April in the Edible Garden

April in the Edible Garden

  • By Ralph Morini
  • /
  • April 2021-Vol.7, No.4
  • /
  • 1 Comment

It’s April and edible gardening is in full swing. The air and ground are warming, buds are fattening and if you did some cool weather vegetable planting in March, you may soon be enjoying some early garden produce. If you haven’t gotten started yet, there is plenty of time to get things going for a productive gardening season.

Bed Preparation 

As mentioned in previous articles, deep tilling is no longer a recommended practice, except for new beds where loosening compacted soils and integrating organic matter can make sense.

If you grew a cover crop over the winter, let it grow as long as possible short of letting it set seed. This enables deepest root penetration and greatest photosynthetic carbon deposits in the soil. To remove it, cut it as close to flush with the soil as possible, with a string trimmer or mower. If possible, leave the residue on the ground for a couple of weeks to let roots begin to decay, then use a stirrup hoe (some call it a scuffle hoe) to cut the crowns, just below soil level. Leave the cuttings as mulch if installing transplants or add them to the compost heap if you are planting seeds. Leave the roots to decompose in the soil and smooth the surface with a rake to present a nice seed bed.

Occultation is a no-dig alternative for weed control. It involves covering beds with a black plastic tarp or landscape fabric for 4-6 weeks to starve weeds of sun and kill seeds with heat. Remove the tarp and plant transplants directly. If seeding, rake off residue and compost it.

A broadfork at work, from the video, “The broadfork – Jean-Martin Fortier – The Market Gardener’s Toolkit,”

To loosen compacted soil, drive a digging or broadfork as deeply into the soil as possible and rock it back and forth to loosen soil without destroying structure. Work your way across the beds. If adding an amendment like compost or manure, layer it on top and allow it to work into the soil during broadforking. Rake the surface smooth, and you are ready to seed.


If starting from seed, follow seed packet directions. For intensive or square foot gardening, ignore the row spacings and use seed-to-seed spacing in both directions. Goal is to space plants so that mature plants will just touch each other, helping reduce moisture and weed pressure while maximizing production for a given garden space.

Fertilization is important for best results. For guidance on what products to use and how and when to apply them, review Garden Shed article A Fertilization Primer.

According to Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Virginia’s Home Garden Vegetable Planting Guide, in Hardiness Zone 7a:

  • There is still time to plant cool weather crops, including: beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, greens and lettuces, potatoes, spinach, radishes and turnips. They like it cool, however, so get them in soon.
  • Late April is the earliest time to plant bush and pole beans, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, squash and tomatoes. These guys are harmed by frost, however, so check the longer-term weather forecast before setting them out or planting. Be prepared to protect them if a late frost sneaks into the region.

A Few Tips 

  • Where possible, rotate your crops, on a 3-4 year cycle to minimize pressure from soil borne diseases and pests.
  • Maintain a journal to record crop locations, varieties planted, pest and disease issues, and growing success. You will be thankful when you plant next year.
  • Plant seeds at a depth of about 2 times the seed width (not length). Moisten when planting and keep moist until germination.

Trellis. Photo: U of Minnesota Extension

Hardening-off seedlings. Photo: R Morini

  • If you started seeds indoors, remember to harden the plants off by progressively exposing them to the outdoors for 1-2 weeks when outside temperatures are above 50 degrees, prior to transplanting.
  • It is best to transplant on a cloudy day or in late afternoon to reduce shock to young plants.
  • If transplanting peat pots, tear off the top of the pot to a point below the soil line to avoid wicking water away from plant roots.
  • Mulching plants after transplanting or germination is a good thing but give the soil a chance to warm up before mulching to avoid slowing plant growth.
  • When laying out plant locations, remember that leafy greens typically require 6 hours of sun per day while fruiting vegetables want at least 8 hours.
  • Consider intercropping. Mixing different plant varieties uses space well, adds diversity to the garden environment, creates a variety of scents that can confuse pests, and attracts a broader array of beneficial predators, helping reduce pest damage.

Swiss Chard. Photo: Courtesy of Pixabay

  • If you would like to extend the harvest season for your greens, consider chard. Chards have a lower tendency to bolt and can withstand summer heat longer than most other greens. In addition, rainbow chard makes a pretty presentation in the garden.
  • Should a surprise late frost threaten your warm weather crops, a row cover can save the day. Review the Garden Shed article: Row Covers: A Garden Season Extender with Benefits for materials and construction tips.
  • It isn’t too late to plant asparagus or strawberry patches. For guidance on starting asparagus refer to the Garden Shed article Spear into Spring with Asparagus,and the VCE publication Asparagus, which specifies recommended cultivars for Virginia.

New strawberry bed: Photo Ralph Morini

  • For strawberries and other small fruits check out the VCE publication Small Fruit in the Home Garden.
  • If you are planning a home orchard, check out the VCE publication Tree Fruit in the Home Garden for help in site selection, tree selection and care for many popular fruits.
  • Best tree planting techniques for both bare root and root ball trees is detailed in Planting Trees Correctly from the Clemson Extension.
  • If you are curious about the weeds in the garden or its surroundings, for elimination or edibility, VCE’s Weed Identification Guide is a good resource.

I hope you find this information helpful. Comments on content are welcome. In any case, enjoy your garden and please come back next month.


Virginia’s Home Garden Vegetable Planting Guide: Recommended Planting Dates and Amounts to Plant, Va.Coop.Ext.Pub. 426-331

Cover photo: Compost: Photo: Ralph Morini


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