April Garden To-do List

Sharon Hanna helps you tackle your gardening chores for April. Check out her tips to see if your garden is on-track for spring.

Credit: iStock

Sharon Hanna helps you tackle your gardening chores for April

Check out her tips to see if your garden is on-track for spring.


Slow growth of seedlings if weather still feels wintry—you won’t be able to transplant until it gets a mite warmer! Move seedlings to a cooler location, stop fertilizing, keep watering to a minimum.

Sow tomato seeds during the first week of April. If you’re much later than that, be sure to place seeds and soil on fairly strong bottom heat to encourage rapid germination. Even in very warm conditions, tomato seeds take 7–10 days to sprout!

Direct seed outside:

Arugula, Asian greens, broccoli, broccoli raab (rapini), cabbage, endive, kale, leeks, lettuce, scallions, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach, turnips

On the coast, toward the end of April, you might want to start a few zucchini seedlings, indoors or in the greenhouse—particularly F1 varieties. Wait until May for the rest of the cucurbits—squash, pumpkins, cukes, etc.

Soil needs to be somewhat warmer (usually toward the end of this month) to direct-seed beets and chard. (Judging from last night’s frost—way warmer!) Soak chard and beet seed in mildly hot water for an hour before sowing. Both are compound seeds (each will produce two to five seedlings). Space seeds about 4 cm (1.5 in). apart. When you do thin, carefully transplant any beet or chard seedlings planted too closely together to another spot in the garden. Beets may only be transplanted when very tiny. Do this on a cloudy day.

Soil must be warmer to sow carrots as well. Ensure no fresh manure or compost was added this year otherwise roots become misshapen. If you’re itching to plant carrots but it’s still too cold, take this time to prepare your carrot bed by digging in complete organic fertilizer and some sand if necessary. Make sure soil tilth is nice and fine; remove rocks, other debris, so roots can easily penetrate the soil. When you do sow carrot seeds, do it when you’re in a calm, patient mood, or use a seeding device, and cover with 1/4 in. of fine soil. You’ll need to keep the seeded area moist by frequent fine sprinkling—it takes about two weeks for carrots to germinate.

Beets, chard and carrots require meticulous thinning. Don’t do this activity when you are in a hurry. Turn your cell phone off.

Transplant to maximize conditions for veggies: plant taller-growing vegetables where they will not shade shorter-growing ones. Rows running north-south are ideal, with tallest plants on the farthest north side. When transplanting to the garden, choose a cloudy day (no problem here on the coast, especially lately!). If it’s sunny and you absolutely must transplant, do it early in the morning. If it gets very hot, protect seedlings with upside-down baskets, a newspaper tent, a beach umbrella, or whatever you can quickly invent. Leave this on for the first day.

Seedlings grow very rapidly and when water can be transported into the plants via their newly connected roots, they’ll be fine.

Plant potatoes in deep raised beds if you like, or form a waist-high cylinder with coarse chicken wire, lined with hay or straw. (This is a two-person job!) Potatoes don’t seem to do well in smaller containers—a whole lot of leaves and not many potatoes. Add about 8 in. of soil (not recently manured or composted, potatoes prefer somewhat acid soil so don’t add lime) in the bottom. Lay potato “seed” on top. You’ll need a couple of potatoes per square foot. Use potatoes you grew, saved from last year, or buy new ”seed.”

Or try growing potatoes in a burlap sack. Top with 3 or 4 in. of soil. If you want, throw in a small handful of 4-10-10 or other appropriate organic fertilizer. When potato leaves sprout up through the soil, add more soil—not too much, just enough to cover leaves completely. Keep soil moist—don’t allow potatoes to dry out. Continue to add soil as the potatoes keep sprouting up, adding more soil every week. When you get to the top of the cylinder or raised bed, obviously you can’t add more soil! Let the potatoes do their thing. When leaves and stalks begin to turn yellow, stop watering. This will take about 14–16 weeks from start to finish.


Deadhead tulips and daffodils—though many daffodils have only now just started to bloom so this may not be a problem yet. Though you might be tempted to, do not cut stalks and leaves or tie them in knots, especially if they are species/naturalizing varieties that you are expecting to return next year. The dying-back process of leaves and stalks creates next year’s bulbs. Give them a dose of all-purpose fertilizer if you like to give the bulb even more nourishment.

Soon, perennials and small shrubs will begin to grow up around bulb foliage and you won’t notice it. In a few months when the process is complete, dead foliage detaches easily.

Wait until soil warms a bit more before planting summer-flowering bulbs. If you like to use bone meal, put a small amount at the bottom of each planting hole.

Plant dahlia tubers when soil warms slightly. Before covering the tuber completely, insert a wooden stake beside it to mark the spot—you might want to put its name on the stick too! You won’t have to snap brittle branches later, trying to get a support into the ground. When covering dahlias, lilies, etc. create a depression in the soil above the bulb so water will flow down to the tuber rather than running off.


For a healthier lawn with less weeds, try this:
1) If it does not rain, water deeply and thoroughly once a week only. Frequent shallow “sprinkling” encourages shallow roots, weak growth and an unhealthy lawn. Deep watering creates long, strong and healthy roots.

2) Watering at night is a no-no—early morning is best. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (in the sun) is also a no-no; around dinnertime isn’t great, but preferable to in the dark. Imagine having a cold shower with your pajamas on, then crawling into bed. Watering at night creates the perfect atmosphere for health problems.

3) Avoid the “close shave”—cut as long as your lawnmower will allow. You might think a shorter cut means you’ll have to mow less frequently. While this might be true, it leads to problems. Weed seeds love all that light and moisture in closely-cropped lawns and will do very well!

4) There are various points of view on aerating (removing small cylindrical cores of grass, roots and soil). Some advocate this practice, others do not. The reasons for the “nay” side: when you disturb soil and remove these cores, weed seeds come up to the surface and with light and water they germinate and grow. If you like to live dangerously, do your own test—aerate half your lawn, leave the other half, and see what happens.

5) Avoid overfeeding your lawn. The more you fertilize, the more you will have to mow; there is no purpose to this except perhaps to create exercise—if you are using a push mower! Try a slow-release fertilizer (if you want to use it) with low numbers. There are many new environmentally friendly types of lawn fertilizers—more and more all the time.


If you choose to fertilize cedar and other hedges while they are growing, remember: The more you feed them, the faster they’ll grow, and the more you’ll have to prune (or hire someone to do it!). Once again, consider slow-release fertilizers or mulch with SeaSoil.


Tomatoes will thrive in your greenhouse as long as it is well-ventilated and not too hot—they prefer maximum temperatures of about 27° C/80° F. Purchase green shade cloth for the top of your greenhouse—you’ll need it next month when temperatures may soar.

On the coast, ordinarily, most plants would be starting to move out of the greenhouse (or indoors) and begin the hardening off process by the end of April, but hold off if conditions have not yet stabilizes. You can always put your seedlings out for very short periods of time. But watch out for birds who enjoy taking nips of seedlings! In cooler zones it’ll be two to three weeks later.

Avoid overheating seedlings—they’ll grow weak and leggy. To harden off seedlings, place them outdoors in morning or late afternoon sun (never direct sun, mid-day): days 1 and 2, 30 minutes of sunbathing; day 3, one hour, and day 4, two hours. Voila—your plants are now ready to live outdoors.

If your garden is not huge and you’ve always wanted to grow asparagus—try this: try planting a number of asparagus ”runners” underground then creating an “understory” of strawberries. The two co-exist together nicely.


Make sure you grow lots of the particular herbs you use most—parsley, chives, oregano and rosemary—so you don’t run out and have to go to the store. It’s easy to use a lot of parsley especially if you make tabouli or other grain salads; chives are easily decimated and will not regrow this year. Yes, in response to a couple of comments (!) of course they come back like crazy every year, and also seed themselves… but if you cut the entire plant off in spring, they don’t re-sprout in summer, at least mine never have.

Raise favourite herbs in pots as well as in the garden, placing them very near your kitchen door for last-minute easy snipping, especially in foul weather. Many folks are more likely to toss basil into their pasta or add a pinch of fresh tarragon to their sauteed chicken when it’s in the frying pan if they don’t have to put on their gumboots.


Direct seed hardy annuals while the ground is cool—but not freezing! Old-fashioned, open-pollinated annuals are easy to grow from seed, and assisting beneficial insects to do their job ensures a bountiful harvest.

Plant four o’clocks, alyssum, stocks, single carnations, larkspur, nasturtium, cornflowers, cosmos.

All sweet-smelling flowers contain nectar, which bees and other beneficial insects use as high-octane fuel. It powers their wings as they fly amongst the fruit trees, vegetables and flowers distributing pollen.

Don’t want to seed flowers this year? Buy some already started at the nursery: foxglove, single hollyhocks, petunias—all will make you popular with the “buzzing” crowd.

The “bee’s knees” is Phacelia tanacetifolia, a little-known hardy annual native to California often used as bee forage by those who keep bees, or as a cover crop. I think it’s too beautiful to be tilled into the soil and grows in most zones in BC, sometimes reseeding. Sow in full sun anytime the soil has warmed a bit from mid-April onwards. Phacelia has lavender-blue compound racemes of flowers which unfold like tentacles on an octopus; sweetly scented florets have stamens at least an inch long—no wonder it’s called “Bee’s Friend.”

Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) is another powerful beneficial-insect attractor—popular for ladybugs in all life phases, including the “romance” stage. Humans are attracted to its outstanding strawberry-coloured tapered “heads.” Seed lightly in pots or at edges of a sunny garden. (They don’t turn into “weeds.”) Both seeds are available from West Coast Seeds.


It is generally agreed that aphids are naughty, spreading viral diseases, stunting plant growth. Did you know that aphids need to be present on your rose bush for 10–14 days before appropriate predators (beneficial insects) show up to devour them? Be patient, allow Nature her due course. And remember, insects are often culling weak and sick plants. Avoid using too much fertilizer, as aphids are attracted to new tender foliage that has been pumped up with nitrogen.


Check hanging-basket locations for this year and ensure the hooks are not loose or damaged.

Remember that a watered hanging basket is very heavy—a litre of water alone weighs 1 kg.

Since “stockings” are a thing of the past, make manure tea “legs”—fill nylon pantyhose with finished compost or well-rotted manure, and let them sit in a bucket filled with water for four hours or so. Children are particularly fond of this and your garden will be filled with shrieks of delight! The finished solution should be the colour of weak tea. Everything in your gardens and containers will love a drink of this!