April 2008
Featured Articles



Plant


· Transplant seedlings and young plants once the danger of frost is past. Use plant markers to mark each plant so you’ll remember what you put where. Protect tender plants from wind and pests.

· If your space is limited consider growing vegetables in containers. Containers also require less time, water and effort than a larger garden.

· Start eggplant, pepper and tomato seeds indoors at the middle of the month.

· Warmer weather crops like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and peppers should not be planted outdoors until next month.

· Plant spinach, peas, onions, shallots, garlic and turnips as early in the month as soil and weather conditions permit.

· Sow herbs like chives, parsley, sage, dill, thyme, marjoram, etc. in open spots on the border.

· Start summer veggies in individual pots indoors now. They will be ready to transplant in May and early June.

· Garden peas, snap peas and snow peas are easy to grow and a delight for the cook to use in all sorts of dishes. Put some in your vegetable gardens.

· Spring is the time to start the parade of colorful flowers which will flow into summer. Check into the many plants like marigolds, petunias, portulaca, celosia, geraniums, impatiens, verbena and zinnias.

· Consider geraniums for their bright, bold, flower heads to accent your garden and containers this summer.

· Freshen up your container gardens with new plantings of colorful annuals and trim back winter damage from your perennials. After planting, bait with snail and slug control and give everything a shot of 0-10-10.

· Remember to "spring up" the indoors as well. Colorful indoors can be achieved with African violets, kalanchoe, Persian violet, streptocarpus and more.

· Want great color? Try planting petunias late this month. For more blooming, remember to pull off dead blooms every day.

· April is the month for planting summer flowering bulbs like dahlias, gladiolas and lilies. Mix bulb fertilizer, processed manure and peat moss into the planting soil. Tuberous begonias and canna should not be set outdoors until all danger of frost has passed.

· Moonflower, hyacinth bean, scarlet runner bean, morning glory, cypress vine and black-eyed Susan vine are all annual vines that will grow on and soften a fence, trellis or any vertical structure in the garden without a long-term commitment. Plant late in the month.

· If frost has long since left your area of the state, be sure to plant fuchsias and geraniums. For those stored indoors, move them outdoors. Trim them back, feed and re-pot if necessary. Water them well. For those already in your garden, prune them now.

· Seeds of amaranthus, celosia, cosmos, marigold, portulaca, zinnia and other warm-season annuals can by sown directly in the beds where they will grow.

· Marigolds can be planted during the last half of the month. They will fill the void in any flowerbed as an edging, background plant or simply massed by themselves because of their various sizes, flower forms and colors!

· Plant annual seeds of asters, cosmos, marigolds and zinnias in the garden.

· Divide perennials like daylilies, delphiniums, iris, chrysanthemums, daisies and phlox. The additional plants can be traded or given to friends, or moved to a new area of the garden.

· In their flowering positions, sow seeds of hardy annuals: e.g. nasturtium, calendula, lavatera and cornflowers.

· Direct sow nasturtiums, snapdragons, asters, alyssum, calendula, centaurea, pansies, violas, scabiosa, mignonette, dianthus, poppy, cosmos, gypsophila, annual phlox, verbena and ageratum.

· Interested in fragrant perennials? Check into gardenias, jasmine, sweet olive shrub, mock orange, viburnum, sarcococca, star jasmine and Japanese spurge.

· Plant new rosebushes before growth starts and buds swell.

· April is a great time to select and plant fruit trees and berry plants. Fruits and berries do best when planted in full sun.

· Plant trees and shrubs now to give them plenty of time to get established before the summer.

· If you know of dry spots in your garden, plant drought resistant, attractive shrubs like crape myrtle, oleander, wild lilac and rosemary.

· Plant gardenia shrubs in a warm, sunny corner for sweet scent and lovely flowers. Try planting them under a window for a special treat when the breeze blows in!

· Seed bare spots in the lawn early in the month.

· If you have a pond or pool, set aquatic plants any time after the middle of the month.

· Repot houseplants. Take them out of their current pots. Examine roots. If they are root bound, repot with fresh potting soil in larger pots.


Fertilize


· If you haven’t already, get a soil sample analyzed.

· Established broadleaf and needle leaf evergreens benefit most from lightly spreading a high nitrogen fertilizer around their bases.

· Do not fertilize newly planted trees or shrubs.

· 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.

· Feed established roses to increase the quantity and quality of bloom. 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 four to six weeks, usually just as the new growth starts following a flowering cycle. For organic sources use cottonseed or alfalfa meal. Well-rotted manure can be used on rose beds both as food and as mulch.

· Hybrid Tea Roses should be fertilized prior to buds beginning to bloom. Using a systemic fertilizer will also help prevent insect infestation later in the summer.
· Fertilize spring-flowering bulbs having spent flowers with 5-10-10 at two pounds per 100 square feet.

· Removing spent flowers, trimming back excessive growth and applying fertilizer to an established annual bed can do wonders toward rejuvenating and extending the life of the planting.

· Encourage good, strong lawn growth with regular feedings applied at the rate recommended on the container. A good schedule to follow for fertilizing Bermuda, Zoysia and St. Augustine grasses is the "Major Holidays Rule." Divide your total nitrogen requirement for the year by four. Put down this rate of nitrogen on or near each of the four holidays: Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day.

· If there is moss growing in the lawn, use spring lawn fertilizer having moss-killer included, so you can do both jobs at once.

· For organic fertilization of your lawn, top dress this month with an inch or so of compost, if you didn’t apply it in March. Mixing it with a bit of wood ash ensures strong healthy growth. Once spread, you can also overseed patchy areas.


Prune


· The months of March, April and May are ideal for pruning evergreens. If you have juniper, cypress or conifer needing shearing or pruning, this is a good time to accomplish this task. Remove all dead, diseased and undesirable wood. However, do not prune back into the bare-wood part of the plant.

· Prune early flowering shrubs immediately after flowering and before new growth begins. Keep the natural shape of the plant in mind as you prune and avoid excessive cutting except where necessary to control size.

· When they have finished blooming, you should deadhead spring-flowering bulbs. Do not cut off the green foliage yet! The green leaves continue to grow for a few weeks and provide the bulb with food for flowering next year.

· Prune ornamental grasses.

· Prune your roses, except climbing varieties.

· Pinching back the tips of foliage house plants will stimulate new growth and make your plant fuller and bushier.


Water


· Did you have to skimp at the grocery store last growing season to afford your water bill? Here are some practical tips on saving water outdoors:

· Landscape with plants needing less water.

· Don’t overwater. Buy a gauge to measure the rain your lawn gets.

· Water lawns during the time of day when temperature and wind speed are lowest to reduce evaporation.

· Put a timer on your sprinklers so you don’t forget to turn them off.

· Over-fertilization increases your lawn’s need for watering. Don’t overfeed.

· Use a soaker hose instead of a sprinkler system to better target the water.

· Mulch plants well to retain moisture.

· Make sure your sprinkler system isn’t watering the sidewalk, driveway or street.

· Set lawnmower blades to three inches or higher to encourage your lawn to grow deeper roots and hold moisture better.

· As you do your spring planting, be sure to plan how to water this summer. Consider how much time you will have for watering each day before planting. Hanging baskets may need to be watered as often as twice a day in the heat of summer. Place those plants requiring the most water closer to the house.

· Be sure to take a little time to check the plants in containers and those under the eaves of the house and under tall evergreens to ensure they are getting enough water.

· Although we think of this as a rainy month, it can fool us. Keep transplanted flowers well-watered during dry spells.

· Aerating the lawn will allow water to penetrate deeper into the lawn soil and reduce the need to water during the dryer months ahead. Use a garden fork and punch holes over the surface of your lawn.

· Establish regular watering and mowing schedules for your lawn. Warmer weather is around the corner and you want to keep it in tiptop shape.


Pest Control


· Many pests are attracted to weak and sickly plants; conditioning soil not only promotes growth, it can actually deter infestations of insects and disease.

· Control weeds and aerate the soil by cultivating between the rows of plants.

· Slugs need to be killed as they are found. The smaller slugs are greedier than big slugs and can eliminate small transplants overnight. Protect plantings by baiting on a regular basis. Read label directions.

· Check new tender growth for aphids. A few can be tolerated, but large numbers should be controlled. Always follow label instructions on approved pesticides for control. Washing them off with a strong spray of water may be all that is necessary for adequate control.

· It will soon be time for bagworms to attack junipers and other narrow-leafed evergreens. Control measures, like Sevin dust or spray, should be applied while the insects and the bags are about one-half inch in length.

· Spray rose varieties susceptible to black spot using a spray containing triforine (Funginex). Use every seven to ten days. Many of the old garden roses and some of the newer ones have considerable resistance to black spot.

· Mosquitoes are out and biting. Saucers under pots, bird baths and still-water features are all places where mosquitoes will breed. So what is a gardener to do? Clean and refill bird baths every few days; empty the saucers under your pots and containers on the deck after each watering. In still-water features or other areas in the landscape, use a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) product like mosquito dunks. This naturally occurring bacterium can be used in water and safely kills mosquito larva. With Bt products, there is no threat to birds, pets, fish or other animals. As with any insect control product, read and follow all label directions.


Odd Jobs

· April intoxicates gardeners with a delicious state of mind known as anticipation. After four long months of the gray skies and mud, all is now possible in the garden. There are no failed dreams or color schemes. No humidity. No mosquitoes. No aphids. No wind leveling the gladioli. No black spot felling the roses. Enjoy the song of the robin. The fragrance of hyacinths. The freshness in the air coming from trillions of leaves opening all at once. It’s magic time!

· When it’s time for your big spring cleanup, make sure your body is in shape. Most of us spent winter on the couch and the first foray is more exercise than we’ve had in months. Our lower back muscles and discs are especially vulnerable when digging wet soil and shifting heavy loads. Do some gentle stretches before starting; vary your activities to avoid taxing any one muscle group; bend your knees, not your back, when lifting; and call it a day when your body says "enough!"

· Dig up your garden beds early this month. Turn under any cover crops planted last fall. Let the beds settle for a week or so. Break up large clumps.

· The compost, which has been breaking down unobtrusively in a corner of the yard, may be ready to yield its wealth of organic goodness. Get to the bottom of your compost pile and pull out the most rotted parts to mix up for composted soil. Mix with soil and force through a screen, this will make the best dressing for covering seeds. Nutrient rich compost improves the texture, water retention and drainage of soil.

· As mowing becomes necessary, be certain the blade is sharp to prevent tearing the grass tips. A mulching blade will eliminate the need to rake or bag the clippings, prevent thatch buildup and the clippings will provide food for the lawn.

· Spring is also a good time to de-thatch and overseed the lawn. Thatch buildup can smother your lawn and provide an environ-ment for diseases. Remove thatch with a brisk raking or dethatching machine. Over-seeding will help fill-in the lawn and deter the re-growth of moss and weeds. Use about one pound of quality grass seed for every 300 square feet of lawn area. Apply a light compost or soil over the seed to keep it moist and in place.

· If you receive mail-order plants or can’t resist the urge to pick up a few perennials before you are ready, make a trench and heel them into the ground in a protected area.

· By now you should have some idea of what perennials survived the winter and what needs to be replaced this year. It’s also an ideal time to space plants out, especially if you are susceptible to the common malady of cramming too much into too small an area.

· Divide perennials this month. They include chysanthemums, delphinium, anemone, fall asters, daylilies, daisies, hosta, phlox, rudbeckia, coreopsis and sedum.

· If you have a cold frame, any time during the spring is good for cleaning and repairing for next fall.

· Tidy up flowerbeds and borders by cutting back dead perennial foliage and thinning out some of the accumulated leaf litter from between plants. Be sure to leave lots of decaying leaves to feed all those foraging earthworms you want as guests in your garden. Ounce for ounce, they’re the best organic fertilizer you can have.

· Don’t forget, a sharp hoe is the best friend a gardener can have. Just slide it back and forth slightly below the surface of the soil and you’ll stop the weed seedlings in their tracks. Hoeing is also good in the event of drought as the disturbed soil surface stops the water being sucked to the surface by capillary action and evaporating in dry winds.

· Keep those prolific weeds out of your garden by mulching heavily (two to three inches) around shrubs, annuals, perennials and vegetables.

· Whether planting vegetables or flowers, remember to dig down about eight inches and add organic material to improve the soil.

· 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.

· Watch newspaper and other publicity for information regarding wildflower trails and open garden days.
· Rotate houseplants so each side receives its share of light, for even growth and a balanced shape.

· As the sun’s rays strengthen, some plants, like African violets, may need to be moved away from a south-facing window to avoid leaf scorch.

· Spring cleaning your houseplants will keep them beautiful and help to avoid diseases. Remove any spent flowers, dead leaves, branches or any yellowing leaves. Rinse the dust from the leaves with the kitchen sprayer. Clean leaves to allow the plant to breathe.

· Keep feeding the birds!