Welcome back to our “Year in the Organic Garden Series!” In March, we put the first wave of our cool season crops in the ground by directly sowing seeds and transplanting the previous month’s starts. If you missed the post, or want to refresh your memory, please take a look at March in the Organic Garden.
In April, the pace quickens and we can usually count on stretches of warm weather and reasonably consistent rains. We also tend to have frost in the first half of the month. Savvy gardeners won’t take the bait and rush the process. Patience wins in gardening!
This month we will cover our recommendations for what to sow, plant and start in April. Also, we will share tips on how to manage frosts, organic fertilization and watering. On with the show!
Additional waves of cool season crops can continue to be sown from seed in the first half of the month. This includes Radishes, Carrots, Beets, Lettuce, Dill & Cilantro. Your March sowings of these same crops should be coming along and new waves will extend your harvest season.
Planting from Starts
April is prime time to get your herb garden going. Now is a great time for thyme, rosemary, bee balm, lavender and more. It’s also time to plant many perennials and everyone’s favorite–Strawberries! Ample starts for these and many more plants will be available at good garden centers.
Spring bulbs provide bursts of color later in the season. Dahlias, Lilies and Begonias are some of our favorites! Add organic bone meal to your bulbs when planting to encourage healthy root development.
Start from Seed
April is also the time to start your warm season crops from seed. They will be ready to plant outdoors in 4-6 weeks when nightime temperatures are unlikely to fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Go ahead and start your cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, basil, pumpkins, melons, and warm season flowers early in the month.
In our USDA Zone 7 climate, frosts are more likely than not through April. Many cool season crops are frost resistant and don’t require intervention on you part (eg. Spinach and Kale). However, depending upon the degree of frost and the stage of your crops, it’s always best to cover tender crops during projected temperature drops below freezing or frost is called for. Row Covers are easy to use and can be removed during daytime to maximize sunshine uptake. Just watch the forecast and err on the side of caution to help make sure a blast of cold weather doesn’t undo all your hard work up to this point!
In April, you’ll need to begin to regularly fertilize your garden to get the best results. Generally, two week intervals are recommended to keep a steady stream of nutrients available. With so many fertilizers available, there are many options to accomplish this task. We will cover a few basics here to make the job easier, but please don’t hesitate to ask questions as well.
When evaluating a potential fertilizer, you need to first consider the N-P-K Ratios of the product. N stands for Nitrogen, P for Phosphorus and K for Potassium. These are the major nutrients that sustain plant life. “Shoots/Roots/Fruits” as a helpful way to understand the primary role of N/P/K for your plants. Fertilizer packages will show varying numbers for NPK content, indicating the dry weight percentage of each in the product. A balanced fertilizer will contain similar amounts of each while a targeted one will lean heavily one way or the other.
If you conducted a soil test earlier in the year, it will help you determine which fertilizer you can use to shore up deficiencies in your soil. If not, best to use a balanced fertilizer in most cases. Also, as the season progresses, the same plant will benefit from different fertilizer regimes. Think about Tomatoes. N and P are most important in the early stages of vegetative growth. However K will become more important as flowering and fruiting occurs. Also, a root vegetable is always going to need sufficient P to thrive.
One advantage of many organic fertilizers is that they also contain minor nutrients in addition to NPK. These can include calcium, magnesium, sulfur, copper and more. These trace elements contribute to healthy plants and come along for the ride in decomposed materials that make up organic fertilizers (eg. manures, seaweed, bone meal, fish meal). Many gardeners use a combination of blood meal and bone meal to create a balanced fertilizer that is organic and includes many essential key trace nutrients.
Finally, dry vs. wet fertilizers are really up to you. Liquid fertilizers are faster acting, but will need to be repeated more frequently. Dry fertilizers are slower-acting and require less frequent application. Many successful organic gardeners use a combination throughout the season.
Admittedly, all the options and considerations related to fertilization can be overwhelming. That’s when the community aspects of gardening come into focus…ask for help! Experienced gardeners will gladly share their advice and help keep you on the right path!
As April can have warm, dry spells, it’s a good time to cover the basics of watering. Some things to keep in mind:
- Less frequent, deeper waterings are better than daily watering to encourage deep roots to develop
- If you stick your finger in the soil two inches deep and it comes out dry, it’s time to water
- It’s better to water in the morning than the evening so that any splashing on your plants will dry during the day
- It’s better to water the soil than the plants. As much as possible, watering at the base of the plants keeps leaves dry and will minimize fungus and disease development
Remember though, Mother Nature also waters your garden too and she doesn’t always do so in the manner recommended above…don’t overthink it!
Looking Forward to May!
May is a month of transition. Cool season gardens and crops are either finished or slowing down and warm season crops take center stage! We will help you manage the transition and set your garden up for success in this important month.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this guide. We welcome your comments and questions. Happy organic gardening!
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