In The Vegetable Garden — April
April vegetable gardening in central Virginia can be like a trip to the casino; your luck can change in an instant. We can reasonably expect warm, sunny weather and spring showers — perfect for starting the gardening season. However, a sharp cold front can change everything, bringing in freezing temperatures and on occasion even a late snowfall. Adding to the temptation of April, many of the local nurseries, hardware, and big box stores begin rolling out those beautiful tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings, just waiting to be rescued and transplanted into the warm April soil. It’s hard to resist, but remember: the average last killing frost in our area is May 10 – May15. Now if you are truly tempted to get a jump start on the race to have a vine-ripened tomato by the 4th of July, remember that the month of April is unpredictable; you can limit your risk by planting only what you are willing to lose and by being prepared to cover/protect your plants should a late killing frost visit your garden. April in our area is a month for planting cool season crops. We have to wait for the arrival of May before planting our warm season crops.
Following is the April vegetable-planting schedule adapted from the VCE Publication 426-331. If you want to identify transplants that can be planted outdoors this month, look for the vegetables marked with an asterisk.
|April 1-11||April 12-18|
|Lettuce, Bibb||Lettuce, leaf|
|Onions set)||Onions set)|
|April 19-25||April 26- May2|
|Beans, Bush||Beans, Bush|
|Beans, Pole||Beans, Pole|
|Beans, Wax||Beans, Wax|
|Lettuce, leaf||Onions set)|
|Squash, Summer||Squash, Summer|
|Squash, Winter||Squash, Winter|
|* Denotes Transplants|
|The suggested dates may vary for different areas.|
Adapted from “Vegetable Planting Guide and Recommended Planting Dates,” VCE Publication 426-331
There’s still time. Tomato, eggplant, and peppers can still be started indoors from seeds.
April is the time to set out cool-weather crops such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and onions. But we have to wait until the danger of frost has passed to transplant tender plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.
Having trouble with plant markers fading? I have always had trouble when labeling with a “permanent” marker; it still manages to fade before the end of the gardening season! Several years ago, I found a “paint marker” in a local building supply store that does not fade during the growing season. I also discovered a Sharpie marked “paint” at a local craft store that holds up equally well throughout the growing season.
April is a good time to invest in a soil thermometer. The cause of poor seed germination is often cold soil. If the soil is too cold, seeds of some plants will rot before they have a chance to sprout. A chart providing information on soil temperatures for optimum germination of vegetable seeds can be found in VCE Publication 426-316, titled “Seed for the Garden.”
To save space in your garden, you can construct temporary or permanent woven wire “fences,” which will provide vertical support for runner varieties of beans, as well as for cucumbers. Plants can be trained to climb the fences, saving not only space, but also making harvesting easier as the vegetables will be hanging down. For additional information on vertical gardening, see VCE Publication 426-335 “Intensive Gardening Methods.”
Saving Space: Snow peas growing up a temporary fence. Note the sequential planting of “pole” Lima beans at base of fence.
One of the most important steps in planting comes before seedlings even get near the garden. This is the process of hardening off, or gradually acclimating seedlings to outdoor conditions. These little plants have spent their short lives in a warm, sunny, protected place and won’t fare well if they are not exposed slowly to the elements. Start the hardening off process about 2 weeks before you intend to plant them outside. A few days before you are ready to begin hardening plants off, reduce the amount of water you give them, and cease fertilizing until they are planted in the garden. Then put your transplants outdoors in an area where they’ll be protected from the direct sunlight and wind. Leave them out for a few hours and bring them back inside. Repeat this each day, gradually increasing the amount of time they are outside and the degree of exposure to sun and wind. After a week or so, leave the transplants out overnight. If frost threatens, bring the seedlings indoors. Additional information on hardening off can be found at VCE Publication 426-001 titled “Plant Propagation From Seed.”
When transplanting seedlings in peat pots, gently tear off the top inch of the pot; the upper edges of the pot should be covered with garden soil to avoid wicking water away from the soil surface. Wicking may reduce the amount of moisture available to the roots of the plants.
The best time to transplant is on a cool cloudy day or late in the afternoon to avoid the hot sun. The plants then have time to acclimate themselves to their new environment. If the following day is hot and sunny, a row cover may be used to reduce the stress on the plant. A row cover may also be used to help protect young transplants from a late frost.
Swiss chard is a soft-textured, mild-flavored green. It will give repeated harvest from spring until fall because it does not tend to bolt or go to seed in hot weather as does spinach. There are multicolored varieties of Swiss chard: red, yellow, green; not only do they add color to the vegetable garden, they hold up well in flower arrangements. Give it a try this spring.
Don’t be in too big a hurry to add mulch to the vegetable garden. Delay organic mulching to allow the soil to warm deeply, but mulch before weeds become established.
Save The Date! Join us at the Piedmont Master Gardener Annual Spring Plant Sale on May 5, 10-2:00 pm at the IX Complex in Charlottesville.
Adapted from “Monthly Horticulture Tip Sheets,” Albemarle County Extension Office website, Horticulture & Natural Resources, albemarle.ext.vt.edu/programs/horticulture-natural-resources