It’s spring! “March Madness” means sowing dozens of seeds each weekend for me. Hopefully yours are doing well as we turn the calendar to April. April just so happens to be National Garden Month!
Let’s check in on those seeds we’ve started.
A sprinkle of seeds became a clump of green – hooray! Now what? It’s time for a little “survival of the fittest” and to give each seedling enough room to spread its roots and stretch its leaves.
Thinning is a necessary, perhaps difficult, step. Eliminate any “runts” (it’s hard, I know! Those poor, young, innocent things you’ve cared for!) and gently tease apart and separate the larger ones. Try to lift a seedling only by its leaves – stems are tender and can snap easily, from which your plant won’t recover.
If you have an overabundance and don’t feel you need to separate them out into individual cells, you can snip off tiny seedlings at soil level, leaving only the keepers. The roots left behind will become compost.
Transplanting seedlings from a small soil block or container into a larger one is often called “potting on” or “potting up.” Make sure to keep transplanted seedlings moist, but not soggy. Their roots will inevitably be damaged slightly in this process, so they can only absorb a small amount of water at a time. If you’ve used peat pots, be sure to bury the pot completely or cut off the upper edge. If left exposed, the pot can wick moisture up out of the soil.
When it comes to sowing seeds outdoors, care and patience are necessary. Make sure to read your seed packet, and even do a little research online if it’s not clear. Some seeds do well (even better) if exposed to frosts and cold temperatures. These include bachelor button, calendula, poppies, and larkspur. Those that need warmer soils, though, may be stuck waiting if spring temperatures turn cold, and be at risk of rotting.
In addition to the seeds, there’s a whole garden for them to go into!
Around the Garden
You’ve ordered all the seeds you’ll need (and then some!). So, what can you do while you walk through the garden, listening to the birds singing, and waiting for mother nature to warm things up? My daffodils and tulips are just leaves a few inches tall. It’s too early for buds yet, so it’s too early to do much planting. Here are some tasks to keep you occupied:
- Prepare your seed beds. If weeds start to sprout, it will be easier to clear them out without risk of disturbing those seeds you’re waiting to sow. It’s easier to pull weeds (and make sure you get the roots!) when the ground is soft and moist after a gentle rain.
- Organize your garden supplies. Make sure you’ve got gloves ready to go and your pots and tools are clean. If you don’t have your own compost, you can stock up on some – potting soil, too.
- As the ground thaws, check your perennials to see whether they have been lifted, or heaved, by winter frosts. If they have, gently settle them back in (or replant them if needed), and topdress with a little more soil to keep roots protected.
- Some of your perennials may be putting out new growth. If you didn’t clear things away in fall (I usually leave everything for the winter. Sometimes it helps me remember where things are!) you can start to cut back the dry, dead stalks and leaves and start this year’s compost pile. Some stems might break away easily in your hand; others will require snips. Don’t clear away too much around the base of the plant, though, until you’re sure the cold nights have passed. A little extra mulch will protect tender new shoots.
- Pot up some cool-weather color. Pansies flower best while the weather is still cool, and tolerate frosts well. Many garden centers also have potted tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and hyacinths available.
Tips for Spring Bulbs
As the weather begins to warm and your daffodils and tulips bloom, you can cut the flowers for a bouquet, but make sure to leave most of the leaves behind. The leaves will continue to feed the bulb before they naturally die back. If you’d prefer a tidier look as this happens, you may have seen others braiding daffodil leaves. You can do that safely without risk to the bulb or your future flowers. When it’s time, I also plant shallow-rooted annuals among my bulbs. As they grow, they’ll disguise the yellowing foliage.
If you do cut some daffodils for a bouquet, be cautious if placing them in an arrangement with other blooms. Daffodil stems release a saplike substance that can harm other flowers. After cutting them, place them in a vase of water on their own for an hour or two. Discard that water and place the daffodils with the other flowers. You’ll have to repeat the separation if you cut the stems again.
Remember: April shower bring May flowers! Happy Spring!