Good morning, gardeners, and Happy April! Here are our April garden chores.
On a lovely spring day like today, it’s tempting to think the weather is behind us, but alas, don’t put away that frost cloth yet. It’s Western North Carolina where the adage, “If you don’t like the weather, stick around for 5 minutes it will change,” is an actual thing. Mother’s Day weekend is our safety net for late freeze/frost, but there are many chores to do and the sun to enjoy, so off we go. Remember April chores bring May flowers.
If you missed March’s chore list, click here. You’ll find it similar to April, but it addresses lawn care, too.
The temperature forecast looks pretty good, with daytime temperatures in the 60s and 70s and lows in the high 30s-50s at night (April 7th is dicey). So, keep the frost cloth out, and an odd assortment of towels, blankets, and buckets ready just in case. I wait for my spring show in the garden all year, so it’s worth the trip outdoors at 9 p.m. in my PJs to cover. Frost cloth is the best way to prevent spring burn, but if you find yourself without it, upside-down containers, sheets (not your good ones), and blankets (again, the dog’s old blanket or such) work too. If you can, go purchase frost cloth. It’s like buying a snow shovel. Buy it, and the snow won’t come. Either way, you won’t be hanging your best sheets over those prized peonies with fingers crossed.
Fertilizing is one of the keys to healthy plants. Now is the time if you haven’t fertilized those lovely azaleas, rhododendrons, mountain laurels, Japanese pieris, hydrangeas, camellias, or hollies with Holly Tone. 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?) Again, this is a necessary chore, don’t skip it. And while the instructions can sometimes be daunting, don’t let them hang you up. You didn’t hear it from me, but I sprinkle around the root zone, water, and go. Don’t starve the plants. This is the month.
Yes, you can plant now. The general rule of thumb is when the soil can be worked and isn’t soggy. Trees, shrubs, early blooming perennials (creeping phlox), and early season vegetables (see below for vegetable planting chart) are OK to plant now. But what about fall? Isn’t it the best time to plant? Fall is an excellent time to plant trees and shrubs since soil temperatures stay warmer than air temperatures for about six weeks, allowing roots to establish while plants go dormant. But, spring is also a good time. Stagger the planting based on the plant, meaning don’t plant tender perennials and annuals now. Wait until after the chance of frost is past for those, but feel free to go ahead and get those hollies in the ground. Mother’s Day is the typical frost date noted for Western North Carolina, but after April 15th, you’re much safer. For more information on spring planting, read here. If you have questions, the store staff is happy to help.
While planting, remember 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, remove 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 healthy root system is crucial. Check out this video with Jon Merrill on the proper way to plant a tree.
Watering is the second part of planting correctly, and while spring often brings showers, watering is still essential to help 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 it. If it doesn’t, get out the hoses. Here’s the care guide for watering and fertilizing plants.
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. NC State Vegetable Planting Guide
Prune spring-flowering shrubs like azaleas, forsythias, lilacs, and weigela after the flowers fade. Always prune out dead or damaged wood in all of your shrubs to avoid pests or diseases infesting the wounded/dead area. Prune spring-flowering trees like cherry trees again after the flowers fade. To be safe, if it blooms, prune after it blooms. This applies to all shrubs and trees. For more information on shearing and pruning, click here. Here’s a good plant by plant guide for when to prune from Proven Winners.
6. Cleanup & 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 treat as needed. Weed beds first, then apply 2-3 inches of mulch. For information on mulching, click here.
7. Pollinators and Wildlife.
Consider building bluebird boxes in the garden, or adding 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, click here.
And, if you don’t know how to grow a pollinator garden, we made it easy for you. Click here for a pollinator garden design to follow (it is downloadable).
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 its new environment. But night’s temperatures need to be 55 and above for our indoor plants to camp outdoors overnight. Here’s a good read on how to make that move.
9. Don’t Cut Back the Spring Blooming Bulbs
Wait until the leaves have turned yellow. I know. It’s unsightly, but by the time the leaves are yellow, the June flowers are starting to pop, and you’re the only one that notices those yellowing leaves, I promise. And here’s why braiding the leaves isn’t good for the bulbs.
OK, You’ve got plenty to do. Off you go. July will be here in a wink of an eye.
Written by Cinthia Milner, Landscape Consultant, and blog writer.
BB Barns serves all of Western North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.