What to Plant in April

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Squash seedlings

The coming weeks are the busiest in the gardening calendar, with absolutely loads to sow or plant. It’s not so much ‘what can I sow this month?’, but ‘what can’t I sow?’!

Read on or watch our video where, among other things, we’re getting squash family veggies underway, sowing my favorite root crop, and planting some rather mysterious-looking roots...

How to Sow Squash

I love every member of the squash family – cucumbers, pumpkins, zucchini, and everything in between! This plucky tribe of fruiting vegetables are among the most prolific of all crops, and can go from being small, stocky seedlings to great sprawling vines in what seems like the blink of an eye.

Squash family crops can be sown three to four weeks before your last frost date so that, by the time it’s warm enough for them to go outside, you’ll have good-sized but manageable and resilient young plants.

Sow squash by simply pushing a chunky seed into a small pot or large plug of all-purpose potting mix. There’s some debate as to whether sowing them on their edge is better – it’s said to shed water better so they don’t rot. I have no idea if that’s true if I’m honest, but I’ve always sown them that way just in case! I’d love to know what you reckon about this – please do comment down below. Finish by giving them a drink of water to get them started.

Squash seedlings in pots in the greenhouse
Squash plants hate low temperatures, so keep them under cover untill conditions warm up

Squashes like warmth – you really don’t really want to expose them to temperatures any lower than the about 46ºF (8ºC) or so. Sow them indoors on a sunny windowsill if it’s still a bit cold where you are.

If the seedlings start getting too big for their pots before it’s time to transplant them outdoors, transplant them into progressively larger pots until conditions are right. All types of squash love a sunny spot and, once they get their roots down into the soil, they’ll put on rapid growth. Transplant them into the ground once the nights are reliably mild. If it’s cool, leaden-skied, or windy, you can always pop a little cover over plants for the first week or two to give them some extra protection until they settle in.

If sowing into pots seems like a bit of a faff, you’ll be delighted to know that all types of squash can be sown directly where they are to grow later on in spring, once there’s no risk of frost. Just push seeds into loose, rich soil, then pop a clear jar over the top to offer a little extra warmth until the seedlings emerge.

Harvesting broccoli
Harvest the main head of broccoli then wait a few weeks for a bonus extra crop of sideshoots

Growing Broccoli

Super healthy summer broccoli is super easy to grow, and I find that if you cut the main head at harvest time you’ll usually get a secondary cut of smaller spears a few weeks later, extending your harvest period. I also love using the stems in soups and stews – the flesh is almost sweet and, in my opinion, tastes even better than the spears.

Scatter a pinch of seeds over the surface of a pot of sifted potting mix. Cover them over with just a little more potting mix. Once they have germinated, carefully transfer the seedlings into plug trays, one per plug. Grow them on until they’ve filled their plugs, and then transplant them into the ground. You could sow straight into the plugs of course, but the extra step of the pot means you can pick the biggest and best seedlings and guarantee one strong seedling per plug.

Broccoli is a cool-season crop that doesn’t like it too hot or dry, so it needs regular watering as the weather warms up. In many areas you will need to protect them from birds such as pigeons by planting them under netting, or cover them with fine insect mesh to keep the cabbage white butterflies, cabbage aphids and cabbage moths off – what a list of brassica botherers! But by midsummer you should be cutting off those first rich-green spears. Wonderful!

Harvesting beetroot
Gourmet homegrown beets are simply irresistible!

Sowing Beets

Beet roots are divine – grow them yourself and they’re positively saintly! There’s no beating beets roasted with thyme, a little honey, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Serve up hot, or cold with a salad and perhaps a good cheese.

Sow beets now for summer harvests, and then again in early summer to give roots for enjoying over winter. There are two options for sowing them: direct, in rows where they are to grow, or multisowing beets into plug trays to transplant as small clusters of seedlings a few weeks later.

To sow direct, first mark out your rows, leaving about a foot (30cm) between them. Plants should be about 3in (7cm) apart, but sow a little thicker than this to allow for any failures. The seedlings can be thinned to their final spacings once they’ve come up.

Cooler weather can increase the risk of beets flowering (known as ‘bolting’) before they’ve produced a useable root, so early in the season you might want to choose a bolt-resistant variety such as ‘Boltardy’. You can also protect your seedlings with a row cover of garden fleece to keep them a little warmer.

Multisown beets
Plant clusters of beet seeds then harvest the roots in stages

Alternatively, sow beet seeds into plug trays, pushing about three seeds into each plug of potting mix. The idea behind multisowing beets like this is to grow the seedlings on as clusters. This saves effort when planting, as you can plant a group of plants at a time. I reckon it makes the most efficient use of space too.

The seeds are in fact seed capsules capable of producing more than one seedling each, so once the seedlings have pushed through remove any excess to leave no more than around five per plug. Then, once you can see a few roots at the bottom, transplant them into the garden. This time, because they’re going out in clusters, they will need a bit more space between them – at least a foot (30cm) between each cluster. Harvest the biggest in each cluster once they reach the size you need, and leave the rest to grow on.

Salad onions
Salad onions don't take up much space so can be grown very close together

Salad Onions

Scallions, spring onions, salad onions – whatever you like to call them, they’ll bring a lovely fresh zing to the springtime vegetable garden!

Mark out drills and sow the seeds nice and thinly, aiming for a seed every half inch (1cm) or so. Pinch the rows shut, then water. Salad onions don’t take up much space thanks to their strappy leaves, which means you can keep the rows a bit closer together, at around 8in (20cm) apart. However, they are easily swamped by weeds so check back often and remove any weeds you find before they get too big. Hoik them out by hand so you don’t disturb the shallow-rooted onions.

Planting asparagus
Plant asparagus crowns on a ridge in a trench to help water drain away from the roots

How to Plant Asparagus

Asparagus is a perennial vegetable, meaning it survives from year to year. That’s good news for us because we only have to plant once for up to 20 years of delicious, melt-in-the-mouth asparagus spears!

Asparagus needs a well-drained soil to prevent the roots from rotting, so it grows well in raised beds. Once established, asparagus needs little more than an occasional weeding, a little mulch to feed the soil, and cutting back at the end of the season. To help the plants establish you’ll need to resist harvesting for a few years but, boy oh boy, it’s worth the wait!

Asaparagus is normally purchased as one- year-old dormant crowns. To plant, dig trenches 18in (45cm) apart, and plant crowns the same distance apart within the trenches. Next, fork some compost into the bottom of each trench before creating a slight ridge along the middle to support the crowns. This should help water to drain away so the plants are not sitting in wet soil for long. Make sure the growing points on the crowns face upwards, and spread out the roots on either side of the ridge. The roots are very brittle, so use gentle hands! Then it’s just a question of filling the trench back in with the excavated soil so the crowns sit about 4in (10cm) below the surface. Finally, give them a good water to settle them in.

Patience is a virtue when growing asparagus, but the rewards are worth it!

Resist harvesting from your new asparagus plants this year and next. Harvest with restraint in their third season, then with gusto thereafter, taking the last cut by early summer each year. Sometimes gardening requires a little patience, but that only serves to make the rewards all the sweeter!

There’s still time to sow most of the crops from last month’s video too if you haven’t done so already. Happy gardening!

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