my garden chores: april 2011

I HAD TO POST THE NEWEST GARDEN CHORES A DAY EARLY, lest you think that the month’s to-do list was an April Fool’s joke. But no kidding: April is the month gardeners in much of the country wait for, and then we freak out when it arrives. Cleanup! Pruning! Seed-sowing! Division! Transplanting! Fertilizing! Chaos! (Last year, my April even included “Mow!” for the first time in 25 years here. This year, it will probably include “Shovel Snow!”) The lowdown:

Note: You can hear the April chores highlights in the latest of the weekly podcasts I do with Robin Hood Radio, the nation’s newest, and smallest, NPR affiliate.

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. Onward, together, into A Way to Garden, Season 4.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. TomW says:

    Check, check, check. Thanks for the list. Peas are up as is the garlic. Small sprouts of lettuce … still waiting for the spinach. Just plucked out six little slugs from those seedlings. Time for Sluggo.

    Dang, think I lost my Ceanothus for good during a 10 degree freeze we had out here during the Winter.

    Oh yeah, and gotta prune the grape and raspberries

    Time to get the son out mowing

    The yard is kind of a mess and I have some big rehab hopes this year. If I get to half of it, I will be happy.

  2. Nadine says:

    I’m in Texas, so my “oh my God there’s so much to do” comes earlier, and I’m hitting the tail end of the craziness. I’m mulching the front yard beds tomorrow, and that’s the last of the heavy lifting for a while. Right now I’m getting lots of lettuce, spinach, and onions. I’m getting strawberries here and there. Beets are coming soon. We could use some rain!

  3. Karen says:

    I love the fact that you and I are in the same zone and grow so many of the same plants. It is like having you in the kitchen looking out the windows with me and talking about what needs doing. -getting too old to adjust zones etc. on top of all the rest.

    -was just out there tidying up some winter debris before our spring fertilizer – 6-12 inches of snow tomorrow! – arrives. This too will pass.

  4. Johanna says:

    Congratulations on Season 4, Margaret! You’ve championed the way for us through some tough times, surely a little snow won’t get your goat. Keep the faith!

  5. Judy from Kansas says:

    Ditto on the gratitude for your being in 5b. Checked your list against mine and most everything was already there but thanks for the reminder to put in one more planting of peas – the first ones went in St. Pat’s Day and are up (right now tenderly tucked away against the past week’s hard freeze.
    Received a welcome box from the Kansas Forest Service today so tomorrow 18 new redbuds will go in the ground to make a grove around the big white pines.
    Freezing rain was hard on the thousands of daffodils we inherited when we moved in but the later ones will enjoy this weeks high 60s.
    So glad you’re there.

  6. Rosamund says:

    So glad everyone else is panicking. Daunting but must get on with it. The dogs, of course do not help, five of them especially the Maremmana who insists on coming between me and the trowel and pruning is fun when they insist on settling themselves leaning on the bottom of the ladder. The calming part is the sit on mower when they are not trying to bite the tyres. Happy Spring days here in Italy trying to get it all done before it hits 30+
    Happy gardening all.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Rosamund, all the way from Italy. Sounds like you have an entire pack of canines to “help” you. Here, only one feline! See you soon again, I hope; happy spring.

  7. angel says:

    I think I missed something. Do you remove the mulch from your beds in the fall? Do you leave the beds bare for the winter then?

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Angel. I don’t remove mulch, no; I top it up in spring (usually late April or early May — once the soil warms a little more than right now) and sometimes again midsummer as needed or even in fall if spots are wearing thin. So an ongoing process of keeping beds mulched.

  8. Annabelle says:

    Thanks for the list, Margaret. I’m sure you’re loathe to hear it, but we could really, really use some snow in Denver, this winter has been so dry and now the March winds have sucked out every last drop. I’m getting started on the cleanup and mulching, but want to know when can I divide perennials? I’m in 5a so not far off your schedule… I’m eager to fill in those beds!

  9. Deborah says:

    Judy, what part of Kansas are you?? I moved to Wichita from N. Ireland and it has taken some getting used to. I am doing the 4 square gardening for my veggies. Also because of projects in the house I have not gotten out to the garden yet. It never ceases to amaze me how the garden is one day bare and yellow and the next vibrant and green…spring in Kansas!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Sally. PEEPERS! I am awaiting the first utterances here; nothing yet, though the birds are going nuts all of a sudden in increasing volume. Hallelujah is right.

      Welcome, Deborah. “Taken some getting used to” sounds like an understatement…wow! Big change of garden location and conditions, indeed. Sounds like you have the veggie plan all under control.

      See you both soon again, I hope.

  10. nan says:

    Great fun for us at the New Canaan library talk. We learned much . Thanks. The plants that seem to have done particularly well here in Zone 6 during this dreadful season were the heuchera, iris, and such natives as phlox divaricata, Celadine Poppy. I would like it if each person’s comment included- the zone- especially fun was hearing from the gal from Italy!

    A question. What should be done with a large sized spread of kirengoshima and when?

    Hope you had a chance to look up my daughters’ native plant nursery, sunlight gardens..org Am sure you would find her listing and plants worthwhile.

    You have a great website! Nan

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Nan. Nice to hear from you. Yes, I have been browsing Sunlight’s wildflower catalog online, than you so much. Do you need to divide the Kirengeshoma? If so I’d do it in early spring.

  11. Kathy M says:

    Today in our zone 7 garden the wind is blowing so hard making it dangerous to be under any trees so garden chores must be put off. I have a dear friend coming for a visit from up in the Berkshires in Mass. She said she will be so excited to see green instead of white. You guys have had a terrible winter even for zone 5. I used to live up near Cooperstown New York so I know how wearing it can be. But remember how beautiful your summers and fall will be ,while down here in Va. we will be roasting and complaining about how it will never rain again.
    Bloom report: Dogwoods and Redbuds ,Tulips ,Epemediums,& Frittiliaries Hellebores setting seed,Hostas starting to unfurl and lots of MayApples. Lettuce,Sorrel.Spinach and Asparagus up and perennials all up and looking good.
    So much to do!

  12. TomW says:

    Bebe – Pacific Northwest. Not an April Fool’s. It’s been really wet out here however so I cloche my peas so they don’t drown and rot. It also protects them from any wet, sloggy snow that we have been known to get at this time of the year.

  13. Lynne Frailing says:

    East Coast of Virginia…garden beds are cleared from unwanted weeds being careful not to disturb important seedlings such as red bud trees, dog woods, and , annuals self seeding. I often allow trees I plan on sharing to grow a bit and then pot up for others. I planted tomatoes yesterday. Young lettuce is ready. Today was 89 so we are ready for planting.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Lynne, and 89 degrees! That’s full-on summer, no? :) We have a month or so to go before that, I expect, and maybe not even then; who knows what kind of year it will be (so far moist and cool generally…but starting to warm a bit). Hope to see you again.

  14. Janet says:

    Rain, rain, rain – I feel like I’m a few weeks behind because the ground is so wet in Central Pennsylvania. Getting beds cleared off between storms, but too wet to get early seeds in or holes dug for new roses (that are resting in my refrigerato)r. Ahhhh…it will all work out.

    1. Margaret says:

      Here, too, Janet. Yesterday it soared intot he 80s but then more deluges. Better than a dry spring, though. I am optimistic that any day now, the mud will give up the territory and let me play in the soil. :)

  15. Judy says:

    I live in kansas city, MO–I thought I was going to be able to plant my Garden by now–My pods that I planted my seeds in, are ready to be put in the ground—-but I can’t see me being able to get in the garden to finish tilling for at least 2 more weeks–it looks like I may have to just buy the plants. It just want quit raining!!!!!

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