Garden Views: As April arrives, gardeners start to get busy

Pansies enjoy the cool spring weather, says our gardening columnist Mary Fran McQuade.


We’ve got the light – now all we need is the warmth.

April flounces in with a few flutters of green, and gardeners go gaga. Frost is still in the air, and snow is a possibility, but we can get our hands on green and growing things, so who cares?

Earth Day (Apr. 22), Easter (Apr. 21, Orthodox on Apr. 28), Passover (starting Apr. 19) and Arbour Week (beginning Apr. 26) all lie ahead – times for celebrating our own and the planet’s survival.

If you missed planting your spring bulbs last fall, hit up our local garden centres, grocery stores and florists for heavenly daffodils, tulips, crayon-coloured primulas, cyclamen and pansies.

Buy them ready-planted or, if you like getting your hands dirty, pick single pots and plant them up in your own container. Add whatever accessories you have around the house. Let the kids join in by adding their own modelling clay critters, painted stick creations and birds’ nests crafted of twigs, twine and pebbles.

If a cold snap comes, and you’re worried about your early spring pretties, just prop some old towels or sheets over them at night. When the sun comes up, they can come out from under the covers. Keep them well-watered and nip off the dead flowers regularly, and they can last until you put your summer annuals in.

Before all the green stuff starts getting too big in your garden, grab some bags of commercial manure, compost or your other favourite natural fertilizer and spread it all over your beds and borders.

It will settle in and feed the young things starting to grow, and you won’t have to struggle to tuck it carefully between growing stems later on.

Don’t worry about digging the stuff in. (These additions are formally called “soil amendments,” but that sounds so formal.) Researchers now tell us that there’s a delicate web of microbes and other garden helpers in the top few inches of the soil. If we go gouging around there, we’ll disturb those unseen communities and do more harm than good. Bonus: Less heavy raking and tilling for us to do at this busy time of year.

Back when I was a new gardener, I thought all plant shopping began in mid-May, when the crowds hit the stores on Victoria Day. Was I surprised to find the perennial section pretty well picked over by then.

Turns out mid-April to mid-May is prime time for buying and planting anything that will live for more than one season.

Flowers, groundcovers, foliage plants and native plants – they all like to move in and get settled early. That way, they have time to put down good roots before they get on with the hard work of growing and flowering. (Just because you don’t see much action above ground doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on underground!)

Plant sales

If you’re hunting something a little unusual or hoping for some bargains, look beyond the usual retailers to the sales held by various gardening groups.
You’ll find healthy, locally-grown plants and varieties not available elsewhere. Most of these events also have surplus plants from members’ gardens selling for less than catalogue or store prices. Bonus: You can get lots of free advice, and you’ll be helping a good cause.

Here are some upcoming sales:

• May 4 – Native plant sale by the North American Native Plant Society. Featuring wildflowers, shrubs, trees, ferns, vines, grasses and sedges, the sale runs from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Toronto Botanical Garden, 777 Lawrence Ave. E. For info, visit

• May 5 – Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society sale of perennials and shrubs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Toronto Botanical Garden, see address above. For info, visit

May 10-12 – Spring plant sale conducted by the Toronto Botanical Garden. Featuring a huge selection of edibles and herbs, perennials, annuals, shrubs and small trees, succulents, houseplants and more from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., except Sunday closing at 4 p.m. Members’ advance sale is on May 9 from noon to 8 pm. See address above. For more info, visit

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