April is the naughty kid that holds the ball just out of your reach. You know, the kind who likes to tease dogs by holding out a treat and then snatching it back before they can get it.
And April really likes to play tricks on gardeners, long after April Fool’s Day is past. She sends us sunshine and warm days, but can turn a chilly shoulder at night. She can even be dark and moody during the daytime.
You’ve heard the phrase “nipped in the bud?” That’s often the fate of tender plants in April. Remember the magic number 10, and hold on to your indoor plants and tender seedlings until night temperatures are consistently above 10 degrees Celsius.
Chilling out with flowers and veggies
If you’re itching to have flowers blooming RIGHT NOW, think pansies. They tend to poop out when it’s hot, but they’ll flourish for the next two or three months. Other bright young things for cool temps are primulas, daffodils, and exotic ranunculus. Get plants in bud from garden centres and shops.
If you’re a fan of perennials, now is the time to get new plants from garden retailers and plant them ASAP. Waiting around until mid-May to put plants in the ground is only for cheap and cheerful annual flowers and warm-weather veggies like tomatoes and peppers.
Some veggies, in fact, should be started from seed outdoors now, either in the ground or in containers. I checked with my pal Steven Biggs, Toronto co-author of the fun and fabulous book No-Guff Vegetable Gardening.
“You can plant seeds of lettuce, arugula, spinach, chard, radishes, broad beans, carrots, peas, beets, turnips, dill and parsley,” he told me. “You can also plant potatoes.”
Steve gardens in clay soil, so he cautioned, “I find that things are a little slow this year, so my garden is still a bit too wet to plant.”
That was a couple of weeks ago, though, and our sandy Beach soil doesn’t stay wet for long, so use your own judgement.
Native plants, including wildflowers, are booming in popularity and with good reason. They’re tough, adapted to our climate, and most of them attract pollinators.
What’s the big deal about pollinators, you ask? In super-simple terms, these little critters spread pollen as they fly from flower to flower. The pollinated flowers – presto! – turn into most of the fruit and veggies that we eat.
Unfortunately, if you wanted wildflowers from seed, you really should have started them last fall. But another of my seedy friends, Miriam Goldberger of Wildflower Farms in Coldwater, ON, says it’s not too late to start now.
Some easy-going wildflowers are what she calls “sow and grow” plants. Just spread their seeds in spring, and they’ll happily start growing. These include eye-popping Gaillardia aristata, AKA blanket flower; dainty Aquilegia canadensis, AKA wild columbine; and purple Agastache foeniculum, AKA anise hyssop.
Speeding up Mother Nature
Then there are flowers you can grow by the “speed-dial method.” It’s a shortcut that tricks seeds into thinking you sowed them last fall and that they’ve gone through the freeze-thaw cycle they need. Here’s how:
- Plant seeds in small pots in moist, sterile soil.
- Put them in the fridge for a day or so.
- Next move them into the freezer for a day or two.
- Repeat the fridge-freezer shuffle for a week or so.
You can then move them outdoors to continue growing in their little pots. DO NOT plant the babies in the garden. “They need to be more like ‘robust teenagers,’ with good strong roots before they go in the ground,” says Miriam.
Personally, I think that’s an awful lot of work. But it is a way to get milkweed – monarch butterflies’ fave food – to flower a year ahead of time. Wildflowers usually don’t flower in their first season of growth, Miriam points out. So the speed-dial method grows plants this year that will flower in spring 2016. If you wait to sow this fall, the plants will grow in summer 2016 and flower in spring 2017.
Or … Just skip the seedy stuff and buy natives at: Toronto Botanical Garden Plant Sale, May 8-10, 777 Lawrence Ave. E.; Beach Garden Society Plant Sale, May 16, Adam Beck Community Centre, 79 Lawlor Ave.; and North American Native Plant Sale, May 16-17, Artisans at Work, 2017 Danforth Ave.
Mary Fran McQuade is a local freelance writer specializing in garden and lifestyle writing