Published in the Toronto Star, April 23, 2016
It’s time to get growing. As you contemplate your options in the yard, allow me to help you get organised. It is always more effective to approach a project with a plan.
This is one of my now famous ‘fridge’ stories. Read it, post it. Reading electronically? Save it.
- Veggies. It might surprise you that this is an excellent time of year to start a vegetable garden. Don’t wait until the May 24 weekend to get started. By then you will have missed the best time to sow many of your favourite crops including: peas, carrots, onions, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and garlic (though fall is better for garlic).
With cool April temperatures, this is a great time of year to prepare the soil of your garden by spreading 3 to 4 cm of Bio Max manure (or reliably high-quality compost). You can turn this under the soil or plant right in it.
- Start from seed indoors. Sow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, leeks, zinnias, asters and the like now. With 5 to 6 weeks until our last frost date, your timing will be perfect. Come late May/early June, you will be ready to plant in warm soil and your transplants will take off. You will save a small fortune too, as you won’t buy transplants at your garden retailer.
Use a quality seed starting mix (I use 10 parts Pro Mix with one part worm castings. Magic!) All seedlings need plenty of light to grow properly: sunlight or fluorescent lights work best.
- Lawn. My recipe for the best lawn on the block:
- Rake lightly with a fan rake to remove winter debris.
- Fertilize with a quality lawn food. One which contains slow release nitrogen and chelated iron. The nitrogen for a long lasting green colour and the iron for the deepest possible green.
- Where weeds occur or thin spots exist, spread lawn soil 4 cm thick and rake smooth. Broadcast quality, Canadian grass seed at the rate of one kg per 100 sq. meters. Rake this smooth (again), step on it with flat soled shoes and water until germination. Keep reasonably well watered until new roots are established (about 4 to 6 weeks). Look for the new Pro Mix Ultimate Condition grass seed, using mycoactive technology. It germinates in temperatures as low as 4 degrees C.
- When you are ready to cut your lawn, set your mower at 6 to 8 cm high. Any lower allows weeds to establish and weakens your lawn. Use a mulching mower.
- Plant trees, shrubs, evergreens and roses. All of the ‘winter hardy’ stock that you find at garden retailers this time of year can be planted in the garden, unless it has already flushed new, soft growth: an indication that it was forced in a greenhouse and is now frost-tender. All woody plants that are dormant at the time you purchase them are ready to plant this weekend.
- Dig and divide. This is a great time of year to dig up perennials and divide them into sections to replant around your yard or give away to friends and neighbours. Hosta, monarda, daylilies: you name it.
- Soil prep. Whatever you plant, be sure you prepare the soil well before you place your newly acquired plants in the ground. 90% of your success depends on it. If you are making a new garden in clay-based soil (common in Southern Ontario) be sure to remove existing soil 30 to 40 cm deep. Replace it with triple mix, mounded 10 cm higher than the current grade, as the new soil will settle. If you are planting in an existing bed, add 4 to 5 cm of new, quality soil and either turn it under or let earthworms do it for you.
Note that ‘quality’ soil is the key. Don’t use ‘black earth’ (basically peat-muck) or cheap manures which are often not manure at all. Producers have been known to cut corners in production to keep costs low. The results are never good. Quality soil and compost is alive with nutrients, is safe (teaming with beneficial bacteria) and is high octane fuel for everything that grows. Look for composted manure that is certified by the Composting Quality Alliance. I spread 4 cm of well-composted manure over my entire garden each spring. Yes, I use over 40 yards of the stuff.
I also use worm castings whenever I plant: one part to 10 parts soil. Earthworm castings are nitrogen rich and teaming with a concentration of nutrients and mycorrhiza. I can see the difference in plant performance when I use worm castings.
And finally, after you have returned your garden furniture to its summertime place, be sure to sit on it. Enjoy the bird song (put out feeders and nesting boxes), the wind and the sunshine. It may not have been the longest, coldest winter on record but you have none the less earned a break from the indoors.