April marks the beginning of spring and the gardener needs to be aware of the unpredictable weather this month brings us.  Now is the time for the avid gardener to prepare her beds with the awareness that soil that is too wet should not be worked.  Also, one needs to be aware of the last frost date for this area (avg. 4/10-4/21) before planting delicate annuals and summer blooming perennials.  If you haven't done so recently, a soil test may also be needed.

Indoor Plants

  • Prevent stem rot of house plants by potting plants on a slight mound with the soil sloping 1/4 to 1/2 inch lower at the edge of the pot.
  • The Easter lily needs bright indirect light.  Avoid direct sunlight and keep the soil moist.  After blooming, it can be planted in a sunny spot in the garden after the danger of frost is over, where it will bloom next year.  However, don't plant it near other lilies since it may carry a virus that can infect other lilies.
  • Don't be too anxious to move your house plants outdoors.  Even a good chill can knock the leaves off of tender plants.

Lawn and Landscaping

  • Warm-season grasses, such as bermudagrass, zoysia grass, and centipedegrass, should be fertilized with 1 pound of nitrogen/1000 sq. ft. of quickly available nitrogen fertilizers (with less than 50% slowly available nitrogen).  This application should be repeated in May and June.
  • Control lawn weeds now through late May before they get large, and temperatures get too high to apply herbicides safely.
  • The first grass clippings of the season are rich in nutrients and contain fewer weed seeds than those collected later.  Put them in the compost pile or mow frequently and leave them on the ground.
  • Estimate your grass seed needs at 2 to 3 pounds of bluegrass seed or 4 to 8 pounds of tall fescue per 1000 sq. ft.  Remove debris, level and firm soil before seeding.  Cover seed by raking the area lightly.
  • Do not mow the lawn until it has grown at least 2 inches.  The roots are being renewed in the spring and grass needs vigorous growth initially.
  • Plant grass seed to fill in bare spots in your lawn.  Loosen the soil to a depth of 1/2 inch with spade or rake.  Sow a good-quality seed with a low percentage of weed content and a high germination rate.  Spread the seed liberally and work it in lightly.  Use a fertilizer designed to encourage root development in new lawn areas.  Gently water the newly seeded area.  Keep it moist.  Use a mulch to retain moisture.
  • An important principle of garden design to remember is to have your plants in groups large enough to form masses of color or texture.  As a rule, five or seven plants set in a grouping to form an irregular shape creates the desired effect.
  • Where flower gardens or window boxes are visible from indoors, select flowers in colors to complement your curtains of porch décor.

Perennials, Annuals and Bulbs

  • When purchasing bedding annuals this spring, choose plants with good color.  Buy plants with well-developed root systems that are vigorous, but not to large for their pots.  Also purchase plants with lots of unopened buds.  Plants not yet in bloom will actually bloom sooner, be better established and grow faster.
  • Observe your daffodil and other spring bulbs while in bloom this spring to be sure they have not been shade by the new growth of other tree or shrub plantings.  If they have, you may need to move your bulbs to a new, sunny location or prune back the plantings.
  • Plants from greenhouses need to be hardened off before planting in the landscape.  Place newly purchased plants outside during the day, but bring in at night to protect them from early season, cool, night temperatures.  Gradually, the plants can be left outside for longer periods of time until they have fully acclimated and can be planted.
  • Fertilize bulbs upon emergence of foliage with a 10-10-10 fertilizer, using a rate of 3 pounds per 100 sq. ft.  Repeat the application after the bulbs have bloomed.
  • Lift, divide, and replant chrysanthemums as soon as new shoots appear.  Each rooted shoot or clump will develop into a fine plant for late summer bloom.  Pinch out the top when the plants are about 4 inches to thicken the plant.
  • Plant red or yellow flowers to attract hummingbirds.  Monarda (beebalm) is good perennial to provide nectar for these small birds.
  • If you have a deck with a sturdy rail, attach a gutter along the outside of the top rail for a planter.  Fill it half full of soil mix.  Install drip irrigation and finish filling the gutter with soil mix.  Plant your gutter with small, flowering plants appropriate to the available light.
  • Make a plot layout of your flower borders.  With an accurate plot plan, you will know where to locate the spring flowering bulbs you plant next fall.  Also, it will make your spring and summer gardening easier.  You will be able to identify the  plants in your border and plan for continuous blooming by setting young annuals between bulbs and early flowering perennials after their blooms have faded.
  • Label the clumps of daffodils that are too crowded, as overcrowding inhibits blooming.  Dig up and separate in July.
  • Cut flower stalks back to the ground on daffodils, hyacinths and other spring flowering bulbs as the flowers fade.  Do not cut the foliage until it dies naturally.  The leaves are necessary to produce strong bulbs for reflowering.

Trees, Shrubs and Groundcovers

  • Don't coat pruning cuts with tree paint or wound dressing, except for control of certain disease carrying insects.  These materials won't prevent decay or promote wound closure.  Some tests, however, have shown wound dressings to be beneficial on trees that are susceptible to canker or systemic disease.
  • Layering has been found to be successful on more species of trees and shrubs than any other style of vegetative propagation if done in spring or late fall, as rooting is most vigorous in cool weather.
  • Woody plants can also attract hummingbirds.  These include buckeye, horse chestnut, catalpa, apple, crabapple, hawthorn, silk tree, redbud, tulip poplar, azalea, beauty bush, coralberry, honeysuckle, lilac, New Jersey tea, Siberian pea shrub and red weigela.
  • Don't add organic matter to the soil when planting trees.  It does not help the tree become established and may create conditions that encourage the roots to stay inside the planting hole instead of spreading into the surrounding soil.  Do dig a large planting hole, but fill it with the original soil that was removed from it.
  • Some shrubs grow best on acid soils with a pH of about 5.  These include Andromeda, azalea, blueberry, camellia, mountain laurel and rhododendron.  At a higher pH, these shrubs may become yellow and have very poor growth.
  • Prune spring-blooming shrubs, such as forsythia, weigela and early spirea, after they have completed flowering.
  • If dogwood leaves have been small, sparse and pale, the trees may need fertilizer.  Take a soil sample from the area beneath the trees.  Return the soil sample to the Extension Office and request a soil test.  Correct fertilization recommendations will be returned with the results.
  • Once new growth begins on trees and shrubs, cut back to green wood any twigs affected by winter kill.
  • Do not fertilize azaleas and camellias until they have finished blooming.  They should also be pruned after blooming.
  • Before planting bare-root shrubs and trees, soak the roots in water overnight.

Vegetables

  • Start warm season vegetables and flowers indoors under fluorescent lights for transplanting outdoors mid-May after the last frost. Peppers, eggplants, cucumber, squash, and melons can be started indoors now.
  • Cool season vegetables like peas, radishes, lettuce, spinach can be planted now.
  • If you haven't done so already, set out onion seedlings and perennial vegetables such as horseradish, asparagus and artichokes.
  • Put small felt collars around young cabbage plants to protect the roots from being attacked by root flies.
  • Sow maincrop potatoes approximately 2 feet apart; to ensure room for development later.

Tools and Equipment

  • If a wooden handle breaks off of a good quality tool, look for a replacement handle.  It probably will be less expensive than a new tool.
  • Ice cream scoops are great to dig holes of uniform size when setting out transplants, and the dirt slides right off when you release the handle.
  • When raising and transplanting seedlings in the house or greenhouse, an ordinary table fork is an ideal transplanting tool.  You can loosen the plants in the seed flat without damaging the roots.  Then you can open a hole for the new transplant in the new flat or pot by rocking it sideways.  Finally, by sliding the tines around the delicate stem and pressing down, the transplant can be firmed in the growing medium.

Miscellaneous

  • To determine if soil is ready to work, squeeze a handful into a tight ball, then, break the ball apart with your fingers.  If the ball readily crumbles in your fingers, the soil is ready to be worked.  If the soil stays balled, it is still to wet to work.
  • Keep a calendar close to the door going to the garden.  Use it to track when and what you plant, fertilize, apply pesticides and harvest.  Also note the weather.  You will refer back to these notes next year.
  • If peat and soilless mixes are hard to moisten, use warm water because it soaks in easier than cold water.
  • When tiny seedlings are transplanted into individual containers, water by placing them in a shallow pan of water.  Do not pour water into pots as this disturbs the roots.  When the media is moist, remove the pots from the water and place them in a shady spot for a day or two before returning the plants to a sunny place.
  • Moles are tunneling, insect eaters attracted to grubs.  When bulbs are missing or shrubs have root damage, look for voles or field mice to be the culprits.  These rodents often use mole tunnels as their runs.
  • Over- or under-fertilization can weaken or kill plants.  Nitrogen deficiency is characterized by stunted, yellowing leaves near the bottom of the plant and slow, stunted growth.  Over application of nitrogen may cause leaf tip burn or all vegetative growth (no flowers or fruit).

April Tips

April Garden Tips