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Virginia Cooperative Extension

Between the Rows - A Guide to Vegetable Gardening
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April in the Vegetable Garden: Time for Thinning and Watering
Welcome veggie gardeners! VCE supports local gardeners with a host of resources, including free classes, plant clinics and this newsletter. Want to know more? Subscribe here to receive future issues. Missed out on past issues? You can get them all here.
Garden Guide
April To Do List
  • Thin seedlings (greens, carrots, beets) when plants reach 1-2 inches tall or have two sets of "true leaves" to thin out any crowded plants and give the them room to grow
  • Side-dress cool-season crops with compost, and mulch around the base of plants to keep their roots cool and moist
  • Continue to direct sow cool-season crops that mature quickly, such as arugula, chard, endive, lettuce, spinach, mustard, and radish
  • Direct sow other crops: beets, kale, leeks, carrots, parsnip, turnips, peas, potato, and herbs (parsley, chervil, sage, lovage, thyme)
  • Start indoors: cucumbers, squash, pumpkin, melons, bush and pole beans
  • Set out purchased transplants or plants started from seed indoors to "harden off" (or get used to the outdoors); water frequently until planted so they don’t dry out
  • Transplant sprouted potatoes started indoors 
  • Avoid late plantings of some transplants, such as broccoli and cabbage that may be on sale at local garden centers, since approaching warmer weather may prevent these crops from reaching full maturity before going to seed
  • Make sure to trellis vertically-growing plants, such as peas, cucumbers, beans, and other climbing plants before the plants grow too big and become unmanageable
  • Hold off planting warm-weather plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, until well after the last average frost date (check recommendations specific to your growing area)
  • Start sweet potato slips indoors before planting slips outside later in the summer 
Plant, Pest or Other Garden Questions?

Contact the VCE Horticulture Help Desk 

Knowledgeable Virginia Cooperative Extension volunteers are available to answer questions Monday-Friday from 9am to noon.
If you planted cool weather vegetables, make sure these plants have enough space to grow. Crowded crops will not produce to their full size or cause root crops to warp or fork. Thin out out your plants. Follow spacing guidelines specific to each plant.  It's usually best to cut unwanted seedlings at the soil line, rather than pulling, to avoid disturbing plant roots.

Make sure to observe the VCE's recommended planting dates and avoid planting before the average last killing frost dates in the Spring. Along the coast of Northern Virginia (Tidewater area), the average last killing frost date is between April 10 to April 21; more inland (Piedmont area) the average last killing frost date is between April 20 to April 30. Avoid common vegetable gardening mistakes caused by putting some plants in the ground too early.
Continue to look at the recommended planting times that were included in the March newsletter. 

Water is essential to plant health. It is recommended that vegetable plants receive at least an inch of water a week. Try to water early in the morning rather than the late afternoon or early evening. Morning watering helps to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation, and gives a plant’s leaves a chance to dry. Plants are more susceptible to disease if their leaves are wet after dusk. Plants also do best when watered deeply and infrequently. By contrast, light, frequent watering encourages plants to develop shallow roots. Follow these recommended watering tips.

Mulching with organic compost and/or layering straw at the base of the plant will help to retain moisture in your soil and reduce evaporation. An inch of compost and/or bedding around your plants also helps keep weeds from growing. Straw (or the dried stalks of grain without the grain heads) is generally considered more suitable (and is less expensive) than hay for use as mulch and bedding in vegetable gardens.


If you are using seeds stored from previous growing seasons, you may want to test the germination of your seeds to see how well they will do when planted this year. Most seeds can last for years, if stored properly, but some seeds have a relatively short life and may no longer be viable. Learn how to test your stored seed for germination and about storing seed. Continue to harden-off tender transplants before planting outdoors.

Sweet potato slips refer to the shoots that can be encouraged to grow off a mature sweet potato. There are many online resources on how to sprout your own sweet potato slips indoors from available tubers.
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