Have you noticed how much there is going on this April? 

April 9th there is a solar eclipse. Many of us have waited a long time for this: Canadians in Kingston and Niagara will see the “total” eclipse for the first time in 700 years.

We can’t wait, but just want to warn you not to look at it directly even with quality sunglasses on. The only safe way to look at the solar eclipse is through special-purpose solar filters, such as certified eclipse glasses.

You can, however, have a close look at the seed trays that you sowed as the emerging seedlings are very hard to spot at first. But my, what a thrill. Many of Mark’s perennials and slow germinating veggies like peppers and eggplant are poking through the soil in his greenhouse as we speak.  

If you ever want to hurry the spring-time experience along, get yourself a greenhouse. Mark likes to say that spring arrives a month early in his. The warmth, moisture, and the intensity of the sun on a bright day can add years to your life.

So he says.


If you are someone who enjoys starting tomato seeds early, be sure not to do this too early. There is a temptation to sow them now to get a head start on spring. What you will end up with are overgrown plants that take up a lot of room as you wait for the frost free date in late May. Once planted, the lanky plants will not take off quite like young, stocky plants that you sow around the third or fourth week of April. 


Better to take your energy and invest it in raking your lawn lightly, to remove winter debris. 

As the ground dries out you might aerate your lawn to open up the root zone to fresh air and oxygen. Long term, your lawn will benefit.

Apples and fruit

Prune apples and other fruit trees before they break bud, ie. “flower”. This is a good time of year to train fruit trees against a wall or along a trellis. The goal of pruning fruit generally is to open the canopy to allow the sun to filter in, the wind to pass through. You will maximize yield and minimize disease and insect problems.  


Dormant plants purchased from your garden retailer are better planted in April than later in the heat of the season. Flowering shrubs, evergreens and trees love to meet the cool, moist earth this time of year. As they break dormancy they will produce leaves and flowers in harmony with the season: following natures cues to wake up and smell the roses (in June). 

On this point, avoid planting any plants that have been forced early. They have arrived from a greenhouse or points south where they broke their winter slumber early and are soft and susceptible to frost, wind and sun damage. If you do purchase a plant that has been forced protect it on the east side of your house or in an unheated garage or shed until weather warms in May. 

Be sure to check out our “to do” list below and Jody Allairs’ monthly birding message. Have you noticed the lovely bird songs in your neighbourhood? How invigorating is that!

And check out the Harrowsmith monthly recipe. And look for the spring edition on news stands. We are pleased to have made a contribution once again to this fine publication.


Mark and Ben Cullen

Merchants of beauty and beans.


·      Plant.  Don't wait for the 'traditional May 24 planting weekend' to plant frost hardy trees, shrubs, evergreens, perennials (that are not 'soft' and greenhouse forced), roses and hardy annuals (say, what?) like pansies, violas, ranunculus, anemones and spring flowering bulbs (assuming that you need more than you planted last fall) which are in full bloom in pots at your favourite garden retailer.

·      Start many of your veggies and flowers indoors for planting out in May. Be ready to plant and save money!

·      Starting more seeds and hardening off seedlings is an ongoing project that starts in March right into May. With veggies, we start early and plant seeds in succession, so we can transplant seedlings at various stages of maturity - this ensures that the crops don't all come at once.

·      By mid-April we harden off some of our seedlings in a cold frame against the potting shed at Mark's, and a mini-greenhouse that Ben has on his porch so that they are ready to be planted early.

·      Start your dahlia bulbs and other summer flowering bulbs inside using 1-gallon pots and a quality potting mix, which will give you a jump on their blooming season.

·      By mid- April, weather permitting, we'll be direct sowing some of our more cold-tolerant crops such as beets, broccoli, salad mixes (including choy and kale), peas, potatoes, leeks and carrots. Direct sowing is our favourite way to grow many veggies as it is so straight forward, and eliminates all the costs associated with seed starting indoors or buying seedlings. You can save up to 90% off the price of store-bought transplants by direct-sowing seeds in your garden.

·      Set up your rain barrels and garden furniture. Sharpen the blades on your lawn mower (you won't need it for another month) and change the oil. Unless it is a cordless electric machine. Just hug it.

·      It is also a good time to cut back perennials left standing over the winter, allowing this year's growth to peak out. Ornamental grasses get cut down to 3-4 inches, and hydrangeas just have their blooms cut off if you prefer sturdier steams, or all the way to the ground for big, floppy flowers. You could put this material in the compost or do like Ben and add it with the straw he is using in the vegetable garden for mulch. Eventually it will break down there while providing the benefits of mulch in the meantime.


Your Guide to Helping Canada's Birds

By: Jody Allair

The question I get asked the most (after “what’s this bird”?) is what can I do to help birds in my yard or community. It’s often a very complicated answer as there are so many different ways people can help conserve our feathered friends. Luckily we have an amazing new resource that people can use to help take action for birds - it’s our new Guide to Helping Canada’s Birds.

These recommendations are backed by science and endorsed by Birds Canada staff. Whether you are new to birding, or have been a bird conservation advocate for decades, please use this information and let others know what they can be doing to help birds.

Mountain Bluebird

Photo credit: Jody Allair

The list is fairly comprehensive and it includes ways you can become a champion for birds such as volunteering, becoming a bird-savvy consumer, and even how to get to know your birds and sharing what you learn. We also dive into how you can help reduce the biggest threats our birds face. These include some well-known threats like keeping cats inside, and making your windows safe for birds but also broader concerns such as reducing plastic use and taking action on the climate crisis.

I really hope you set aside a few minutes and visit the website:

Your Guide to Helping Canada’s Birds | Birds Canada | Oiseaux Canada.


Good Birding!


Jody Allair

Director, Community Engagement

Birds Canada

Connect with me on Instagram and X at: @JodyAllair

Harrowsmith’s SPRING EDITION

The latest print and digital edition of Harrowsmith magazine is now available on newsstands across Canada.

Packed with everything you have come to love about Harrowsmith – gardening tips, seasonal recipes, DIY projects and more – this issue will inspire you to shake off the winter chill and embrace all the warmth and brightness Spring has to offer. 

BONUS OFFER: As a subscriber to this newsletter, you can get a one year subscription to Harrowsmith for a special price of $29.95.

Click here to learn more.