Out West April starts the first flurry of outdoor garden activities to be evident this month. The winter snows are receding and the soil is warming and mellowing with the advent of spring. Seeds of cool season kinds of vegetables and hardy annuals can be sown out of doors as soon as the ground can be worked. Vegetables will include radishes, both head and leaf lettuce, carrots, onions, peas, spinach, beets and chard.
An early setting out of cabbage transplants of an early variety will ensure heads for table use the first part of July or sooner, depending on the area. However, delay the main planting of cabbage for a little later. An early start on onions will ensure maturity of bulbs by fall. However, use varieties recommended for the area. In short growing season areas it is best to use well grown onion transplants of adapted varieties. In many areas adapted hybrid varieties of onions have performed outstandingly well.
Plant Peas Early
Early sowing of pea seeds is mandatory especially in areas where summer weather is very hot. Fusarium root rot diseases are especially troublesome with peas and attacks are most troublesome during the warmest part of the summer. Rotation of peas with other garden crops each year helps to reduce the build up of fusarium organisms. Treating the seed with a protectant aids in increasing germination. Having the vines grow and produce their crop before hot weather is a great help in reducing trouble from this disease. Using an early variety is also desirable.
With some of the other crops such as radish, lettuce, spinach, and carrots it is desirable to make successive sowings at two to three week intervals to ensure a long period of harvest. With beets and carrots, the later sowing will offer younger, more tender roots for storage. In this case, plan to make somewhat more extensive seedings at the later dates. Carrot seed is frequently difficult to germinate and the young seedlings grow very slowly.
To aid in cultivation, mix a little radish seed with carrot to help mark the rows until the carrot plants show up. Parsnip seed can be handled in a similar manner. Make sure a smooth, mellow, even seedbed is prepared for carrots”this will assist in germination. Also keep the seedbed moist at all times. Be certain to use fresh seed.
Getting Soil Ready
Careful preparation of the soil beforehand will aid in the success of the garden. If the soil is on the heavy side, and contains considerable clay, it is important not to work it while it is too wet. If worked too early, it stays in hard, lumpy, cloddy condition all through the growing season. Generally it is best to plow heavy soils in the fall and leave them through the winter in rough condition leaving them to the action of frost through the winter.
When spring arrives, all that is needed is harrowing or raking as soon as the ground is dry enough to work. The harrowing or raking will put the soil in mellow condition and good tilth so that good germination of garden seeds is ensured. Generally, lighter soils can be plowed and harrowed or raked in the spring just prior to seeding.
Many of our garden soils, especially those cropped for several years, need additional organic matter besides applications of commercial fertilizer. Where available, well-decomposed barnyard manure provides a good source of organic matter and humus as well as certain fertilizer nutrients. Manure should be applied to garden soils at the rate of one-half to three-fourths tons per 1,000 square feet.
There is always danger of introducing weed seeds with manures, but frequently the need for organic matter is much more important than the danger of adding weeds.
Other sources of organic matter are compost, leaf mold, green manure crops, and peat moss. Peat mosses are good soil amendments and provide a valuable source of organic matter, but add little in the way of chemical nutrients, and may be prohibitive to use on a large scale because of their cost. Acid peat mosses are valuable on alkaline soils where a chlorosis problem exists with certain plants.
In the drier areas of the West, phosphorus and nitrogen are generally the two most needed major elements. These are most economically supplied by using ammoniated phosphate fertilizers; such analysis as 10-20-0, 16-30-0 and 11-48-0 are available. The first number refers to nitrogen content, the second to phosphorus content, and the last number to potash content. Where considerable manure is applied to the soil, only the addition of phosphorus may be required for good plant growth.
Use of manure alone may cause excess foliage growth at the expense of good flower and fruit production because of improper balance between nitrogen and phosphorus. Hence the need for applying more phosphorus to bring the soil in correct balance.
In more humid sections of the West area, potash may be needed also. All three elements may be supplied by using so-called complete fertilizers such as 6-12-4. Actually, the term complete is misleading, since there are other elements just as important as these in plant nutrition, but nitrogen, phosphorus and potash have given the most trouble as far as need and availability in the soil is concerned, and are frequently needed in the largest amounts.
Since phosphorus is the least mobile of these elements in the soil, it is best worked into the soil when it is plowed or harrowed. In this way, it is placed in the region of the feeding roots of the plants. Nitrogen and potash are more mobile and are readily carried in solution to the roots of the plants. The most economical way of using nitrogen and potash is by placing these very soluble fertilizers in bands about two inches on either side of the seed row, or in bands about three inches away from the transplants. Side dressing with nitrogen during the early growing period of garden plants is also helpful. This is desirable for garden plants that are heavy feeders of nitrogen such as corn, lettuce and other leafy crops.
Rates of fertilizer to be used will depend on soil needs, the kind of fertilizer used, the method of application and the crop growth. It should be remembered that leafy vegetable crops and lawns will need and benefit from heavier feedings of nitrogen than crops from which we expect to harvest roots, fruits or flowers. These latter types of crops will need heavier feedings of phosphorus and lighter feedings of nitrogen as a general rule. Remember, too, that with adequate water available, garden crops will respond best from fertilizer use.
Nursery stock will be arriving for spring planting. As a general rule on plant propagation, well-grown, young deciduous plants transplant with greatest assurance of success as compared with older plants. This is not so important with evergreens since they are generally sold as balled and burlapped stock. The size of the stock and price one wants to pay will be the deciding factor in buying evergreens.
In planting deciduous and evergreen stock, dig the planting hole deep enough and wide enough to accommodate the roots without cramping. With evergreens, do not disturb the ball of earth or remove the burlap covering until the plant is set in the planting hole. When the evergreen is properly positioned the burlap covering can be loosened and shoved to the bottom of the planting hole. It does not need to be removed, but can remain in the planting hole to decay. In setting the trees, place them slightly deeper than they occurred in the nursery row.
As soon as the plant is placed properly, fill the planting hole with good top soil, firming it around the roots well so that no pockets or air spaces are left. In filling the planting hole, leave a basin or depression around the base of the plant so that water can collect and aid in thorough watering of the plant. As soon as planted, water the soil thoroughly so the soil is wet through the entire depth of the planting hole.
Some cutting or pruning back of the deciduous trees and shrubs will be advised to balance top growth with roots lost in the transplanting operation. Older stock will need more severe cutting back than younger, since it is likely that more of the root system will have been destroyed in the transplanting operation. The pruning back should entail thinning out weak shoots and cutting back to lateral a buds.