It's April. It's spring. The birds are chirping. The sun is shining. The garden is coming to life, and the gardener knows, "Begin afresh, afresh, afresh," (Philip Larkin, The Trees). In that spirit, here are the April garden chores. The time of year when garden chores give us an excuse to get outside and enjoy the sun on our faces after a long sun-less and ridiculously rainy winter. So, out you go!
April is azalea month. Masses of color grouped together serving as the perfect picture backdrop for high school proms all across Western North Carolina. Azaleas and April are like June and weddings--they go together. Now is the time to match those mismatched azaleas. The nursery will soon be brimming over with every color of azalea, so finding the right color is easy, either to match, complement existing ones, or start a new bed.
[If you missed March's chore list, click here. You'll find it similar to April, but it addresses lawn care, too.]
1. Frost Cloth
The forecast looks great, (okay it looked great while writing this, but this winter has been a doozy), and we're stocking the store with plants like mad, but play it safe. Go ahead and buy that frost cloth, anyway. It's like buying the snow shovel. Buy it and the snow won't come. Either way, at least you won't be hanging a sheet over those prized peonies hoping for the best.
Fertilizing is one of the keys to healthy plants. If you haven't fertilized those lovely azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurels, Japanese pieris, hydrangeas, camellias or hollies with Holly Tone, now is the time. Follow the instructions on the bag. Use Plant Tone for all your other landscape plants and Rose Tone if you love your roses. (And, speaking of Japanese pieris, have they had a banner year or what?)
Yes, you can plant now. Trees, shrubs, some perennials, and some vegetables. If you're unsure, ask a staff member. While planting, don't forget to amend the soil (do a 50-50 mix of native soil and amendment), and use BioTone for a good root starter. BioTone contains mycorrhizae, a beneficial fungus that extends the plant's roots. Be sure to root prune, removing any broken or diseased roots, and then tease the roots out to look like the spokes of a wheel before going into the ground. The first job of the roots is to anchor the plant so establishing a good root system is crucial. Watering is the second part of that, and while spring often brings showers, watering is still essential to helping roots get established. Invest in a good rain gauge. If the garden gets an inch of water a week, the gardener doesn't have to water. If it doesn't, get out the hoses.
Check out this video with Jon Merrill on the proper way to plant a tree.
Keep the vegetable garden producing by planting potatoes, onions, beets, chard, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Start another batch of cool season lettuces to allow for longer harvest. Here's the chart pdf form for what to plant when.
Prune spring flowering shrubs like azaleas, forsythias, lilacs and weiglea after the flowers fade. Always prune out dead or damaged wood. Prune spring flowering trees like cherry trees after flowers fade, if needed. For more information on shearing and pruning, click here and here.
6. Cleanup-Pest, Weeds & Mulch
Clean up beds nearest the house first and work your way out. Remove matted leaves, and cut back perennials hanging on from last year. Be on the lookout for these insect pests: azalea-lacebug, boxwood-leaf miner, euonymus-scale, hemlock and juniper-spruce mites and treat as needed. Weed beds first, then apply 2-3 inches of mulch. For information on mulching, click here.
7. Wildlife and Pollinators
Consider bluebird boxes in the garden, or bird feeders (yes, there are ones that are squirrel proof), because who doesn't love the startling color of the bluebird or the sound of chirping in the garden? To read more about bluebird boxes, how to install them and where to place them, download this pdf from the North American Bluebird Society. check out these easy-to-grow-from-seed pollinators.
8. Hold off on taking those tropicals outside.
As much as we'd all love the extra space indoors, wait before you let your tropicals spend the night outdoors. Moving them out on a warm day now and bringing them back indoors at night is fine, it helps the plant adjust slowly to it's new environment. But nights temperatures need to be 55 and above for our indoor plants to camp outdoors over night. Here's a good read on how to make that move.
Now, go pull out those old prom photos, just for kicks.
Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach and blog writer.
BB Barns serves all of Western North Carolina, upper South Carolina, and Tennessee.