Spring has sprung! Sounds like a cliché, but I can see how that saying came to be. Crocuses, the harbingers of spring, seem to spring out of the ground overnight. Even my east coast friends who are buried under piles of snow will be soon posting facebook photos of crocuses blooming as the snow starts to melt. In Northern California, camellias and azaleas are in full bloom and the puffed up buds on my Rhodies tell me they are about to burst into their annual glory as well. My fruit trees are buzzing with bees, flitting from blossom to blossom busy pollinating the next generation of baby fruit.
In my garden, I have rather large, healthy looking fava bean plants, which have an unusual but beautiful flower. I planted them for the first time at the end of fall as a winter cover crop to add nitrogen to the soil and improve soil quality (and because I love fava beans). They better hurry up and do their job though because they are growing where I’m going to plant tomatoes.
I also have green and red chard, a mixture of lettuces and an abundance of sugar snap peas, all of which I planted early to take advantage of our mild ‘winter’. As I harvest chard or lettuce, I replant with seedlings so I usually have a combination of baby seedlings and large mature heads/bunches. You can also just pick the outer leaves and the plant will keep producing but eventually it goes to seed and the leaves start to get bitter. My next door chickens love it when I neglect my garden and let plants go to seed, since they get to peck at the spoils.
In your garden, it’s time to clear out all the weeds before the ground gets too hard and they become impossibly tenacious. Roses should have been cut back and new growth beginning to emerge. Now is the time for soil preparation and amendment, fertilizing to encourage healthy growth and mulching to discourage weeds and retain moisture in the soil (particularly important during drought years). In a Northern California vegetable garden, plant cool weather crops like snow peas, carrots, lettuce, chard and kale. Tomato seeds can be started indoors . Tomato seedlings planted now are at risk of damage from frost. It’s better to wait until nighttime temperatures are reliably above 55 F /13 C. If you are in a rush (like I often am), you can protect them with a cover at night but keep in mind that growth could be stunted and blossoms won’t set if the nights are too cold., i.e. the blossoms will fall off without producing fruit. I use garden cloth clipped together with plastic mini hair clips but even an old sheet will help keep temperatures stable and shield delicate plants from the cold wind. Garden cloth can also be used to protect tender seedlings from wild animals who treat our vegetable gardens like their own personal salad bar.
Later in the month, (once the risk of frost is over) sow seeds or plant seedlings of warm-season crops such as beans, corn, and squash, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. Now is a great time to sow wildflower seeds which are scattered either in fall (September through November) or early spring (March through May) or one or two weeks before average last frost. A great choice in a drought year is Oenothera (Mexican Primrose). This delicate pink flowering plant is very hardy and can withstand almost any heat or drought – great for dry hillsides and unattended areas. Another good drought tolerant wildflower is Scarlet Flax, a showy red flower, which blooms spring to fall.
Click here for more detailed information on gardening in your area. There are also links to rose care and Veggies 101-How to start your vegetable garden: http://www.sunset.com/garden/garden-basics/what-to-do-in-your-garden-in-april-00400000041780/