As the flowering trees bloom and their petals fall like snow over the tulips and daffodils, many hopeful gardeners suddenly awaken from this spring idyll and realize: OMG, it’s already April and I haven’t done anything in the garden yet! Do not despair. Perhaps you will not be able to have a ½ acre vegetable garden or completely re-do large perennial beds, but there is still time to have vegetables and flowers this gardening season. Here are a few short cuts and some basic advice for the recently awakened gardener.
For most plants, and particularly vegetables, soil preparation is all important. The best plan at this late date is to plan for a small vegetable patch or flower bed this year. Chances are your dream garden is just that, a dream. Most of us take on too much in the spring, planning for larger gardens than we have time and energy for and/or purchasing too many seeds for our space. If you are willing to put in a bit of work now you can have vegetables or flower beds up and running for this summer. Here is a no dig method for almost instant beds.
In “The Virginia Gardeners Companion,” by Donna Williamson, she uses berms, layers of newspaper, chopped leaves, compost, manure, some sand, leaf mold, finely chopped pine bark, piled on grass to a depth of 2 to 3 feet. Water each layer thoroughly and plant directly into the berm. The pile will shrink in height as the organic material composts. The above method is great for perennial and annual flower beds. You can sow annual flower seeds and perennial plants now but remember that perennials grow very little the first year. This saying about perennials says it all; “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap.”
For vegetable beds I would tweak the above berm recipe slightly by putting down a layer of manure (composted never fresh) first and then the newspapers and I would replace the finely chopped pine bark with more compost. You can leave the new beds as piles or better yet, frame the beds with untreated lumber, bricks or cement blocks. Cement blocks are useful because they provide holes where you can plant herbs. As Williamson says in her book, if you want a vegetable garden in Virginia you might as well put a fence around it now since the deer and rabbits will come to eat your produce. In my Falls Church neighborhood I have yet to see a deer or a rabbit but then again wildlife has a way of showing up unexpectedly.
Sow vegetable seeds in square foot sections instead of rows, thinning as they grow eventually keeping a few strong plants to flower and fruit. Maximize space by using a fence or poles to grow squash and cucumbers vertically instead of sprawling all over the garden. Also, there are bush varieties of peas, beans and squash that take up a bit less room. As for tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, it is too late to start them from seed, so just buy the plants from a garden center and plant them no earlier than the first week of May. Do try to keep vegetable beds to 4 foot square to make harvesting easier. Inter-planting and succession planting are also space saving methods. (visit my blog at ruthsgarden.blogspot.com for more detailed information )
Now that you are awake don’t panic, a new vegetable patch or flower bed is still within your grasp for this year.