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April to-do list for vegetable gardening

Early preparation = fewer weeds

Annie Klodd, Extension Educator-Fruit and Vegetable Production

Tomato and pepper seedlings should be started
in April for late May transplanting. Photo: Julie
Are you ready for the 2018 vegetable gardening season? This new and ongoing series of monthly articles will lay out what to do during each month in the garden, to produce an abundance of fresh, healthy vegetables.

In April, the to-do list includes starting seeds indoors, getting the soil ready, and planting early or "cool-season" crops like asparagus, potatoes and onions.

Starting seeds indoors

Certain vegetables perform best when the seeds are sowed indoors in mid-spring, grown into seedlings for several weeks, and planted outside once the threat of frost has passed. These include warm-season crops like peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes, which all require warm temperatures and a long growing season to produce vegetables.

Gardeners can choose to start their own seeds indoors in the spring or purchase transplants from a supplier several weeks later, to plant directly into the garden.

The seeds for the following vegetables should be sowed indoors in April:

Peppers (late March-early April)
Eggplant (late March-early April)
Okra (late March-early April)
Tomato (April 1-15)
Sweet potato roots (mid-April)
Cabbage for late planting (April 15-May 1)

One advantage of starting seeds indoors instead of buying seedling transplants is that an enormous diversity of seed varieties are available in seed company catalogs. Options for transplants are limited to what garden centers and plant sales have in stock. However, transplants grown and sold commercially may also be grown under more optimal conditions than what is easily available to home gardeners.

Those wishing to start seeds indoors should research the materials and labor needed to construct a growing setup with appropriate lighting and temperature control. University of Minnesota Extension has information on starting seeds indoors via this article: Starting Seeds Indoors, or by contacting 

Prepare your soil for cool-season crops

April is the time for gardeners to prepare their soil for cool-season vegetables like potatoes, onions, broccoli and cabbage. Cool-season crops mean those that can be planted in the spring before the last frost, and as soon as the soil is prepared. 

So, what does it mean to "prepare the soil?" Soil preparation includes tilling or hoeing, incorporating compost or fertilizer, and removing any weeds that have emerged.

Tilling the garden in the spring prior to planting begins to warm the soil, allows compost to be added, and uproots winter annual and early summer annual weeds. However, it also stimulates new weeds in the soil to germinate. Therefore, gardeners should weed the soil regularly after tilling to minimize weed competition with the young crop.

How to till the soil

Use a rototiller or hoe to till the top several inches of the soil, and then rake the soil surface to break up large clumps. Raking the soil also pulls away the uprooted weeds so that they cannot re-root. Compost and fertilizers may be incorporated during this time.

Avoid tilling when the soil is too wet, because soil that is disturbed when very wet may end up compacted when it dries. There are simple tests a gardener can do to know whether the soil is too wet to till. Soil that is too wet will stick to a shovel or shoes, and will maintain a ball instead of crumbling when squeezed. Wait a couple of days until it has dried slightly, and try again.

More information on preparing the vegetable garden can be found here: Planting the Vegetable Garden

Time to check your soil

April is also a great time to test the garden soil for fertility, pH, and organic matter content. Soil tests detect issues in the soil that could reduce the health and yield of the vegetables. One important issue is deficiency in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus that are important for plant growth. The test will also recommend ways to amend the soil to address these problems. The University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory charges $17 for a standard lawn and garden soil test. Information on soil health and testing can be found here:
April is the month to start some seeds indoors and
begin direct-seeding cool season crops to the garden.
Photo: Julie Weisenhorn.

What and when can I plant outside?

There are many cool-season crops that can be planted outside in mid- to late-April in Minnesota. These relative planting times are based on average temperatures for central Minnesota. The ground must be thawed and easily workable before planting. Watch the weather and alter your planting dates based on conditions in your particular area. As always, read the seed packet for planting times for your particular seeds.

The following crops can be planted from about April 15 to May 1 in Minnesota, depending on the weather in your particular area:
  • Asparagus crowns 
  • Broccoli, early planting 
  • Brussels sprouts, early planting 
  • Cabbage, early planting 
  • Cauliflower, early planting 
  • Collards 
  • Endive 
  • Horseradish 
  • Onion sets and transplants 
  • Parsley 
  • Potatoes – can continue to be planted through May
  • Rhubarb  
  • Turnips 

Plan now for a bigger harvest later 

Some crops are commonly planted in succession, wherein growers plant batches of seeds at time intervals over a period of weeks, in order to harvest over a longer time period later on. 

The following crops are commonly planted in successions starting in mid- to late-April (however, single plantings are also acceptable):
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi 
  • Lettuce, leaf 
  • Lettuce, head 
  • Peas 
  • Radish
  • Spinach

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