The third week of April is a good time to plant seeds of many vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, carrots, peas, kale, Swiss chard and radish.
You can start warm-season crops indoors now for setting out into the garden later after the weather has warmed. That means you can start tomatoes, peppers, melons, and eggplants from seeds now, so long as you sow them indoors or in a greenhouse.
Go ahead and purchase your favorite coleus, petunias and fuchsia starts now, but do not leave these tender plants outdoors overnight. A good trick is to place your newly purchased flower and vegetable starts in a wheelbarrow, letting them enjoy sunshine, light rain and spring breezes now so they can harden off a bit. Then wheel the contents back under the protection of a patio or garage each night until mid May.
Q. I planted clematis into a large pot a few years ago, and I love how it blooms on my patio. Every spring I give this vine the pony tail cut like you suggested in a class a few years ago. My question is how long can a clematis live in a pot that is about 18 inches deep by 12 inches wide? It bloomed for almost six months straight last summer. P.T., Sumner
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A. Your clematis must be heeding the advice ‘bloom where you are planted’ so why move a happy plant? Some clematis bloom for a dozen years before they need repotting.
You will know when to remove a vine, perennial or shrub from a pot by noticing a decline in the health of the plant. One way to keep potted plants happy is to add a fresh mulch of compost or moo doo on top of the potting soil every spring and gently work this into the top few inches of soil.
Every spring, potted plants should be fertilized using a slow release plant food. Heavy bloomers, such as annuals, roses and clematis, appreciate a liquid fertilizer as well. Remember not to fertilize clematis when it is in bloom or bud – a big meal will hasten its petal drop.
Q. I have a sage plant “Hot Lips” in a large pot and also a fuchsia that was in a windowbox last summer, and they both look like they have survived the winter because I see new leaves sprouting near the bottom of each plant. My question is when is it safe to cut back the old, dead-looking top growth on these plants? C.G., Auburn
A. Congratulations on your green thumb. Thanks to our mild winter, many plants will get a second summer this year. The end of April is a good time to cut back old growth, but only if you see new leaves appearing. Use sharp hand shears to cut back to just above the sprouting new leaves. Then add some fertilizer because pruning always stimulates growth by waking up a once dormant plant.
Q. I love lilacs but have moved to a smaller yard. I heard that there are some dwarf lilacs available. Can you tell me the name? J., Email
A. There is a more compact lilac called “Miss Kim: but even this lilac will grow to 8 feet tall and as wide. If you want spring color in a small space a better choice would be a dwarf rhododendron or compact azalea or fragrant dwarf daphne, early blooming heathers and the ground hugging ‘Magic Carpet’ spiraeas.
Add some dwarf evergreens for winter structure then surround your shrubs with compact summer blooming flowers such as begonias, alyssum, impatiens and geraniums. You can have a big color splash in a small space with the right choice of plant material.
Tip: Rhododendrons with the smallest leaves will be the slowest growers. Rhododendrons with large leaves will grow into tree-size plants.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.
10 a.m. April 23: Windmill Gardens, 16009 60th St. E., Sumner. The topic is “Crops in Pots.” $5 registration fee at windmillgarden.com or call 253-863-5843.