6 now-or-never late-april tasks

early-morning-april-24-4THE WEATHER HAS BEEN GIVING ME FITS, but finally spring seems to have mostly taken hold. Translation: TOTAL PANIC UNDER WAY. Garden tours start May 31, not leaving much time to get things in shape. Some tasks cannot wait—they are now or never, really—all awaiting me right under the ominous “X marks the spot” in the photo I took this morning (above). At the risk of instilling panic in you, too, I share them here…but not before saying happy six-month anniversary to our beloved Thursday columnist, doodler Andre Jordan, who joined us in mid-October. Enough pleasantries; now back to Red-Alert Mode:

Asparagus-Planting Time: Asparagus tests even the most committed gardener, asking for a major feat of excavation followed by a lot of patience. Whatever kind you’re planting (hopefully an all-male strain like one of the Jersey types, which yield 20 to 30 percent more than dear old ‘Martha Washington’) you have to dig a trench about 18 inches wide and deep—no less than a foot in each direction, please. Here’s how.

Less-Than-Spectacular Daffodils? They need a diagnosis, now… and a remedy, even sooner. Too much Nitrogen, too little of other nutrients, overcrowding, not enough sun or moisture: These are just some of the factors that can cause Narcissus to make leaves but few flowers. Get the lowdown here (or for all your bulb worries, including this one, try the Bulb FAQ page).

Potatoes—Prep Now, Plant Soon: While prepping my vegetable garden last week, I unearthed several potatoes that eluded me last fall. Potatoes go in early, a week or two before the final frost, meaning mid- to late May for me. In cooperative years, when the soil is workable and no longer sodden and cold, I jump the gun and plant at the end of April. The method is here.

Let’s Twist Again (Ticks, That Is): It’s nearly impossible in tick-infested zones to avoid having one climb on you, but you can prevent embedding with a careful strip-and-search after each outdoor session (toss those clothes into the washer). If one does bite, get it completely out, with all its mouthparts, before it causes any health risk: I use a $3.95 tool I couldn’t live (safely) without. Time to set your anti-tick protocol in motion.

Calling All Caterpillars: Destructive tent caterpillars will show up any day now; they may already be coming alive in your garden, after overwintering as masses of several-hundred eggs. My non-toxic approach to knocking back the population on my favorite ornamental trees.

magnolia-buddingMake the Pruning Rounds: I try to do a little bit of pruning each day now, before things leaf out and make the job harder, targeting the most-needed candidates and lugging the organic fertilizer with me so I can give them each a feed when I’m done. I call my method Pruning Pared Way Down; anyone can follow it. There are a few suckers on the Magnolia (above) and the oldest apple (below) which are about to pop, come to think of it…

Take a moment from your chores to come say hello on Twitter, if you please, or post a comment to let me know what’s on your to-do list, and how your garden grows.

Categoriesedible plants
  1. Susan says:

    I have Daffodils slowly coming up, I think they were planted in a shady area, as they are only 4″ tall at the moment.
    Should I move them once they have bloomed?

    Ticks, a creation I have not figured out, living with 2 dogs and the need to be in the earth, strip-and-search is the only answer.

    Happy 6 months Andre.

  2. chigal says:

    My peas and spinach are a couple inches tall with true leaves, now, but only half of the peas sprouted. I hope they’re getting enough sun. Yipes!

    Anxious to transplant seedlings into my larger tubs at ground level, which have been soggy since snowmelt. Maybe Sunday.

    Lots of cobwebby mystery pods in my overhang, this year — I like finding little spiders on my plants, but I’ve noticed that as the years go by my garden attracts more and larger visitors! A great black wasp – a very fat one the size of my fist – swung around the plants and hoisted herself up there, last fall. I’m more frightened of discovering a wasp colony this year than spiders. The great black wasps (the ordinarily giant ones, not the behemoth I encountered late in the season) spent the summer feeding on oregano blossoms — maybe I should get that plant back outside in case there are larvae lurking in the soil.

  3. Deirdre says:

    There’s a company called Buzz Off that makes insect repellant clothing. If I lived in tick country, I’d wear the socks for sure.

  4. Amy says:

    We just had a load of gorgeous topsoil delivered today. It used to be a tobacco field, so I have high hopes for good nutrient levels in the soil. Our chores this weekend are to till the new soil into the terraced planting beds my husband made for me, finish cleaning up leaves and detritus around the yard, and building our compost heap. This is our first spring in our house, so the chores seem daunting, but tackling them a little at a time, we are slowly whittling them down. Next week, planting the seeds! Woo hoo!

  5. ChzPlz says:

    The weather has been giving me fits too… It was 35 F when I got out of bed this morning, and it’s going to hit 80 F tomorrow.


  6. margaret says:

    It is helpful to have all you here in your empathic states of mind, despite the panic of spring; thanks.

    @Dierdre: Never heard of the tickproof clothes; thank you. What will they think of next?

    @Amy: Definitely send out some samples for a soil test, a full-nutrient analysis. (She says, needing to do this herself as it has been too long in some areas.) :)

    @ChzPlz: My point exactly: frost then several days in the 80’s? Hello spring, goodbye spring.

    @Susan: Yes, easiest to dig them up “in the green” (not when they are dormant and hidden, leafless.

    @Chigal: Sounds like you have your own Animal Planet over there, too.

    @Andre: Good thing that we are both getting younger as the months, pass, that’s all I can say. Garden doodles=fountain of youth, I figure. :)

  7. aja says:

    I am slowly coming out of mourning…being the pathetic newbie to starting plants from seed, I just couldn’t get it to work. They all come up, but then shot straight up with no umph and then just feel over and died. So bad. Not enough light I suppose…

    Made me nervous that my black thumb would ruin the outdoor work too. But its all ok now, seeds are planted and the garden is looking tidy.

    (oh, and I also ruined a pretty rose bush with my aggresive pruning…sheesh…making mistakes wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have to a wait a whole year to try again!)

  8. Dear Margaret, Yes! I am determined to have an asparagus bed this year, so thank you for that reminder. (Also I think I got that posting glitch fixed; let me know if I didn’t.) I wish I could have a blog/site as glamorous as thine.

  9. Anastasia says:

    this post came out great ;)

    and there are those crisscrossing jet streams above your house (aka the center of the universe)!

  10. Bill says:

    That here’s the dish link under non-blooming peonies doesn’t work. I’m interested in the tips about peonies that don’t bloom. Thanks.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Bill, for the catch. The info is here (a few boxes down in the “conversation” on this Forum post). Much appreciated that you pointed out the problem; reuploaded some data the other data and must have grabbed an incomplete/old file!

  11. Shirley Dumas says:

    Our garden is overrun with scilla – can’t believe that I actually purchased bulbs years ago that have now taken over virtually every spot in the garden. They are lovely, but have required hours of garden time to pull up. Any suggestions other than to dig?

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Shirley. My glory of the snow (Chionodoxa) and winter aconite (Eranthis) and now the scilla, finally, too, are all starting to disperse in widening areas. I am just celebrating it, and not trying to stop it, but I think digging would be the only way. If you pull off the foliage each year the bulb can’t regenerate as well, and deadheading the flowers early will mean no more seed scattering…but that all sounds like work, too, so might as well dig while you are at it, no? Sorry not to have a better answer.

  12. Joyce says:

    Hi Margaret,

    This is the first time I have stumbled onto your blog; I enjoyed reading your monthly column in Living Magazine and wondered where you had gone. I should have figured you would be residing in a garden. :> I have missed your influence on Living. It is just not the same beautiful publication it was under your influence, but I am glad you are enjoying life in the midst of God’s creation.


    Monument, Colorado

  13. melissa says:

    I love your website. I discovered it during our long Maine winter.

    We have been in our house for almost 4 years. We bought it from the original owner who is British so the gardens are wonderful. Lack of time is my major limiting factor but slowly we are making our landscape our own. One of my goals is to some day have rhubarb coming out of my ears!

    Thank you.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Joyce. I am glad you found me and also grateful for your compliments. Yes, I am here in the garden where I belong…with the birds and the frogs and the amazing light to keep me company. Though the name of my site is A Way to Garden, many people think it’s Away to Garden because I ducked out to go live in the country. :) See you soon.

      Welcome, Melissa, and thanks for the kind words. I am well into the “rhubarb coming out of our ears” phase of life, so if you stay put, you will get there. I really enjoyed my visit to your photostream on Flickr, and especially the “petal confetti” image at curbside. Lovely. See you soon again?

      Welcome, Stylish Gardening Blog. I love how you say “earthed,” which will make Andre feel homesick I suspect as we all talk funny over here (and yes, I agree they just do see to grow in fast-forward, don’t they?).

  14. linda Pastorino says:

    Hi, next two weeks of chores is as follows: weather was exceptional today… zone 5B Tree ponies are popping out now.
    This year the dandelions are on attack. More than I have ever had. First thing to deal with this week. I dont’ know why every year is a different onslaught.
    Seeding of lawn spots gone bare, was done last year but badly, then the rest of the box balls shaped, taking away of large limb that broke through rose garden trelis today, hit aspaleried apple, tie up apple, fix fence, planting out of small seedlings in veg garden, shaping of more of the shrubs and cutting dead wood from some plants before flowering, cleaning up porch, getting plants out into containers in about a week. Weeding out of the on slaught of thai bazil that took over rose garden gravel, thousands of them out there. My fault last fall didn’t dead head in time. Replacing items that didn’t make it and or finding new ones.
    Adding more unusual shrubs and trees this month. Edging of beds that need it.
    putting down mulch. Getting drip system turned on this week. Putting in more Asparagus! i tried them first time this year, I ate one, they have been in three years. It was incredible. I put in a few as ornamental and not to eat but now I need a bed for them. I never prepaired the ground as described and they have done well. I had very well done tilled muchroom compost there for the roses and other perennials. Never knew there was a particular way to put them in. I like the idea of purple ones as per your article. thanks for so much great info every week!

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