April gardening checklist
In some areas, April brings the first signs of winter's end; in others, it's the gateway to hot, summery weather. But in most climates, it's the magical month when gardens start to come to life.
Remember to adjust gardening tips to fit your own growing season — but most important of all, wait until the last frost date to put tender plants in the ground.
Here comes the sun, which means that greenhouses are starting to heat up. On warm days, be sure your greenhouse is well-ventilated. Give more regular care to greenhouse plants by stepping up your watering and fertilizing schedule. Also make sure to check your greenhouse thoroughly for pests.
Even beginning gardeners can brighten up a terrace, patio, deck or windowsill with containers tumbling with flowers.
- Use hanging baskets, pots of all sizes and planter boxes — or ask the kids to help you paint old pails or coffee cans — for clusters of color.
- Fill containers with bulbs and bedding plants to be transplanted in warmer weather, or make permanent plantings.
- Spark up potted shrubs and trees by surrounding them with dashes of perennial color.
- Group cactus plants of different heights and shapes, or try your hand at a container bonsai garden.
- Apartment dwellers, if you haven't made a windowsill herb garden, what are you waiting for?
Don't let your garden dry out before it even hits full stride. Get into the rhythm of watering regularly early in the season to ensure happy, healthy plants.
- Set up a watering system to minimize the work of regularly watering your garden beds. Make sure a hose or watering can is accessible in areas that you will water often throughout the growing season.
- In container gardens, make sure that your geraniums, pansies and other container plants are getting enough water.
- This is an ideal time to check on the moisture of plantings at the base of evergreens or under eaves. These are often left parched, even in rainy climates.
Carpenters and carpenter wannabes: Lots of garden projects are easy enough for beginners.
Try to devote one weekend of each spring month to building projects, and beautify your garden with simple or elaborate embellishments.
- Make a simple entry trellis to frame your walkway with a shower of climbing roses.
- Garden paths, from basic steppingstones to brick or timber steps to colorful flagstones, can meander cottage-style or lead directly to a meditation pond.
- Add benches to frame your deck or patio, or build a bench to encircle a large tree for dappled shade in summer.
- For vertical variety in your container garden, make a pot trellis for creepers or climbers to cling to — you'll even have time to spare for building raised vegetable beds or a wall trellis for clematis.
Want the greenest lawn on the block? Well, start now or forever hold your peace with a less-than-lush lawn.
- Between now and May, after grass is well-established, give the lawn a light raking before fertilizing.
- Choose a spring fertilizer that contains moss killer if moss is a problem.
- You can now overseed your lawn (using about one pound per 300 square feet) to help fill in bald patches and fight the return of weeds and moss.
- If your lawn has begun growing in earnest, you can also aerate it now, making it more absorbent and reducing summer water needs.
- Start cranking up your mowing schedule and put those grass clippings to work. Adjust your mower to cut only one-third the length of its blades, then leave the clippings on the lawn. They'll feed the growing grass much-needed nitrogen as they break down.
- Make sure newly sown grass is getting enough moisture.Planting trees and flowers
In some areas, the time has passed for transplanting large shrubs and trees, but in many climates you can still plant deciduous and evergreen trees, shrubs, perennials, hardy annuals and rock-garden perennials such as yarrow, rock jasmine and small dianthus.
- Geraniums and fuchsias that have spent the winter in hiding should be repotted for a fresh start.
- Midspring is also a good time for planting dahlias, most lilies and gladioluses for summer blooms, but hold off a bit longer on sensitive canna lilies and tuberous begonias.
- If you haven't planted or set out berries yet — blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries — now's your chance. Just be sure they have plenty of water.
In most areas, April is the real start of the outdoor vegetable garden, especially perennials such as asparagus, although it's probably still not warm enough to plant heat-loving crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.
- Wait until the end of the month to plant corn and beans, but you can put potatoes, onions, radishes and other root crops in the ground now — or anytime. Before transplanting, start hardening off cool-loving greens and root-crop seedlings such as cabbage and lettuces, carrots, chard, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower.
- Place planters of root vegetables in a shady, wind-protected area, moving them daily for more sun exposure.
- Until a few days before planting time, bring the planters back indoors at night.
- If it's warm enough at the end of the month, start sowing seeds directly into the soil.
Shearing, pruning and grooming
From now until late spring, the time is ripe for shearing and pruning evergreens of all kinds.
- Cut only in the green foliage areas to ensure that branches will regrow, and maintain that nice draped evergreen shape by keeping the top smaller so that bottom branches will receive needed sunlight.
- Stop pruning roses and buddleias, and prune fuchsias late in the month.
- After rhododendrons bloom, remove the spent flower clusters with clippers or snap them off by hand.
Mulch and compost
Don't neglect the soil in which your garden grows. Mulch and compost add valuable nutrients, as well as protection from heat and drying out.
- Even in areas you haven't yet planted, but especially around shrubs and perennials, add a light layer of mulch to help summer water absorption.
- Mature trees, climbers and roses (now that you've stopped pruning) should also be mulched now.
- Start turning your compost regularly, and mix old and new compost together with a high-nitrogen fertilizer.
Don't let pests enjoy the fruits — or vegetables for that matter — of your gardening labors. Take precautions early and throughout the growing season to keep your plants healthy and edible.
- Treat newly planted fruit trees for pests after the first buds appear on branches.
- Keep protecting new shrubs and fruit trees from unexpected night frosts.
- Especially now, after planting tender seedlings, make a slug-and-snail tour armed with a saltshaker, or bait slugs with shallow bowls of stale beer.
Give a little love to your houseplants, and they may give back to you. For example, did you know spider plants help to purify the air by removing carbon monoxide?
- Give houseplants a boost after their dreary winter: Gently remove topsoil and replace it with a top-dressing of compost.
- Repot plants that have outgrown their winter containers. Use the next size up, and cover the drainage hole with screen mesh or a pot shard to prevent soil from washing through