This has certainly been a different year, weather-wise. But then, last year was too…in the reverse. The winter of 2016 was very mild so plants were roughly 2 – 3 weeks ahead of normal. This year, they are more like 3 weeks behind. Mind you, the plants do “go gang busters” whenever there is some sun and warmer temperatures.
However, the extended forecast for April is filled with slightly cooler temperatures than normal and more precipitation. Keep a weather eye because some outdoor chores may need tweaking this month.
In the garden:
- Cut Miscanthus spp. grasses back to 6 – 12 inches (15 – 30 cm) above soil level…depending on species. Shorter varieties can be cut down lower than Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cosmopolitan’ and M. x giganteus.
- Keep your conifer shrubs looking nice and shapely by pruning off the new growth, or “candles”. Be careful not to prune into bare wood as no new growth will generate from that point. Also remove any winter-damaged branches, if you have not done so already.
- Trim your climbing roses and secure them to their support structure.
- Shrub roses are putting out small leaf buds this month so prune out any branches not showing new growth.
- Divide late-flowering perennials…like phlox, crocosmia, and shasta daisies…whose clumps have gotten to large.
- Spread a little lime or wood ashes around the alkaline-loving delphiniums, peonies, mock orange, clematis, Aucuba, Forsythia, Photinia, lilacs…and others. (For a more complete list of what plants, fruits, and vegetables prefer a less acidic soil, click here.)
- Plant fruit trees now.
- Plant summer-flowering bulbs now. If weather is still unstable, plant them in pots and keep them in the greenhouse, or somewhere under cover but where they will get light.
- Repair any bald patches in the lawn by lightly scratching the surface and evenly sow the area with a quality grass seed. Tamp seed in gently and keep moist. A layer of grass clippings over top or some row cover will help to keep the birds away from the seed.
- Apply a good quality mulch on the garden beds. Home-made compost is best because you know what is in it but if you do not have enough, fish compost is an excellent second choice as it is nutrient-rich and weed-free. Be careful not to get any mulch up against the trunks on shrubs and trees or bury your perennials.
- Slugs and snails will be coming out in droves to feast on the new plant growth. Deal with them in whatever manner works for you, but be careful your choice is not harmful to children, pets, or birds.
- Keep up with the weeding.
In the vegetable garden:
- Check out Seeds to start in April in Garden Info & Tips under In the Garden on the menu bar (or click here) to see what varieties you can sow this month and when.
In the greenhouse:
- If you did not get the over-wintered plants out of the greenhouse last month, it should be safe enough now.
- Divide any potted plants which are getting too big for the pot…or pot them up one size.
- Add some compost, or well-aged manure to each pot and scratch in some Osmocote granular fertilizer. (This is a slow-release fertilizer which will feed your potted plants throughout the season. It is the only non-organic soil additive we use.)
- Once the greenhouse is emptied, give it a good clean from top to bottom. You want to get rid of any mold, etc before you start moving your young seedlings into the greenhouse.
In the compost pile:
- Keep turning that pile. The more air you can get into the pile, the faster it will break down into rich, humusy soil amendment. This is a wonderful mulch for your garden beds but screen it first.
- If April showers are in the monthly forecast, keep the pile covered so precious nutrients will not leach out.
In the tool shed:
- Be sure to clean your tools at the end of the day…especially your pruning tools. These should be disinfected with a 10% bleach solution to prevent any chance of spreading diseases from plant to plant. I keep a small spray bottle of diluted bleach in my tool basket to spray my secateurs blades regularly while pruning.
- Keep checking your over-wintered tender perennials. Remove any leaves that are decaying and inspect plants carefully for aphids or other pests or disease.
- Divide any which have grown too big for their pot, or move them up one size.
- Repot any which need to have their soil refreshed…or their roots pruned. Root pruning is one way of keeping a special plant, or a tender plant not suitable for your gardening zone in a pot indefinitely.
- Keep an eye on the weather. Some of the hardier of your tender perennials may be able to move outdoors towards the end of the month.