The holy grail of gardening in Zone 8 is April’s warm sun and frequent rain. This is when the weather is warm enough to transplant the mighty tomatoes out of doors and to seed the legumes and other tender vegetables and herbs that make up the bounty of summer. In Zone 8, our last frost date is around April 1. You should already have tilled your beds and applied lime and other amendments. But it’s not too late to break ground if you are just getting started. Plants are quite forgiving, so even if you do a few things backward, they’ll still grow and you’ll still have fruits and flowers aplenty. (Find your zone using the map on the right; click to enlarge.)
Sow annuals in prepared beds. Set out transplants. For a longer blooming season, set out some now, some in two weeks and so on until June. Keep them deadheaded after flowering starts and you’ll have flowers until frost.
Arrange containers for the patio and replace cool-weather annuals, such as pansies, with other colorful annuals, such as zinnias or marigolds.
Plant new roses now, fertilize older ones.
Plant caladiums and dahlias around mid month.
Plant summer flowering bulbs, such as gladioli, snapdragons, dahlias, ismenes, tuberoses and so on. Plant these in groups every two weeks for a longer blooming season.
Some vegetables, berries and herbs do better as transplants and others do well when sown directly in the garden as seeds. Some can be done either way.
Transplants: Tomatoes, eggplant, collards, cabbage, cucumbers, dill, basil, lettuces, peppers, strawberries.
Make sure to mulch tomatoes and peppers deeply to conserve water and prevent soil from splashing on the leaves. That’s how soil-borne diseases are spread. In fact, pruning off the lower branches of tomato transplants to keep all foliage off the ground is a good idea throughout the summer. Using plenty of lime, which is loaded with calcium, is another good way to prevent tomato diseases such as blossom end rot. A generous handful dug in around new transplants will make for happier tomatoes.
You may also set out perennial herbs at this time, such as oregano, thyme, chives and rosemary. Make sure they are planted in an area where it won’t be necessary to disturb their roots as you dig in other crops later on. Many herbs will do well in containers on your deck, right next to the kitchen door. Make sure the containers get plenty of sun and stay moist, but not over watered. Most herbs do not like wet feet.
Direct Seed: Arugula, sugar peas, carrots, turnips, mustard (early in month), beans, cantaloupes, corn, cucumbers, okra, peppers, squash (summer and winter), and watermelon (after all danger of frost is past).
Remember a few rules to keep your crops happy:
• Plant tall crops such as okra, pole beans, tomatoes (if staked) and corn on the north side of other vegetables to avoid shading.
• Plant four or more rows of corn for better pollination. Planting in blocks instead of rows helps if you are short of space.
• Be sure to plant enough vegetables for canning and freezing, and for hungry neighbors. Try to have a plan for preserving the harvest before it overwhelms you. Canning and freezing are good options, as is dehydration.
• Cultivate to control weeds and grass, to break crusty soil and to provide aeration.
• Maintain mulch (straw is a good bet in vegetable gardens) between rows to combat weeds and keep moisture consistent.
• Vegetables need about an inch of water a week. Irrigate if rain doesn’t provide.
• Make a second planting within two to three weeks of the first planting of snap beans, corn and squash to extend the harvesting season.
Lime may be applied now at 40 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
Mow frequently starting now and during the summer. Mowing more frequently and cutting off less in each mowing results in a healthier lawn.
De-thatch zoysia, centipede and Bermuda grass lawns. These are warm-season grasses which can also be fertilized or planted this month after last frost.
TREES AND SHRUBS
Prune flowering shrubs after bloom if buds set on new wood.
Prune broadleaf shrubs very lightly as necessary for shaping and removing dead or damaged wood.
Feed azaleas and rhododendrons after bloom.
Feed magnolia grandiflora and other summer-flowering trees and shrubs with well-rotted manure.
Make sure to keep seedlings planted in the past year well watered through their first growing season.
Raised bed image: Shutterstock/Alison Hancock