My Garden Diary - April 2006

April 30 - Sunday
Today we mulched the south kitchen garden with black plastic film, holding it down with rocks and cut-up wire coat hangers.  Yes, I use black plastic.  I buy it cheap at the hardware store and use it for an average of two years.  It's not ideal from an environmental standpoint, but it keeps the weeds down and the soil moist and warm.  Then came my annual act of faith.  I planted out 3 tomato plants ('Glacier') in a cloche. If the night temperatures stay in the upper thirties or higher, these plants will have a month's head start on the others.  On the other hand, if we get a really hard frost, which is always possible here through the end of May, I could lose them.  It's worth the risk.

April 29 - Saturday
We took the morning off and went birding with our local bird club.  The warblers and vireos are starting to arrive.  There are lots of wild flowers in the woods.  At a friend's house, we found some huge purple nodding trilliums.  In our own woods the Celandine poppies have spread far and wide and are a blaze of yellow now.  They look great with the Virginia Bluebells, which are also now in full bloom.  We also have buds on our May apples.

April 28 - Friday
Today we moved two Sargent crab apples (Malus sargenti) from the tree nursery to the front yard where we had two wild cherry trees taken down last month.  For small trees, they were really deep rooted.  I hope I left enough roots for them to survive.  We pruned them up to reduce the transplant stress. 

April 27 - Thursday
A busy day working on planning the next Master Gardener class, which will begin in January, 2007.  We met at Wisteriahurst in Holyoke.  The wisteria there are in bud and will probably bloom early this year.  The gardens there are beginning to take shape under the guidance of John Hurley.  After years of neglect, it's great to see them starting to look the way the Skinners saw them.

April 26 - Wednesday
Cool and sunny today.  Spent the morning at Arbor Day celebrations at two local grammar schools.  The fifth grade kids sing and read poetry, and the local politicians give speeches.  Then the Conservation Commission presents a tree to each school.  We've been doing this since 1969, and each school now has quite an arboretum going.  This year we presented my tulip tree to one school and a corkscrew willow a.k.a. Hankow willow (Salix matsudana) 'Golden Curls', to the other.  Supposedly the willow is a good butterfly plant.  In the afternoon we got the last of the logs from our tree removal moved to the wood pile and continued weeding and clearing beds.  I also started the annual chore of dividing Hosta.  Most of my Hosta were acquired from garden club sales, so I have no idea of the cultivar names, but there are some interesting forms.  I once asked a Hosta expert how to identify cultivars and was told that it's practically impossible, so I just enjoy them.

April 25 - Tuesday
Today I weeded after the rain.  I'm trying to catch the weed seedlings before they put down roots.  We'll see if it works.  I also dug up a tulip tree sapling to donate to a local grammar school for Arbor Day, tomorrow.  I got this tree as a 6-inch bare root stick at the 2001 Master Gardener Symposium and stuck it out back in my grandly styled 'tree nursery'.  This is actually a ten-by-5 foot bed behind my raspberries.  Anyway, the tree is now 8 feet tall and about an inch in diameter.  I got a good bit of root ball with it and plunked it into a bushel basket, covered the roots with soil and delivered it to the school.  They were thrilled.

April 24 - Monday
Today it is cloudy and cool.  Mostly 40's all day, but since I had to go to work it doesn't matter much.  Looking around the gardens in the evening, I note that the grass is rapidly greening up - mowing time coming!  Also the weeds are sprouting really well.  That makes work for later in the week.  I've seen deer in the yard, but so far they seem to be leaving the hostas and tulips alone.  On the next dry day I'll have to go out and hit them with a fresh application of garlic spray.  It's just garlic, water and oil mixed up in a blender, but it seems to help - so far at least.

April 23 - Sunday
More rain and cool today.  My tomato seedlings under lights are up and I took the cover off of the flats.  Everything outside looks like it is enjoying the rain.  Tomorrow all the weeds will be up.  Ah spring!

April 22 - Saturday
Finally, RAIN!  It's cool, but so far the rain has been steady but light, just right for getting the ground thoroughly wetted.  There is not much I can do outside today, but I did direct seed bachelor buttons and alyssum when the rain started.  I also picked up a six-pack of 'Lemon Gem' marigolds in a fit of optimism.  I'm going to put them in the kitchen garden and pretend that we won't get any more frosts.

April 21 - Friday
Another beautiful day.  There have been so many of these that I have had to start watering.  I am hoping that the forecast is correct and we will get rain tomorrow - sorry about that all you weekend gardeners.  Yesterday, I forgot and left a jade tree in the greenhouse with the door closed.  It got sunburned and I had to trim it back sharply. I think it will survive though.  Today we edged beds and weeded.  We like to believe that we are making progress against the pachysandra.  We also slashed back the ferns and goldenrod that form the backdrop of our 'south bed' but were threatening to take over the more delicate perennials in the front of the bed.

April 20 - Thursday
I went the my garden club meeting today and heard Larry Lirot talk about his favorite flowers.  He is always inspiring.  Then I went home and divided a yucca filimentosa, getting a total of 4 plants so I can now use them for repeating structure in the landscape.

April 19 - Wednesday
Weeding beds today.  The first purple trillium is blooming and the bloodroot is past.  Twinleaf (Jeffersonia) is blooming.  So are the flowering quince, azalea and Bradford pears.  My dwarf seckel pears are in bud, as is my apple tree. 

April 18 - Tuesday
Spent the morning at Wisteriahurst doing a workshop on soil structure for a group of girl scouts.  It's good to see kids getting interested in gardening.  We ran 'soil races', pouring water through cups of rocks, sand, clay, compost, and good soil to demonstrate drainage rates and water retention. 

April 16 - Easter Sunday
Happy Easter!  It's a beautiful day.  I planted out some more pansies ('Queen Victoria Mix' and 'Trimardeau Mix') and direct seeded the leftover pansy seed today.   I started my main crop tomatoes in flats under lights today as well.  I am planting 'Better Boy', 'Viva Italia', 'Brandywine', and an unnamed heart shaped heirloom that a friend gave me.  These will get planted out on Memorial Day.  I also started a few cucumber plants and some Nasturiums, also in flats under lights.  Outside the Virginia Bluebells are starting to bloom, my twin-flower (Jeffersonia) is up with a bud, the downy yellow violets are starting to bloom and there is a bud on one of the Celandine poppies.  As we get the chance, we're dividing perennials now, and putting a few aside in pots for plant sales and swaps.  The best thing about spring is each day is different, with something new blooming or popping out the ground (May Apple!) just as something else is fading. 

April 15 - Saturday
Today we finished preparing the kitchen gardens, giving the beds a final shaping, adding lime and a base dose of 10-10-10 fertilizer.  Then we laid out the soaker hoses and checked them for leaks.  They all look good.  We then planted out the pansies I started from seed.  In the herb garden, we cut out half of the oregano and half of the lemon balm.  Both are aggressive spreaders, and the unwanted material will go to the garden club plant sale.  Today was also the day to move the rosemary plants outside.  Two out of three of them survived the winter. 

April 14 - Friday
Planted out some lettuce plants, a new thyme plant, and some English Primrose today.  The daffodils are still in their full glory, and as usual, the goldfinches are turning yellow at the same time.  I'm starting a new partly shaded bed where I took out a thicket of Common Buckthorn (an invasive), and that's where the primroses went, one white and two yellow.   I also ordered a Corkscrew Willow for the Conservation Commission to give to one of our elementary schools for Arbor Day.  This is an interesting shrub, officially Salix matsudana 'Tortuosa', and also known as Hankow Willow.  This variety, 'Golden Curls', has bright yellow, twisting twigs.  If I had a place for it I might try it myself.

April 13 - Thursday
The day started wet, but now the sun is out and its getting warm.  I put my patio tomatoes out for 'day camp' again.  Overnight, the bloodroot started blooming and the May Apple shoots popped up.  The Virginia Bluebells are in bud and at least one Trillium has a bud.  The spicebush is now in full bloom and the shadbush has flower buds.  It's really starting to feel like spring. 

April 12- Wednesday
Another beautiful day.  I spent most of it outside, but working on the house to repair winter damage, rather than gardening.  We did do some clearing of Pachysandra from a bed it was trying to take over.  The daffodils are in full bloom now, with all of the different varieties showing.  Anemone blanda is blooming around the mailbox, Chionodoxa is going wild around the gas lamp, and Scilla is up in a shaded bed.  The Hyacinthine are also in bloom.  Everything seems to be conspiring to be ready for Easter.

April 11 - Tuesday
I had to work yesterday, so no gardening.  The forsythia are blooming, so today I spread about 80 pounds of corn gluten on my lawn as a pre-emergent herbicide and fertilizer.  It worked really well where I used it last year, so I expanded to the full lawn this year.    I kept about 20 pounds to use in the flower beds and kitchen gardens after my seeds have germinated.  In the woods, trillium, downy yellow violet, and bloodroot (Sanguinaria) are all poking up leaves.

April 9 - Sunday
34 °F low overnight warming up to the high fifties by noon.  I put my patio tomatoes 'Balcony' out on the patio for the afternoon.  With luck I'll remember to bring them in before sunset.  They're in 2" plastic pots now.  We spent the morning moving logs from where the tree people left them to the wood pile.  This afternoon I plan to direct seed some Alyssum along the edges of my perennial beds.  Daffodils still blooming well, crocus about past by now.  Red maples blooming (Achoo!).  Geranium sp. and Celandine poppy foliage poking up.

April 8 - Saturday
More rain, but we sure need it.  Cool today, in the mid 40's.  I finally got the trilliums planted.  Maybe it's time to say a bit about where I garden.  I'm in the Connecticut River Valley, just on the Massachusetts side of the Connecticut state line.  My lot is flat, about 0.8 acres with about 1/3 of it in woods.  The soil is well drained, red clay with sand, but acid.  This is hardiness zone 5 or in good years 6.  The woods are mostly wild cherry and maple with a few white oak and some white pine.  Because of the woods and some mature trees, sun has been limited, but we recently took down 4 trees (3 dying cherries and a troubled red maple) in the yard, so this year we'll be learning to utilize the sun.

April 7 - Friday
Rain and feeling ill.  Not much gardening today, but the Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) leaves are up.

April 6 - Thursday
Well, the snow has melted and the daffodils and crocus are open again. One of my two spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is breaking bud and the buds on the shad bush (Amelanchier) are swelling. I also noted trout lily leaves coming up on the floor of the woodland patch. Maybe I’ll get those trilliums into the ground today.

April 5 - Wednesday
An inch of snow in the morning with temperatures in the 40’s. The daffodils that bloomed are saying “What was I thinking?”. The sun came out in the afternoon, and the crocus and daffodils opened again. The Pirus japonica blooming and the Daphne is showing leaf buds. A box of trillium corms arrived in the mail, but I won’t plant them until the snow is all gone.

April 4 - Tuesday
Rain today. I potted out my ‘Balcony’ tomato plants. I plan to keep them in a sunny window and put them out on the front patio when the temperature is above 50° F. I also moved my pansy seedlings to the unheated greenhouse. They can take some frost, so they should be okay.

April 3 - Monday
We had great weather in the morning, then light rain in the afternoon. The daffodils are really starting to bloom now.

April 2 - Sunday
Today we prepped the two kitchen gardens. I got the Mantis tiller going. It started right up after the long winter. Then it kept stalling. By now I should know enough to clear the roots from around the tine axels. Once that was done it ran fine. We rearranged beds in North garden from North-South to East-West. It will make it easier to work in. Always optimistic, we planted mesclun, lettuce, spinach, peas, radish, and beet seeds. The soil certainly seems warm enough.

April 1 - Saturday
The Pulmonaria is starting to bloom – no April fool there. The crocus have been blooming for a week. The snowdrops have been blooming for 3 weeks, and are now going past. We attended the WMMGA Garden Symposium at Dean Vocational in Holyoke. It was really informative and a great way to spend the day