By Mary Ellen Shaw
By the time April arrives gardeners tend to get a little antsy. The temperature can be toasty warm one day and chilly the next. You want to plant some flowers but it’s just too early. However, there is still plenty to do in your yards and gardens as we get ready for the growing season.
If you are like me you probably never got to pull all the weeds in your garden before the ground froze. Well, guess what? They will soon spring to life and greet you! As soon as they are visible it’s time to get in there and pull them out. It’s important to do that before putting mulch on your flower beds. Plus, your garden will look a whole lot nicer!
I always get four or five yards of cedar bark mulch delivered by late April. The heaping pile can look daunting when it arrives but dealing with it a little at a time is a perfect way to get exercise and fresh air…right in your own yard! Plus, the aroma of cedar can’t be beat. Placing the mulch around your bulb flowers is much easier when they are just starting to burst through. There is no danger of breaking off delicate stems which can happen when they are taller.
There are several advantages to using mulch. It will reduce the weeds since it keeps light from reaching the surface of the soil. Mulch also helps to maintain moisture and keeps the temperature cooler on hot days and warmer on cold days. Just don’t get overly eager and spread mulch too early as that can affect the growth of your perennials by slowing down the warming process of the soil.
Once you have your flower beds mulched you can make them look even nicer by edging them. All your hard work will soon you be rewarded as your bulb flowers and perennials come into bloom in their well groomed flowerbeds.
April is also an excellent time to rake up the dead grass that is lurking in your lawn. Raking loosens the matted clumps that are caused by snow mold and can smother new growth. You will really get some exercise with this task as you need a strong upward pull to get up the dead grass and leaf debris.
For me mid-April is the time to start some seeds inside. I grow them in east and south windows. My handy husband, Peter, attached vertical wooden boards to the sides of the windows. He drilled holes for brackets that hold the shelves in place. This gives me the opportunity to grow some flowers that can’t be found at garden centers. I also start tomato plants in the windows. Our back bedroom looks like a plant nursery for at least a month. By the middle of May the plants can go outside in protected areas as they adjust gradually to the wind and sun. By Memorial Day weekend they are ready to go in the ground.
This is also a good time of year to buy some of the “extras” you will need during the growing season. Both potting soil and plant fertilizers were in short supply last year. So it might be a good idea to search for such items early. I always look for moisture control potting soil as it seems to help on the extremely hot days. Fertilizer packets are an easy way to feed your plants. They require no measuring. Just drop their contents into a watering can. So easy!
Visiting a garden center at this time of year always cheers me up as the hardy shrubs and trees are already in stock. You know that the plants will be arriving soon.
If you can’t resist having an outdoor plant somewhere in your yard at this time of year, here is a solution. Buy some pansies around the third week in April. They will need to be covered on cold nights but to me it’s worth it! I put some in our window box that is almost totally in the shade. Because they don’t get much sun they still look nice at the end of May when it’s time to replace them with impatiens. If you don’t have a window box try placing pansies in pots on your front steps. Mixing yellow with purple and blue pansies provides a colorful palette that speaks of spring.
Stay tuned for more “garden talk” in a future column.