Begin "hardening off" warm-season transplants a week or two before planting. Beware of late frosts and keep vulnerable plants and new shoots protected at night if frost is forecast. Don’t be tempted to put out tender bedding plants until late in the month and even then be prepared to cover if necessary.
To enjoy harvests before hot weather arrives, sow peas, lettuce and spinach early this month.
Wait to plant seeds for corn, green beans, squash, cucumbers, okra, sweet potatoes and other heat lovers until the soil has warmed to 60 degrees.
If your space is limited, consider growing vegetables in containers. Containers also require less time, water and effort than a larger garden.
Plant strawberries, blackberries and other small fruit.
Begin planting out summer bulbs such as caladiums, gladioli and acidanthera at two-week intervals.
Divide most perennials once they’ve sent up significant foliage - at least a couple of inches tall. Divide them if they are getting crowded (floppy stems, reduced blooms, a dead spot in the middle) or you simply want more plants.
Try planting those spent Easter lilies in the garden. Set them about 5 inches deep in a sunny location. They probably will not bloom again this year, but should be back next summer.
Seeds of amaranthus, celosia, cosmos, marigold, portulaca, zinnia and other warm-season flowering annuals can be sown directly in the beds where they will grow late this month.
Move stored summer flowering bulbs such as dahlia, lilies and gladiolus outside to their summer locations after all danger of frost has past.
If you want to relocate daffodils, it is okay to dig them after they have bloomed. Do not remove leaves. Replant them as you would any other transplant and leave the leaves to die down on their own.
When your garden is not too wet to work, till or turn over the soil for May planting, incorporate lime and phosphate according to soil test recommendations.
Fertilize garlic planted last fall as greens get up and growing.
Fertilize fruit trees, blueberries, grape vines and brambles.
Fertilize woody plants before new growth begins.
Test lawn soil and apply lime if warranted.
A good schedule to follow for fertilizing Bermuda grass, zoysia grass and St. Augustine grass is the "Major Holidays Rule." Divide your total nitrogen requirement for the year by four. Put down the rate of nitrogen on or near each of the four holidays: Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day.
Around your individual peony plants, apply a trowel-full of wood ashes and one of rotted manure or compost (triple these amounts for larger plants). Also, set ringed supports around plants before heavy growth makes the job impossible.
Fertilize spring-flowering bulbs as they finish blooming.
Feed perennials when you see 2-3 inches of new growth.
To avoid damaging perennials’ emerging shoots, clean up beds by hand. Then apply a balanced fertilizer over the old mulch. Place fresh mulch over the fertilizer.
Roses have high fertilizer requirements. For most soils, use a complete fertilizer for the first application just as new growth starts, then use ammonium sulfate, or other high nitrogen source, every 4 to 6 weeks, usually just as the new growth starts following a flowering cycle. For organic sources use cottonseed, rotted manures or alfalfa meal.
As soon as azaleas and camellias have finished flowering, apply an acid fertilizer at the rate recommended. Don’t over-fertilize as azalea roots are near the surface and damage can occur. Water thoroughly after fertilizing.
Fertilize houseplants as new growth appears. Follow label directions.
As soon as spring-blooming shrubs have finished blooming, it’s time to prune if they have gotten too large.
Cut buddleia (butterfly bushes) back to 8-12 inches from the ground. It doesn’t take them long to fill out with fresh new growth and cutting them back like this will give you bigger and more abundant flowers through the season.
Examine shrubs for winter injury. Prune all dead and weakened wood.
Prune paniculata hydrangeas and Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ (not mophead blue hydrangeas).
Prune grape vines to remove dead or weakened limbs. Repair trellises as needed.
Climbing hybrid tea roses may be pruned as soon as they complete flowering.
Take cuttings for new plants from azaleas, carnations, chrysanthemums, fuchsias, geraniums and succulents.
Prune, repot and clean houseplants as needed.
Take a little time to check the plants in containers, those under the eaves of the house and under tall evergreens to insure they are getting enough water.
Keep transplanted flowers well watered during dry spells.
Mount a rain gauge on a post near the garden to keep track of precipitation so you can tell when to water. Gauges should be at least 10 feet from any building. Most gardens need about 1 inch of rain per week between April and September.
Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems help you save water and money.
As you do your spring planting, be sure to plan how to water this summer. Place those plants requiring the most water closer to the house.
Remember the pots planted this spring will need to be watered daily this summer. Consider how much time you will have for watering each day before you plant. Hanging baskets may need to be watered as often as daily or even twice a day in the heat of summer.
Always read and follow the label directions when applying any chemicals.
Protect bees and other pollinating insects. Do not spray insecticides on blooming plants.
Weed, weed, weed! Now is the time to dig or hoe weeds from your gardens and yard. Every weed pulled now is a thousand you won’t have to confront later.
After removing winter weeds, apply a fresh layer of mulch to landscape beds before summer weeds germinate. Only add enough mulch so that the total depth of mulch is no more than 4 inches.
When planning the vegetable garden, remember to rotate the location of plant families from year to year, if possible, to avoid disease and insect infestations.
Begin spraying fire blight-susceptible apples and pears using an agricultural streptomycin.
It’s time to begin a regular spray schedule for your fruit trees. Follow the schedule recommended on the label for your specific type of fruit trees. Never spray an insecticide when the trees are in bloom!
Now is the time to wage war on slugs and snails.
Get your mower blade sharpened. Mowing with a dull blade tears the ends of grass blades, leaving ragged ends that encourage the spread of fungus disease.
This is a good time to hit broadleaf weeds such as clover and dandelions with a spot spray of a selective herbicide. Check with your local Co-op store for suggestions.
White grubs are one of the most common lawn pests in the United States and one of the most damaging to your lawn. They are the larval form of beetles, including the Japanese Beetle - another well-known pest! The best time to control these grubs is in the spring and fall when they are actively feeding close to the surface.
Botrytis is a fungal disease that causes blackened spots on buds, leaves and stems of many perennials including peonies. If you noticed this disease on your peonies last year, spray with a fungicide like Bonide Mancozeb, Bonide Liquid Copper or Daconil.
If you had black spot on your rose foliage last year, begin spraying with a fungicide such as Bayer Advanced All-In-One Rose & Flower Care, Mancozeb, Liquid Copper, Daconil or Bonide Sulfur Fungicide.
Remove and destroy old iris leaves. Also, remove any surrounding debris in which the eggs of the dreaded iris borer may lie.
When you first see tent caterpillars (when they are small) is the best time to control them.
Check new tender growth for aphids. A few can be tolerated, but large numbers should be controlled. Washing them off with a strong spray of water may be all that is necessary for adequate control.
Soil purchased for use in beds, low areas and containers should be examined closely. Often, nutgrass and other weeds, nematodes and soil-borne disease are brought into the yard through contaminated soil sources.
Review plans in your garden journal. If you don’t have one, start one now. Sketching garden plans, taking photos, and marking the date and weather conditions of gardening tasks in a simple notebook this season will help you decide when to tackle some of your gardening chores next year.
Make sure your garden beds are not too wet before you work them. Soil should crumble instead of forming a ball when squeezed. If it’s been raining and the soil is saturated, you’ll have to postpone your gardening for a bit longer.
Driving around the neighborhood or visiting a local public garden may give you some great ideas of what you’d like to have blooming in your yard at this time next year.
If you haven’t already, clean and repair your garden tools.
Turn the compost pile as often as you can for a wonderful amendment to your garden soil!
Let the foliage of the spring bulbs die most of the way down before cutting the leaves. The bulb needs to absorb that energy for next spring.
A good lawn-care program of aerating, dethatching, fertilizing and proper irrigation will keep your lawn healthy and better able to tolerate summer heat, pests and disease.
Continue to remove winter mulches and debris.
Mulch ornamental shrubs to conserve moisture, to keep cool in summer heat, to control weeds, maintain soil moisture and to give a neat appearance. Pine straw is ideal mulch.
Clear out debris and muck from the bottom of the water garden and add it to your compost heap. Start feeding fish again when water temperatures hit 50 degrees or they’re active and eagerly eat the food.
Honeybees may swarm on your property. Notify a local beekeeper to find a new home for these beneficial insects.
Remove tree wraps from fruit trees now.
Break off rims from peat pots when transplanting seedlings, otherwise they can act as a wick to draw moisture away from the roots.
Complete adding finished compost to planting bed soil.
Cultivate garden beds as soon as soil is dry enough to work. Plant roots need loose soil 12 inches deep. Mix in a few inches of peat moss or organic material such as finished compost or well-rotted manure.
Have row cover fabric handy if frost-sensitive crops are planted before May.
Pull weeds in the strawberry bed and put straw mulch between the rows.
The first hummingbirds arrive soon. Get your hummingbird feeders cleaned and ready to go out.
Spring can be a crucial point in time for songbirds. They have just flown from who-knows-where during migration and now they have to lay claim to breeding territory, mate, build a nest, then care for their babies. Natural sources of food may not yet be available or easily accessible. Keep the feeder full!