In the April garden, take advantage of this prime time to plant

April is when our gardens show their best. Bulbs are blooming, annuals are showing, native plants are lush and green, and summer vegetable seedlings promise future abundance.

Gardens around you

Observe the hills. Native plants such as the California lilac (Ceanothe), Climbing penstemon (Keckiella cordifolia), poppy (Dendromecon rigida), Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii), red bush monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus), island snapdragon (Gambelia speciosa) and much more bloom at this time. These wild plants are suitable for our home gardens, where their flowers are home to butterflies, bees, birds and other wildlife.

The San Diego Botanical Garden, Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, and San Diego Zoo Safari Park are wonderful places to stroll and enjoy the gardens. Yes, the zoo and safari park are best known for their animal collections, but their plants are also beautiful.

During your walks, photograph the plants and gardens that appeal to you. Create a wish book for next fall, which is the perfect time for planting. Share your images with other home gardeners in the San Diego Gardener Facebook group, facebook.com/groups/sdgardener.

Vegetable garden

This is the best time to start your summer vegetable garden, from seeds or seedlings.

Have you had trouble starting seeds? Have your seedlings grown too long and too long? Do they fall soon after germination? Do they die when you move them from a small pot to a big pot? Learn how to grow healthy, lush seedlings without any of these failures in the “Easy Online Seed Starter Workshop”. Register for the self-study workshop on learn.waterwisegardener.com.

Pumpkins are among the vegetables to start right now from seed or plant in seedlings.

(Getty Images)

Plants to start now from seed or plant from seedlings: pumpkin, summer squash, peppers, eggplant, cilantro, tomatillo, watermelon, zucchini and cucumber. All of these vegetables need six hours of direct full sun each day.

Start from seeds only: carrots, beets and other root crops. Root crops do not transplant well.

There is time for another harvest of beans, spinach, kale, dandelion greens and arugula before the weather gets too hot. Plant seeds or seedlings.

Starting a vegetable garden from scratch? Plan to grow vegetables in raised beds, not in the ground. Vegetables thrive in moist soils that are rich in organic matter and regularly fertilized. These conditions are much easier to create and maintain in raised beds than in the ground.

Build your own raised beds. Watch my video to see how to build and pitch a raised bed at tinyurl.com/rsbed.

For prefab vegetable gardens, look at Vegepod (tinyurl.com/vegpod), an excellent self-contained bed system with integrated irrigation. These waist-high beds work incredibly well and are particularly suitable for people with back and knee problems. For in-ground flowerbeds, try Vego’s coated metal flowerbeds (tinyurl.com/vegogarden).

Before planting, cover existing vegetable beds with layers of compost, earthworm castings and granular organic plant fertilizer. Use a hand trowel to gently mix them into the top few inches of soil.

The best irrigation for raised beds is a narrow in-line drip such as Netafim Techline EZ, with emitters spaced every six inches.

Set up cages for tomatoes and trellises for beans, cucumbers and other climbing plants before planting. I make brackets from sheets of concrete reinforcing mesh, held together on the short ends with zip ties. Fold the mesh to create a freestanding cylinder about 3 feet in diameter – perfect for two tomatoes, five or six cucumbers, 10 bean plants and so on.

Rotate plantings of nightshade crops – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos – which are all susceptible to the same suite of soil pathogens, so that when you plant them in the same soil year after year, they produce less and less. Start with two garden beds; plant all nightshades in a bed the first year. Move them to the other bed the second year. Move them to the original bed in the third year and continue with this rotation.

Can adding fresh soil help a bed where tomatoes were attacked last year by root-knot nematode (a parasitic roundworm)? Unfortunately, adding soil will not stop root-knot nematodes. The only way to stop them is to plant elsewhere this year.

Flowers and wildflowers

Plant Zinnia from seeds. The ‘Giant’ series from Benary Seeds produces huge plants covered in huge flowers with fantastic colors. As the flowers begin to wilt, top frequently to encourage new buds and blooms.

Choose garden flowers to enjoy both indoors and outdoors. Pick your own flowers, not your neighbor’s, and never pick plants or flowers from native habitats or public landscapes. If it’s not yours, don’t cut and pick it.

California poppy

April is a good time to prune California poppy plants after their first blooms have faded, then water and wait for new blooms.

(File/Los Angeles Times)

Cut back California poppy plants after their first flowers fade. Water and wait. They will sprout a new set of leaves and bloom again.

Cut sweet pea flowers to make bouquets. The more flowers you cut, the more you get. And their flowery fragrance will fill your interior!

Epiphyllum, also known as orchid cactus, is starting to bloom now. Large, multi-layered flowers look like colored cellophane. The plants are very easy to grow and propagate. If you have a friend who has one you like, ask for a cutting – cut separate sections at the joints – then root it in a mixture of potting soil and small redwood bark. Epiphyllum is best as a hanging plant, with morning sun exposure or dappled shade.

Ornamental trees, vines and shrubs

Along the coast, continue planting ornamental trees, vines and shrubs.

Plant any type of succulent now, from tiny red, gold and orange pigs and beans Sedum at the giant coral flowering tree Aloe. Native live-forevers (Dudleya species) the plants are silver-bladed, mostly rosette-shaped succulents that look fantastic, especially in rock gardens.

While you may be drawn to thin, soft-textured plants, too many of these plants are chaotic without the contrast of broadleaf and succulents. Combine the two for the most beautiful garden beds.

Herbs

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a tall, light green grass with half-inch-wide blades that form beautiful mounds. Plant in full sun in a moderately irrigated bed. Harvest by cutting the stems at the base. Thinly slice tender pale green portions for use in Thai curries. Brew the stems and leaves for hot or iced tea.

Both oregano and sage make excellent low-growing, low-water groundcovers. Sample varieties, then choose your favorite.

Plant a large pot of basil outside the kitchen door so you can pick it to use while you cook.

container gardens

If you have a sunny balcony, patio or porch, grow dwarf varieties of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and more in containers. Choose unglazed terracotta rather than glazed ceramic.

If you’re planting black plastic nursery pots, drape them in a light-colored cloth during the summer heat so that intense sunlight doesn’t heat the pot and bake the roots.

Match the pot to the plants:

  • A 15 gallon black nursery pot has room for one tomato plant or two pepper plants, eggplant or basil plants.
  • A half barrel of whiskey or a barrel of wine has room for two tomatoes or three peppers, eggplant or basil. Alternatively, plant three cucumber plants, one squash plant or five cilantro plants.

Whatever pot you use, fill it with high-quality potting soil. Don’t skimp.

Fruit trees

Now is a good time to plant orange trees and other citrus trees.

Now is a good time to plant orange trees and other citrus trees.

(stock.adobe.com)

Plant citrus, guavas, bananas and other heat-loving plants now. Group these thirsty plants together so they can get plenty of water without overwatering the rest of the garden.

Thin marble-sized fruit on nectarines, apricots, and other deciduous fruit trees to one fruit per four to six inches along each branch. Compost thinned fruit.

Remove fruit from newly planted trees so they put their energy into strong roots and leaves instead. These roots and leaves will support future crops.

Feed stone fruits, apples and other deciduous fruit trees with an organic fruit tree fertilizer. Follow label instructions.

Water fruit trees often enough to keep the soil slightly moist.

Nan Sterman is a garden designer and writer and the host of “A Growing Passion” on KPBS television. For more information, visit growingpassion.com and waterwisegardener.com.

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