure or compost.
As usual, Blueberries are the opposite. They do not want compost or manure which is too salty for them. Instead fertilize with a specific acidic fertilizer that will provide the nutrients they need and keep the pH low. The boxes will usually be labeled for blueberries, azalea, or rhododendron. For mulch, stick with pine shavings or conifer sawdust.
You have probably already mowed your lawn a time or two. April is the perfect time to feed your lawn fertilizer and to reseed. OSU Extension service recommends choosing a perennial ryegrass.
Other tips for a healthy lawn:
To prep your lawn for reseeding, dethatch and aerate if necessary. Then sprinkle grass seed and keep your lawn moist until the seed germinates and becomes established. If you have bare patches, scratch up the soil with a hand cultivator or rake, add some compost and sprinkle in the seed, the compost will hold moisture much better and provide some quick nutrients when the seeds germinate.
- Cut on a high setting to maintain a vigorous root system. Yes, you will have to mow it again sooner, but your lawn will thank you by being a lush carpet.
- Use the mulch setting. Lawn clippings break down fast and recirculate nitrogen into your soil reducing the need to do more fertilizer applications.
Yard Cleanup – Go for it!
Since our temperatures are rising (above 55 degrees) most of the native insects, including our beloved mason bees, should have emerged by this time making it safe to do a thorough yard cleanup. Remove any old stems and other chaff. Perennial grasses can be cut back to regrow. If you want to attract mason bees, include some plants that flower in late March and April so they have forage when they emerge hungry in those first 55 degree days. Some good ones: Oregon grapes, calendula, dandelion, red flowering currant, maple trees, spring ephemeral bulbs, and more. Also leaving some exposed clay soil, like a small hole, will allow mason bees and other animals to access clay for nest building.
Bird are Nesting
It is bird nesting season so hold off on any further tree pruning until summer. Hummingbird nests are so tiny that you may not notice them.
It’s still cool enough to provide suet for your bird friends, which is my go-to since it’s not as messy as the seed feeders that bring in mice and rats. Continue to clean and refill suet cages, finch socks, and hummingbird feeders every week. There’s lots of forage for most birds this time of year, so if you need a break don’t feel bad about taking them down.
Clean and refill every few days and you’ll be rewarded with entertaining baths and more bird visits. For a super easy clean, I flip my hose nozzle to jet and spray all the water out which also removes any gunk. Then I flip it back to shower and refill. If you have a smooth glazed bird bath, add some cleaned rocks to the basin to provide a good traction.
For Further Information:
OSU Extension: Practical Lawn Establishment and Renovation
OPB Video featuring Ron Spendal: Here is Why the Magical, Mysterious Mason Bee is a Gardener’s Best Friend.