In the Vegetable Garden — April
After a long cold winter, April can be a “teaser” month. Some years April appears to have all four seasons rolled into one month; we can have days with 70-80º temperatures, followed by night temperatures dipping below freezing. And once in a blue moon, like in April 1971, we are even blessed with snow. Along with the roller coaster temperatures and more than enough rain to keep us out of the garden, April can be a trying month. It is a month when patience is truly a virtue. April is also the beginning of the busy season for the vegetable gardener.
According to VCE Publication 426-331 the average last killing frost in our area is May 10-May 15. Assuming May 15th as the last killing frost, I used the chart found in that publication to develop the following April planting schedule for our area. Note that the schedule covers both seed-sowing and transplants. 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|
|Chinese cabbage*||Brussels Sprouts*|
|Swiss Chard||Chinese cabbage*|
|Lettuce, Bibb||Swiss Chard|
|Onions (set)||Lettuce, Bibb|
|Peas, garden||Lettuce, leaf|
|April 19-25||April 26-May 2|
|Lettuce, leaf||Lettuce, Bibb|
|Onions (set)||Lettuce, leaf|
|Swiss Chard||Onions (set)|
|* Denotes Transplants|
|The suggested dates may vary in different parts of our region.
Adapted from “Vegetable Planting Guide and Recommended Planting Dates,” Va.Coop.Ext. Pub. 426-331.
There’s still time. Tomato, eggplant and pepper 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 doing the growing season. I also discovered a Sharpie marked “paint” at a local craft store that also holds up well through out 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.”
Feeling unsure about what varieties of vegetables to plant? VCE Publication 426-480 “Vegetables Recommended for Virginia,” provides a list of recommended varieties.
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 titled “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 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 multicolor 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 of 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.
Adopted from the Albemarle County Extension Office, “Monthly (April) Horticulture Tip Sheets”, http://offices.ext.vt.edu/albemarle/