John Steinbeck wrote of April in his 1932 novel The Pastures of Heaven, “It was the loveliest season of the year, lupins and shooting star, gallitos, and wild violets smoldered with color in the new, short grass on the hillsides. The oaks had put on new leaves as shiny and clean as washed holly.”
April is the first month of spring and Earth Day falls on April 22 each year. This year is the 45th anniversary of the Earth Day celebration. Plant a tree on Earth Day.
Annuals: Annuals can be planted directly in the garden now. Amend your planting beds by adding aged compost or planting mix from the garden center. Be sure to follow seed packet planting directions. As the weather warms, add mulch to planting beds – 2 to 3 inches of aged compost will do – to keep down weeds and conserve soil moisture.
Perennials: There will be a very good selection of perennials in nurseries and garden centers now. Keep summer bloomers evenly moist. Add a 2-inch layer of mulch – aged-compost will do – around plants; be careful to leave some space away from the main stem. Divide and transplant fall-blooming perennials now, such as Shasta daisies. Clean weeds and grasses from perennial beds; hand weeding is the greenest course.
Bulbs: As spring bulbs finish their blooming, continue to water until the foliage has yellowed; don’t cut away fading foliage until it has completely died back – the bulbs are busy storing nutrients now for growth next season. After the last frost, plant dahlias. Plant gladiolus corms every ten days now through May; this will give you a succession of blooms this summer. Add lots of aged compost to planting beds to improve drainage and prevent bulb rot.
Vines: Make sure you have trimmed away dead or broken vining branches to give new growth free reign. Use garden ties or horticultural tape – not wires – to support new vine growth on fences, trellises, and arbors. Deadhead spent flowers to divert growing energy back to plant and not into seed heads.
Shrubs: Plant new shrubs when the soil has warmed to 55°F and is not wet. New plantings should go into holes that are 3 to 4 times greater than the root ball. Amend the native soil with humus-rich soil or mulch – such as aged compost. Use compost tea to get newly planted shrubs off to a strong start. (Compost and manure tea is easy to make – fill an old sock with compost or aged manure and soak it in a tub of water until it turns the color of tea, then hand water your plants.)
Trees: When the season is dry, deep soak trees every 10 days during the growing season. Mulch around trees with aged compost; irrigation and rain will carry humus into the soil adding nutrients and improving drainage. Staked trees should be tied with flexible rubber garden ties to avoid cutting into the trees; stakes should be placed one foot away from the trunk. Plant new trees into holes 3 to 4 times greater than the root ball; amend native soil with aged compost when planting.
Vegetables and herbs: Warm-season vegetables and herbs can be transplanted into the garden or started from seed in the garden once all danger of frost is past. Warm-season vegetable starts will be in garden centers now – tomatoes, melons, corn, pumpkins, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplant. To give starts and emerging seedlings a boost, feed with water-soluble organic fertilizer once a week – but dilute the recommended dose by half for young plants. Early in the season is the time to divide and tip-prune perennial herbs such as mint and chives.
Fruits and berries: For full-size fruit at harvest, cull small fruit now. Allow 4 to 5 inches between fruits; simply pinch away fruits that crowd one another when they are about the size of a marble. Organic controls to keep down diseases and insects include pheromone traps, Spinosad, and canola-based horticultural oils. Use bird netting or reflective ribbon to protect trees from marauders.
Garden maintenance: Use a pre-emergent to stop weed seed from germinating in planting beds, but don’t use a pre-emergent if you are planting seed. Release beneficial insects into the garden – ladybugs, lacewings, praying mantis, predatory mites and wasps – to keep down insect pests. Get rid of ants by using a bait that worker ants will take back to the nest to kill the queen and the colony. Keep an eye out for aphids; wash them away with a strong stream of water before they become established.
Native Plants: Scores of wildflowers are in bloom across the state this month. In the Sonoma Valley, look for checkerbloom, fairy lanterns, shooting stars, blue dicks, and California buttercups. For a helpful guide to wild flowers in our region, pick up a copy of Bill Krumbein’s “What’s Blooming this Month” published by The Valley of the Moon Natural History Association.
Nature Alerts: Visit the Audubon Canyon Ranch on the Bolinas Lagoon this month to see nesting blue herons and common egrets. Harbor seals will be pupping this month; see large congregations of harbor seals at Goat Rock Beach, off of Highway 1 about 10 miles north of Bodega Bay and one mile south of Jenner. Gopher snakes, garter snakes, and rattlesnakes will emerge during the warm days of spring; look for them in boulder fields and on sunny slopes and grasslands in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.
Kenwood Weather Averages:
Average High 70°F, Average Low 45°F, Mean 58°F; Average Precipitation 1.82 inches. Record High 98°F (1981), Record Low 28°F (1936).
Sunrise and Sunset: Sunrise on the 1st 6:56 a.m., Sunset on the 1st 7:32 p.m.; Sunrise on the 30th 6:15 a.m., Sunset on the 28th 8 p.m.
Moon: Full on April 4; Last quarter/waning on April 11; New on April 18; First quarter/waxing on April 25.
Steve Albert is an author and California Certified Nursery Professional who lives in Kenwood. You can follow his gardening and cooking blog at harvesttotable.com.