Compiled by Lucretia Schanfarber
Spring is officially here. We are only two weeks into it but, oh my goodness, what a difference two weeks can make. This evening we ate our first dinner salad made entirely with fresh greens from the garden – wild arugula, red Russian kale, giant mustard greens, mache, chickweed, chives and a bunch garlic greens tossed with a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and maple syrup. Simple, yet delish.
Signs of Spring Always Delight & Enchant
The hummingbirds are already swarming the flowering currant. The rhubarb is pushing itself out of the ground so quickly I can almost see it happening. The early potatoes are about an inch up and the snow peas continue to climb higher despite my feeble attempts to get them to latch on to the fence wire. The daffodils are starting to look ragged but the tulips are promising to pop open any minute.
Timely Advice from West Coast Seeds: Embrace Spring with a Healthy Dose of Caution
Our friends at West Coast Seeds have good advice based on many years of experience. Here’s what they have to say about the timing of planting seeds:
Finally it’s April and we are past the last average frost date in the BC Lower Mainland. Because this date is an average, it means that we may still get frost as late as mid-April, so embrace spring with caution.
It’s All About the Temperature of Your Soil
The soil is not yet warm at this time of year, and that is a very important detail to remember. If you plant beet seeds in cold soil, for instance, they may not develop large roots. Seeds like corn and beans may simply rot in the ground if the soil is too cold.
The Muddy Boot Test
If you can walk across your garden bed without huge clumps of mud sticking to your boots, it’s planting time.
But some seeds prefer cooler soil!
Seeds, like those of the Brassica group, don’t need warm soil to germinate. Here’s a list of Brassicas that you can direct sow now:
- Mustard – My giant red mustard self-seeds and we have spicy leaves for salad by mid March every year.
- Pak choi & Choi sum (Asian greens)
Brassicas are SuperFoods! Here’s why brassicas are so good for our health:
- Antioxidant activity that fights against free radicals
- Prevent oxidative stress
- Induce detoxification enzymes
- Stimulate immune system
- Decrease the risk of cancers
- Inhibit malignant transformation & carcinogenic mutations
- Reduce proliferation of cancer cells
Brassicas are good sources of:
- Vitamins C
- Vitamin E
- Carotenoids (pre-cursors of Vitamin A/retinol)
- Antioxidant enzymes such as catalase, superoxide dismutase (SOD) & peroxidase,
- Sulfur-organic compounds
- Indoles & isothiocyanates
Remember: Don’t plant the whole seed packet!
A good rule of thumb is to plant short rows of seeds, and save some to plant two or three weeks later, and again two or three weeks after that. It is way easier to have your crops mature over a period of several weeks than it is to suddenly have everything come at once.
Sow These Seeds Indoors in April:
- Agastache (before April 15th)
- Lobelia (before April 15th)
- Melons (in the last two weeks of April)
- Peppers (before April 10th)
- Tomatoes (before April 15th)
- Red Ursa Kale Seeds
Direct Sow These Veggie, Herb & Flower Seeds in April:
- Broad Beans
- Beets (after the 15th, or later)
- California Poppies
- Chives (after the 15th)
- Corn Salad
- Endive & Radicchio
- Gaillardia (after the 15th)
- Iberis (after the 15th)
- Kale & Collards
- Lemon Balm
- Lovage (mid-April)
- Lupins (before the 15th)
- Morning Glory
- Mustard Greens
- Nasturtiums (after the 7th)
- Onions (storage onions & scallions)
- Pac Choi & Choi Sum
- Parsley (after the 15th)
- Sunflowers (after the 15th)
- Sweet Peas
- Swiss Chard (after the 15th)
Thank you, West Coast Seeds for so much great info!
Check out this yummy, heat-tolerant Bloomsdale Spinach from Salt Spring Seeds
Here is what Dan Jason says about this variety, Abundant Bloomsdale (Spinacea oleracea) is very vigorous, slow-bolting variety, especially well-suited to the Pacific Northwest. Deeply savoyed leaves and upright stems. Developed in collaboration with the Organic Seed Alliance. Direct sow in spring or autumn. One teaspoon = 200 seeds!
Tips from the Campbell River Garden Centre: Get Blooming!
Our Friends Shauna & Nigel at Campbell River Garden Centre have lots of April tips to share on their website:
- Plant a tub with pansies, bulbs, perennials and primroses to brighten your front door. (Last week I bought two flats of violas from Marie at On Root Garden Centre in Q-Cove. I planted a few in with all my potted deck plants. The effect was instantly cheery and beautiful.)
- Tender annuals should not go outside until after Mother’s Day)
Tips for Veggie Gardens
- Apply manure or compost to rhubarb, strawberries, roses and veggie beds.
- Avoid adding manure where potatoes will be planted; it can cause scab.
- Turn in Fall Rye or other cover crops that you added to your veggie gardens in fall.
About those Flower Bulbs? Don’t Trim Them Yet! Nigel & Shauna say to “Hold Off” trimming down bulbs such as tulips and daffodils until the foliage is yellowing as this process is feeding the bulb for next Spring
Spring Pruning Tips
- Prune summer blooming clematis back to about 3′.
- Spring blooming varieties of clematis should be pruned, if required, after they flower as you would cut off the buds if you pruned these now.
- Prune roses when the daffodils begin to bloom (usually early to mid March).
- Prune Spring blooming shrubs (if needed) such as forsythia, magnolia and lilac after flowering.
- Purchase summer flowering bulbs, roots, and tubers such as dahlias, lilies, hostas, glads and plant as packages recommend.
- Generally the winter hardy types like lilies and hostas are planted after March 1st and non-winter hardy types like dahlias and glads are planted after April 1st.
- Begonias are started indoors from February on but do not get transplanted outdoors until after Mother’s Day (same as most annuals).
Thank you, Nigel & Shauna. See you soon!
About Epsom Salts & Roses
Many rose growers are strong advocates for using Epsom salts. They claim it:
- Makes the foliage greener & more lush
- Encourages the growth of more canes & roses
The recommendation for applying Epsom salt to rose bushes is to either:
- mix ½ cup of Epsom salts into the soil around the rose bush and water well
- dissolve ½ cup of the salts in water and use to water the soil around rose bush.
Do this in the spring, just as the buds are beginning to open.
For ongoing rose care, mix 1 tbsp of Epsom salts per gallon of water and apply as a foliar spray. You may need several gallons of water for larger rose bushes and climbers.
CAUTION: Epsom salts sprayed on leaves can cause leaf scorch. Do not over apply and do not spray on hot, sunny days.
Weed. Weed. Weed.
Weed gardens before the weeds have a chance to flower and go to seed.
Remember: Many “weeds” have culinary & medicinal properties including:
- Stinging Nettles
- Miner’s Lettuce
Learn What Weeds Reveal About Our Gardens & Soil Here.
Feed. Feed. Feed.
Add compost or composted manure to your beds now.
Alfalfa Pellets are My Favourite “Green Manure”
I’m a big fan of organic alfalfa pellets. Here are my top 10 reasons why:
- Condition all soil types
- Enhance soil’s fertility
- Feed friendly microbes & earthworms in soil
- Improve chlorophyll content of plants
- Stimulate growth of plants
- Support healthy root development
- Used as a mulch, they control weeds in your garden
- Support plant propagation & stimulates new shoot growth
- Balance soil’s pH
- Improve drought resistance
Garden Advice from The Garden Doctor, Linda Gilkeson
Here are some of the highlights of her most recent newsletter dated March 22:
Digging Roots ~ Planting Early (or Not)
Spring certainly went sproing into nearly summer-like weather this week! Given how long it took the snow to melt from my yard I thought the soil would stay cold longer than usual, meaning no rush to dig up overwintered root crops.
At the rate the soil is now warming, however, carrots, beets and other roots should be dug up by the end of March/early April as usual. If left in the garden, they start to grow, using up the sugars stored in their roots to produce a flower stalk. The roots lose flavour and crispness and grow lots of strange little side roots.
Don’t be too hasty in clearing out the rest of the garden right now, though. Really battered plants can still grow a new crop and even Brussels sprouts stalks that have already been picked and have no leaves left usually grow tasty new shoots all along the stem.
After 6 weeks under heavy snow my lettuce was flatter than I have ever seen it, but has since popped up and is growing fine. Ditto for chard, spinach, kale, cauliflower and broccoli that looked awfully crushed when the snows first receded.
Frost Free Dates?
This week’s weather emphasized the futility of trying to plant based on average last frost free date. With our varied geography, frost patterns can be quite different from one garden to the next depending on elevation and how close you are to large bodies of water. At higher elevations this week the nights have stayed very warm for the time of year due to temperature inversions, while valley gardens a short distance away have continued to have frost at night.
Since average last frost dates are calculated from long term weather records, which are mostly recorded at airports, they don’t mean much unless you live at the airport. Past records don’t mean much now, anyway, with weather becoming increasingly variable due to the changing climate. What was the coldest February on record in our region was followed just a few weeks later with record setting high temperatures….so no matter when you plant this spring, be prepared to cover small plants with plastic, cloches or floating row covers if it gets cold and be ready to shade them if it gets hot.
If you are starting your own seedlings under grow lights or in a greenhouse, try to set the small plants outdoors in the sun for at least a few hours on these warm days. They will grow better and with early exposure to sunlight will be used to the sun and won’t get sunburned when they are transplanted. Of course, you still have to bring them inside when it cools off in the afternoon as it is much too cold for them at night right now. This unusually sunny weather for March means it can get really hot in greenhouses, tunnels, coldframes and cloches, so keep on top of opening vents or removing covers as needed.
These are big and fat right now (nearly the size of my little finger) and will actively chomp pretty much anything in the garden for another month or so until they pupate. They are one of the reasons I don’t try to set things out too early (that, and the fact that there is already so much growing, there is really no rush…). To catch them in the act, go out after dark with a flashlight and look for them on leaves (they hide in the soil during the day).
What to do now
If you just have to do something in the garden…
- Rake back mulches from beds you will be planting first to let the soil warm up and dry out.
- Sprinkle a little of the iron phosphate slug bait over the soil surface to control slugs before your tender seedlings are set out.
- Start pea seeds indoors in trays of vermiculite or perlite and grow them to several inches in height; by that time the soil should be well warmed up and there will be fewer cutworms around.
- Arrange seed potatoes along a sunny windowsill for a few weeks to develop strong dark green sprouts before planting them out (this is called ‘chitting’).
If your garden is really warm and you want to plant something
Go for annuals, such as:
- Chinese cabbage & other annual greens in the cabbage/mustard family
CAUTION: Planting out biennial vegetables this early (chard, kale, onions, leeks, cabbage) can result in a crop failure if there is a cold chill later in the spring that causes them to bolt prematurely (send up flower stalks) in mid-summer.
Thank you, Linda. Love your practical info & relaxed style of gardening!
Flowers that Attract Hummingbirds
The two most common hummingbird species in British Columbia are:
Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) – a migratory species that usually appears in the Lower Mainland around the middle of March, and stays throughout the summer. These birds migrate as far north as Alaska, and then take their winter months primarily in Mexico.
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) – found mainly along coastal North America from Alaska in the north down to Baja California. These birds often stay in one area all year round, and they can be quite territorial.
Did You Know that Hummingbirds…
- Have a poor sense of smell
- Select their food sources based on colour & and quality of the available nectar
- Develop routes from food source to food source known as “trap-lines”
- Visit well-planted hummingbird gardens several times a day
- Aggressively defend a rich food source from others
- Feed from flowers or feeders of any colour once they establish that it’s a good food source
- Look for the shape of the flower and the abundance and sweetness of its nectar.
Hummers tend to be most attracted to these flowering plants (listed alphabetically):
- Begonia (Begonia spp.)
- Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra spp.)
- Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)
- Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
- Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)
- Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguine)
- Crocosmia (Crocosmia spp.)
- Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
- Fuchsia (Fuchsia spp.)
- Geranium (Pelargonium spp.)
- Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.)
Impatiens (Impatiens spp.)
- Lantana (Lanta camara)
- Larkspur (Delphinium spp.)
- Licorice Mint (Agastache rugosa)
- Lupins (Lupinus polyphyllus)
- Morning Glory (Ipomoea tricolor)
- Penstemen (Penstemen spp.)
- Petunia (Petunia spp.)
- Sage (Salvia officinalis) & other Salvia species
- Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus)
- Tobacco (Nicotiana alata)
- Weigela (Weiglea spp.)
- Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Important Note: In planning a hummingbird garden, it’s good to include a really diverse mix of flowers — annuals as well as perennials, shrubs as well as vines. This will give the birds a wider variety of feeding options over a longer period in the year.
Enjoy your gardens & pray for rain.
What do you do in the garden at this time of year? Please share your tips by replying below. We would love to hear from you! (Please note, it may take a few hours before your comment is posted)