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    Save the Date: Perennial Plant Society’s 30th Plant Sale is April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the new Expo 3 Building at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Here’s where you can find the newest varieties of perennials, shrubs, vines and annuals from local growers, along with long-time, never-fail favorites, ready for spring planting. Learn more at the PPS website.

     

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April garden tips & tasks

Here in Middle Tennessee (Zone 7a, where The Garden Bench calls home), April brings the garden into sharp focus. Where to begin? Here’s a list of suggestions, week by week, of tips and tasks for April in the garden.

Week 1

Flowering quince

Flowering quince

Prune forsythia and flowering quince soon after they finish blooming. Prune out about one-third of the branches by cutting out the oldest limbs as close to the ground as possible. Mulch around the shrubs to discourage weeds and to retain moisture.

It’s still too early to set out most vegetable transplants, but not too early to prepare the beds. Till the soil and work in organic matter. Cover with mulch until you are ready to plant.

Begin fertilizing roses after new foliage appears.

Keep your mower blade sharp, and when you mow, don’t cut too short. Set the mower so that it removes only about a third of the height of the grass.

The hummingbirds will arrive soon. Prepare a solution of one part sugar to four parts boiling water. Let it cool, then fill the hummingbird feeders. Red food coloring is not necessary.

Week 2

Average last frost date in Middle Tennessee is around mid-April. But don’t be fooled by fickle weather. It may still be too cool for some heat-loving plants, such as basil.

Easter lily

Easter lily

Begin planting ornamental grasses and perennials. Make sure they get regular water after planting.

Peonies tend to flop over in heavy rains, so go ahead and place supports around the shoots now. The growing foliage will cover the supports, and the plants will stay upright in the rain.

After spring-flowering bulbs finish flowering, allow the leaves to remain until they can be pulled easily from the ground. This allows time for them to store food for next year’s growth.

Plant your Easter lily in a sunny spot after the flowers fade. Do not place it in the same bed as other lilies, as it can transmit a disease to other plants.

Week 3

Begin setting out bedding plants. Water plants thoroughly about 12 hours before you plant them. Dig individual holes and place plants at the same depth they grew in their pots. For best performance, break apart and spread tightly wound masses of roots as you plant, and snip off old blossoms. Replace the soil around the roots and water the plants well. Mulch planting beds about in inch deep.

Parsley

Parsley

Plant your herb garden: rosemary, thyme, mint, lavender, oregano, parsley and other herbs can go in the garden now. Just to be on the safe side, save tender basil to plant later in the month.

Set out marigolds, cosmos, petunias, begonias and other annual flowers. Plant coleus for color in shady spots, in containers or in the ground.

Sow vegetable seeds and keep them watered, but not soggy, until they germinate. The general rule is about an inch of water a week. Get out the rain gauge!

Set out tomato transplants. Set them deeply in the soil so that only the top few leaves are showing. Plant basil, or set out basil transplants.

Week 4

Newly planted shrubs need regular, thorough watering to help establish their root systems. Soaker hoses are an efficient way to water.

Geraniums

Geraniums

Plant geraniums in containers or in the ground. They prefer morning sun and afternoon shade.

Pluck young weeds out of the garden as soon as they emerge. It’s easier to keep them out if you get them while they’re small.

If you MUST prune azaleas, do it shortly after they finish blooming. They bloom on the previous year’s growth, so to prune later risks cutting off next years flowers.

Don’t forget about your houseplants. As the weather gets warmer, they need water more frequently. If you have houseplants that spend the summer outdoors, place them in a shady, protected area.

Get out and meet other gardeners this month! Check out the calendar Events calendar at left, and in my newspaper column at Tennessean.com.

 

Kale for cool-season gardens – and a seed giveaway!

Kale 'Wild Garden Frills'

Kale ‘Wild Garden Frills’

I’ve never grown kale, but I want to try it in my kitchen garden this year. Is it better to start with seeds or transplants? When is the best time to plant it?

'Darkibor' kale

‘Darkibor’ kale

Kale has become a culinary star for its flavor and its reputation as a nutrient-dense superfood. Fortunately, it’s a vegetable that’s easy to grow. It’s also one of those early-season garden favorites that thrives in cooler weather, so you can plan to begin planting it in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked (in Middle Tennessee — USDA Hardiness Zone 7a, where The Garden Bench calls home — that could be late February or early March). It’s even better as a fall crop. Plant it again in late summer to grow and harvest into winter.

You can plant transplants, but it’s just as easy to sow seed directly in the prepared garden bed. Like most vegetables, kale grows best in full sun. Plant it in loamy soil that you may amend with high-nitrogen fertilizer. Sow in rows, or broadcast the seed over the area, spacing the seeds an inch or two apart. Cover with about ¼ inch of soil and keep the soil moist as the seed germinates. The seed company Renee’s Garden provides a video about planting kale that you can watch here. You can also grow kale in containers.

Portuguese 'Tronchuda Beira' kale.

Portuguese ‘Tronchuda Beira’ kale.

Thin seedlings as they begin to sprout; you can use the small, tender leaves in salads. Harvest by cutting the outside leaves of a plant as they get large enough to use; the crown of the plant will continue to grow.

Kale is a member of the same family as cabbage, broccoli and other Brassicas, and as such may need protection from cabbage worms and cabbage loopers. Row covers can keep adult insects from laying eggs on the plants as they grow.

There are several varieties of kale – smooth and curly leaf types, large, sturdy leaves and smaller, tender leaves, dark green, light green and purple-green varieties. (Ornamental kale, usually sold in fall to enhance landscapes with its frilly, brightly colored leaves, is edible but not as tasty as the leaves grown for culinary use.) There are dwarf varieties suitable for small plots and containers.

Seed giveaway – grow kale!

'Tuscan Baby Leaf' kale.

‘Tuscan Baby Leaf’ kale.

Growers at the seed company Renee’s Garden are introducing Tuscan Baby Leaf kale for 2015, a milder, more tender kale that is good to use for salads and stirfry. Owner Renee Shepherd has offered two packets of the seeds for readers of The Garden Bench.

Leave a comment at the end of this post about your favorite ways to use kale (in stirfry? Salads? Soup? Smoothies?), or just say “I want to grow kale!”). Respond by 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27, 2015 and your name will go into a drawing to win a packet of Tuscan Baby Leaf kale seeds, just in time for spring planting.