University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

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PLANTING PEAS AND OTHER APRIL GARDENING TIPS

Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant

Sowing peas outdoors, planting potatoes in large pots or gro-bags, and starting summer bulbs like begonias indoors, are some of the gardening activities for this month.

Once the soil reaches 45 degrees and is dried out enough to dig, you can plant a first crop of peas. Choose a location in full sun and orient the rows north-south to take full advantage of the sunlight. Turn over the soil with a garden fork, or rototill if it's a new bed. Soak the seeds for a few hours or overnight (no longer or they may rot), and dust the seeds with an inoculant of nitrogen-fixing bacteria to help the roots take in more nitrogen. (You can find this inoculant online or at many full service garden centers.)  Put up a trellis so the plants can climb.  Plan to plant another crop when the soil warms to 55 degrees or more.
  
If you don't have room to plant potatoes in the garden, try planting them in tubs or large homemade pots. Using chicken wire or wire mesh, fashion a cylinder that's about 2 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter and place it over a tilled bed. Place a layer of straw along the inside walls of the cage, then add a 2- to 3-inch layer of rich garden soil and plant 4 potato tubers. Cover the tubers with more soil. As they grow, continue lining the inner edge of the cage with straw and covering the young sprouts with soil until you reach the top of the cage. Keep the plants well watered and harvest when the vines naturally die back.
   
Another method is to buy one of the relatively new black potato bags—a heavyweight fabric bag that is somewhat porous, and holds about 15 gallons of soil.  Fill it about a third full of soil mixed with compost, then gently press the seed potatoes in near the top.  If large potatoes, cut them in half or pieces such that each one has at least 2 or 3 healthy emerging shoots or “eyes”.  Then, once the plants begin to grow, add more soil until the bag is eventually about full.  Start your potatoes indoors in late April in a bright, somewhat warm location, then move them outside later in spring after frosts.  This way you can harvest potatoes by mid-summer.

Dahlias, cannas, and gladiolus are available now and you can get a head start by potting them up indoors. Plant them in large containers and keep them in a cool room, if possible, in a sunny window until planting time outside. Dahlias may need to be pinched back while still indoors to keep the plants from getting leggy. You'll get earlier blooms with this technique.

If your viburnums had problems with viburnum leaf beetles last summer, now is the time to inspect your plants closely for egg-laying sites on the bark.  Look for tiny, brownish black bumps on your twigs.  These are the coverings over holes in which the eggs are laid.  Prune these infested twigs as soon as possible because the eggs will be hatching soon and the young larvae will begin feeding on new foliage.
   
Check strawberry plants twice a week for signs of new growth. As soon as you see sprouts, remove the straw mulch and spread it in the rows to help control weeds. A topdressing of an inch or two of compost will give plants a boost.
   
Other gardening activities for this month include getting your soil tested if you haven’t in recent years (kits are available from your local Extension office), cutting back ornamental grasses (about 6 to 12 inches high), tuning up lawn mowers and power equipment, cleaning and sharpening garden tools, and buying a bouquet of daffodils or tulips.

(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach; gardeningwithcharlie.com).          

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