The distancing requirements or the Covid-19 virus have prevented NCTV from filming of “A Walk in the Garden with Liz Davey” at my home in April. In spite of the restrictions on all of us, the gardens continue to grow. April is one of my busiest months for garden tasks and I am busy getting all of my gardens off to a good start. I want to share a few of the things I am doing outdoors in the gardens this month. I will also share some of the seasonal tasks that I am doing inside in early April. Since I can’t be with you live, I have put together a photo scrapbook to show you what I’ve been doing.
The herbs in the herb garden continue to grow larger.
I have cut back the thymes, lavenders and southernwood and added a bit of all-purpose organic fertilizer. Chives are ready and sorrel is almost ready for harvest and there will be small sprigs of thyme, oregano and tarragon to use soon. Tender herb seedlings won’t be planted for another four to six weeks.
I have continued raking and cutting back dead stalks and foliage in the perennial beds. The crocuses have gone by, but I am enjoying the continuing bloom of early spring bulbs. Hyacinths, pink primroses and daffodils are blooming and there will be some tulips blooming soon. If I did not take care to keep tulips and crocus sprayed with deer deterrent, I am afraid these would not be part of my spring garden as deer have become very prevalent in Norfolk. As perennials start to come up and bulbs are blooming, it is important to take some photos of gardens where you plan to plant bulbs in the fall. That way you will know where to plant the bulbs long after old bulb foliage has withered away. It is also a good time to place orders for spring blooming bulbs to be planted in the fall, as discounts are available for early orders.
Winter manure or compost mulch on roses should be spread out around the bushes. Roses with repeat blooming throughout the summer should be pruned when they just start to form leaves. You can cut off up to a third of their old growth, removing dead and crossing stems and opening up the bush so that there will be good air circulation. This is usually done about the time the Red Sox return to Fenway. Roses that bloom just once should be pruned after they bloom, about early July. Sanitize pruners between plants to eliminate spread of disease. I use alcohol wipes. Roses should receive their first application of fertilizer at this time also.
The full bloom of forsythia indicates that it is now time to add weed control products to your lawn if you use them. A good time to do this tasks is right before light rain is predicted. Lawns can be raked, limed and fertilized now too if not done already.
I have planted seeds of scallions, spinach, arugula and kale in a cloche. This has provided extra protection against low temperatures the past few weeks and hopefully will also protect the young plants from rabbit damage until I can get my fencing in place.
Now is the time to plant peas. I have planted three varieties. After marking a row with stakes and string I planted the seeds about 1 ½ inches apart and ¾ inch deep. I used legume inoculant as directed on the package to give the peas greater ability to fix nitrogen in the soil. I will also use it when planting beans. As these seeds will produce vines, I put in four fence poles along the row that will hold plastic mesh net to give the plants a framework to climb.
The cole crops: broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cabbage have all sprouted in the winter seeding milk jugs that were put out in the garden in February. Some of the perennial flowers– mostly native plants—have also sprouted. Others will emerge as the season progresses. I will loosen the tape and tip back the covers on hot and sunny days nearer the end of the month and remove and plant the seedlings when they have reached sufficient size.
Other seeds that can be planted outdoors in April include lettuce, beets, Swiss chard, perpetual spinach, parsley and radishes.
Last year’s parsley has emerged. A bit of all-purpose organic fertilizer has been dug in around it. Parsley is a biennial which means its life cycle is two years. The second year it can be used as an early crop before it sets seed. I will plant more this year.
have several blueberry bushes. I have pruned them in early spring removing some of the oldest nonbearing branches. I added soil acidifier to keep the pH in the low range that blueberries require. Organic fertilizer for acid loving plants was spread around the plants and watered in. This same technique can be used on hydrangeas to encourage blue blooms.
I raked the mulch from the strawberry bed, sprinkled the young plants with organic fertilizer and then covered the bed with a thin layer of straw. Later on, this mulch will help keep the ripe berries away from the soil.
I have raked and pruned the raspberries. I grow two types. The early bearing ones have had only last year’s bearing branches cut to the ground. These can be distinguished by their peeling bark and generally dead look. The later bearing berries were all pruned to the ground. Compost will be added to the entire patch and then a straw mulch to keep the weeds under control.
Rhubarb is emerging and will be one of the first harvests from the garden. I have pulled back the mulch and added organic fertilizer around each plant.
As each hosta emerges I am sprinkling some slug deterrent around it. I use a product that is iron based and non-toxic to animals, repeating application after rains. I have found that using it early greatly reduces the slug damage for the year. I also use deer deterrent spray on a weekly basis as hosta is a deer favorite. Again, early use can encourage deer to find dinner somewhere else.
In the shade gardens the hellebores are in the midst of their long bloom period and their new leaves are starting to unfold. Unappealing to deer, these plants have flourished and I now have a color range of white, pink and purple blooms .The plants are toxic so use care in disposing of foliage and if you have pets or children who might nibble plants, this one is probably one you should avoid.
Bright blue scilla, white pieris, and purple corydalis are also in bloom in April in the shade and the rhododendrons and viburnums have fat buds with a promise of May flowers.
Weeds are starting to emerge between the bricks on my patio. I use white vinegar in a sprayer to spray the bricks. The weeds turn brown and dry and then can be vacuumed or swept away.
Plants under lights are growing well and once they have two sets of leaves, I will add soluble fertilizer to the water. It is time to start tomatoes and most annual flowers inside so that the starts will be ready to plant once we are dependably frost free.
I have transplanted, fertilized and pinched the tops of the cuttings that I made last fall and they are becoming bushy plants. They require water weekly. They will be planted outside in planters in mid to late May.
The grass that was planted last month is now an Easter decoration with the addition of a few dyed blown eggs and some Easter chicks and bunnies.
IN THE KITCHEN
Today I am making Easter egg bread. The first thing I need to do is dye some eggs. I don’t have access to the vegetables that I generally use for natural dyed eggs or any commercial egg dye, so this year I will use food coloring and water with the addition of 2 tablespoons white vinegar to dye eggs. I will dye 6 raw white eggs for this recipe, but you can use hard cooked or blown eggs to dye for other uses. Remove eggs carefully and let dry. Refrigerate the eggs until used in the recipe.
If you do not wish to use the colored eggs, the bread is good without them, but they do add a festive touch.
For the bread dough, combine in a mixer bowl, ¼ cup sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, ¼ cup softened butter and the grated peel of 1 lemon.
Add ¼ cup milk which has been scalded – heated just until bubbles form around the edges - and ¼ cup warm water. Let cool until lukewarm. Add 1 egg, 1 package of dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons) and 2 ¼ cups flour. Using a dough hook combine ingredients and then knead dough for five minutes. (You could alternatively mix with a spoon and the hand knead until smooth and elastic.) Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until double, press down, cover and let rise again. Each rising will take about an hour.
Press down the dough and divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a 36” long rope. Twist the ropes together and join ends to make a ring. Insert colored eggs in the ring. Cover and let rise 45- 60 minutes until dough doubles.
Please, stay safe.
- Liz Davey
After the dough has risen, brush with one egg combined with 1 teaspoon water and sprinkle with colored nonpareils. Bake at 350o F. for about 20 minutes until lightly browned. Serve warm.
If made ahead, cool and refrigerate until served and then reheat at 350o F. for 8 minutes. Do NOT microwave; the eggs will blow up and you will have a big mess. (Don’t ask how I know this!)