APRIL IS THE MONTH NORTHERN GARDENERS WAIT FOR, and then we freak out when it arrives. Cleanup! Seed-sowing! Division! Transplanting! Fertilizing! Chaos! However frazzled we feel, remember to feel this: grateful to be here to see it, and even to be here to do it all (or as much as we can get done, because the list is worrisome, isn’t it?). Progress, not perfection, as they say in the 12 Steps. Onward, together, into A Way to Garden, Season 3.
APRIL IS THE MONTH THAT UNHINGES me slightly, as I said last year, and then comes May, when I just come apart. That said, it’s also pure heaven, this thing called spring: the affirmation each day of possibility and potential coming true before your eyes, the magic. What died will make itself known this month…and what lived will scream for your attention, all at once. And not in harmony.
COOL-SEASON ANNUALS like pansies and violas can be potted up for spring color.
ONCE BEDS ARE CLEANED UP, topdress according to label directions with an all-natural organic fertilizer and a layer of finished compost. Wait to apply mulch until the soil warms thoroughly.
PREPARE NEW BEDS by smothering grass or weeds with layers of recycled corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, then put mulch on top.
WHEN WORKING IN BEDS and borders, be careful not to clean up too roughly; desirable emerging self-sown annuals and biennials (larkspur, clary sage, Verbena bonariensis, perilla) can be disturbed unless you pay attention.
TENDER BULBS like cannas, callas, tuberous begonias, dahlias get a headstart if potted up indoors now, then transplanted after all frost danger passes. How to wake them up and get them growing.
TREES AND SHRUBS
QUICK! PRUNE OFF VIBURNUM-BEETLE egg cases before larvae hatch. The anti-viburnum beetle scheme.
PRUNE ROSES just as buds begin to push, removing dead, damaged and diseased canes and opening up the plants to allow light and air; feed. Plant new roses, especially those that come bare-root.
HYDRANGEA PRUNING: Prune paniculata hydrangeas and Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ (not moptop blue hydrangeas).
WAIT UNTIL AFTER BLOOM to prune spring-flowering shrubs like lilacs.
VEGETABLE & FRUIT GARDEN
LAST CALL FOR PEAS is early April here, to avoid running into hot summer weather.
COLD-SEASON TRANSPLANTS like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts can still be sown indoors if you hurry (or store-bought seedlings can go outdoors around month’s end). Sow carrots, radishes, dill outside, and even kale and collards and many Asian greens.
TOMATOES ARE SOWN INDOORS around six weeks before their frost-free set-out date, or around mid-April here for early June planting outdoors. Eggplants and peppers can be sown indoors, too. All my tomato info is here.
FERTILIZE GARLIC planted last fall as greens get up and growing.
BARE-ROOT CROPS like raspberry bushes, strawberry plants, fruit trees, asparagus, go in upon arrival.
PRUNE GRAPE VINES to no more than four fruiting canes with 7 to 10 buds apiece if you didn’t in March.
CUT OUT CANES OF raspberries that have borne fruit, and any that are thinner than a pencil. Shorten the remaining young canes by at least a foot.
STAY OFF SOGGY LAWNS, period. Once the ground is firm and dry, lawns need a vigorous raking with a bamboo rake (not plastic) or dethatching with a rented machine, then overseeding as indicated.
HAVE MOWER SERVICED and sharpened before it’s needed. Next time, do in fall. Fill fuel can; have correct oil on hand.
‘READ’ YOUR LAWN WEEDS to determine what’s really needed this season. Moss means you need lime, for instance. Get off the chemicals this year.
REMOVE FINISHED COMPOST from bottom of heap and make room for incoming debris.
SCREEN FINISHED COMPOST before using to remove twigs and stones; turn and moisten remaining partially broken-down contents to aerate and get things cooking. Use finished compost to topdress beds before applying mulch in a few weeks. (Composting basics explains it all.)
On using this list in your garden: The monthly A Way to Garden chores and based on my Zone 5B Berkshire MA/Hudson Valley NY location; adjust accordingly. NEW: If you are in a colder zone, refer to last month’s. Ahead of me? Have a sneak peek at the next edition.