APRIL IS THE MONTH that gardeners in much of the country wait for, and then we freak out when it arrives. Cleanup! Pruning! Seed-sowing! Division! Transplanting! Fertilizing! Chaos! (In 2010, my April even included “Mow!” for the first time in 25 years here; the same was true in 2011. This year, who knows, after 80 and 22F in the last week of March. Maybe I’ll be mowing by April 15 instead of April 25?) Oy! The lowdown:
The Chores, in a Podcast
Note: You can hear the April chores highlights in the latest of the weekly podcasts I do with Robin Hood Radio, the nation’s smallest, NPR affiliate. Stream now, or get it on iTunes or Stitcher free. And remember: all month long, you can roll your cursor over any green-tinted day on the calendar in the top-right column of the homepage to reveal a suggested chore, then click through to the whole list–or scroll to a previous month’s to-do’s.
SOME THINGS WON’T STILL BE where you left them last fall. Oops. What died will make itself known this month…and what lived will scream for your attention, all at once. And not in harmony. 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.
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.
WHEN WORKING IN BEDS and borders, be careful not to clean up too roughly; desirable emerging self-sown annuals and biennials (larkspur, nicotiana, clary sage, Verbena bonariensis, perilla, Angelica gigas, etc.) can be disturbed unless you pay attention.
PREPARE NEW BEDS by smothering grass or weeds with layers of recycled corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, then put mulch on top.
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.
LOOKING FOR GROUNDCOVERS to tie things together? Start by perusing these workhorses.
YOUR PLANT ORDERS should be in the mail, or heading that way. When things arrive, bare-root woody plants will take priority in planting, so think ahead. The Resources page has lots of tempting places to browse and buy. An interview I did with Broken Arrow Nursery, and another with Gardenvines.com, may help you find some real goodies to add to your garden.
GET YOUR JOURNAL, calendar or notebook ready to record bloom times, timing of tasks, successes and failures, and valuable information from catalogs or seed packets.
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.
WHETHER REJUVENATING or just fine-tuning, all the pruning FAQs are here to help.
VEGETABLE & FRUIT GARDEN
WHAT ARE YOU GROWING this year? My 2012 seed order is here.
LAST CALL FOR PEAS is early April here, to avoid running into hot summer weather.
COLD-SEASON TRANSPLANTS like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower 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. Having trouble with carrots? Here’s the secret.
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.
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, then screen it 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. (My Compost FAQ page 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.