my april 2012 garden chores

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.

FEED BULBS as green shoots get up and growing. Few blooms? The answer’s here.

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.

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.


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.

SOW MORE SPINACH; sow salads, arugula, broccoli raab. Repeat in short rows or blocks every 10 days.

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.

NEED GENERAL HELP ON SEEDS? Start with my Seed FAQ page. And C.R. Lawn of Fedco Seeds has some great tips, too.

DID YOU ORDER potatoes for planting later this month or next? Some gardeners say to do so when the forsythia blooms. What about asparagus crowns to start a bed?

FERTILIZE GARLIC planted last fall as greens get up and growing. Want help with other herbs? Try this interview with expert Rosemarie Nichols McGee.

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.

  1. I wasn’t overwhelmed till I went down the list! Fortunately (for me!) I don’t need to do everything there – though it’s such an inspiring one – I almost wish I did!.

  2. Johanna says:

    You haven’t mowed yet? I mowed twice in March, then sent my mower for service (I thought I was ahead of the game until that 85 degree week). Now I really need to mow again but the mower’s not back.

    At least the warmest March on record gave us the opportunity to get a bit of a jump on April — some weeding is done!

  3. Maria says:

    Phew… I’m tired already just reading the list! Goodness, I’ve been mowing my grass since early March because it has been unseasonably hot here in NC. Quick question: my pink Hydrangea is already full of thick beautiful leaves. Normally I leave it alone but noticed on your list to start pruning now???

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Maria. My lawn has been bright green for about 10 days (usually doesn’t happen till mid-April sometime or later if we have lingering snow of course) and in some patches it is definitely starting to grow. UGH! Now when you say pink hydrangea, do you mean the paniculata kind, with football-shaped trusses of maybe July-September white flowers that then age to pinkish-tan? You don’t HAVE to prune them ever — but sometimes the plants get so big otherwise, that you have to — and late winter (before they start to leaf out) or earliest spring is when, if needed.

      Not sure though if you mean pink-flowered “moptop” ones (the ones we often see in blue) that have more rounded flowerheads? Those we don’t prune till flowering is done, late summer or fall.

  4. Denise says:

    Fertilizing garlic? What do you fertilize yours with? I looked on the link and could not find a mention of it?

    I love the monthly chores list.

  5. Really, really, really love the new site look and the ads are beautiful! C’est la classe. Your site is so easy and enjoyable to use now. Your description of how one feels when the garden begins waking up is so on target. Mine woke up about six weeks ago, and I have been flying from wielding various tools to tending compost piles to weed whacking to sowing to transplanting to pruning to fertilising. Though exhilarating, organisation is essential so thanks for this pithy post.

  6. Kyle says:

    I have a hydrangea that is not growing at all. It was a transplant 2 years ago. It sat all summer last year with just leaves about 1ft high. It is looking like it will do the same this year. What might this be? Love the blog. Count your blessings that you aren’t mowing yet!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Kyle. Not unusual for a transplant to sulk the first season if it gets its root system beat up in the move (did you dig it from elsewhere or was it from a nursery pot? — usually the actual digging and moving is much more stressful that merely unpotting/planting). It could have suffered root damage, especially as I say if you dug it, or the spot chosen may have an issue (for instance, a rock outcrop just below the plant or too dry/too wet…) and I have even had vole damage to root systems of shrubs (unseen below surface…but then suddenly the plant started to decline). The only way to investigate is to dig it up and see the condition of its roots…which of course can set it back again. Does it look healthy (lots of good foliage)? Has everything else at your place already started pushing new growth?

  7. Linda says:

    I can’t find a practical screen device to get rid of rocks and twigs in my compost pile. Something easy to handle. Any suggestions?

  8. Anne Allbeury-Hock says:

    Hi Margaret. …What a list! Everything here in Maryland is just glorious! That lovely shade of yellow green in the trees and every kind of blooming fruit tree is
    covering the lanes with flowers. I am tackling lawn renovation…It is mostly weeks
    but I hesitate using any kind of killer as they all say they kill clover…which looks
    pretty nice right now. I think I will rent the dethatcer thngy..and then re-seed.
    What does one do to get rid of wild violets? Yes, they are pretty but the seedlings
    are everywhere. The cover my hosta bed…but even vinegar does not kill them! I send my very best wishes,…and I hope to visit you on your open garden day. Let me know exactly when that is. Hugs from Anne

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Anne. All the events and open days are listed on the page up top (in the bright green bar) called EVENTS. I should be tackling lawn renovation here too but too many other chores to do! See you soon.

  9. Mikaela D. says:

    Whew! I’m still in planning mode for my gardens! Although my direct-sow seeds for some of my herbs and flowers did arrive – yay!

    I was told that I should figure out where the hardscape goes and THEN think about planting. [I’m doing an overhaul of one flower bed and putting in a few raised vegetable beds.] Do you agree? Or should I just start prepping the beds and decide hardscape later?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Mikaela. I broke all the rules and added paving and such when I could afford it, gradually, after many of the plantings. But I imagined it beforehand — and let grass serve the purpose for many years before I could do stone.

    1. margaret says:

      Nice to meet you, Sorta Off the Grid. Hey, it’s progress, not perfection, so the list is everything but I may not get to it all…to say the least! :)

  10. Lizanne says:


    We have a house down the road in Copake Falls. I’ve built some raised beds this year for vegetables and wonder if you could recommend a good local resource for organic topsoil? I’ve got my compost prepared, trellises in the works and my indoor seeds planted–just need to pull it all together. Thanks so much!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Lizanne. I use Farm and Feed, Bryon Clough, from up by Chatham for my deliveries, 928-4826. He has great mulch, compost, soil, etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.