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April Garden Tips

Early spring in Western Pa. is a wonderful time to enjoy brisk, sunny days outdoors as you clean up your gardens and watch your plants begin to grow. Nothing is more welcome than the first blossoms on snowdrops, daffodils, crocus, magnolias, forsythia and other plants that herald the beginning of another growing season. Frost is possible most any night in April, but many cold hardy plants can shake off the cold weather and keep right on growing. Lets get started; there is fun out there to be had.

GENERAL GARDENING TIPS

  • Color is everywhere this month! April bloomers include azaleas, rhododendrons, dogwoods, redbuds and magnolias. Other landscape plants with interest now include andromeda, flowering almond, daphne, forsythia, pussywillow, weigela, spirea, and many more. Shopping while they are in full bloom will enable selection of just the right color.
  • Pansies are much tougher than their name implies. They may be planted outdoors in gardens or containers in April. Pansies, and several other cold hardy annuals, are not harmed by freezing temperatures, but if they have been grown in a greenhouse, they should be gradually exposed to outdoor temperatures and direct sun prior to planting.
  • We recommend fertilizing annuals, perennials and flowering shrubs and trees with Espoma Plant Foods. These products slowly release the nutrients for ideal plant growth and development.
  • We recommend feeding all your evergreens (hollies, boxwoods and yews) and deciduous trees (maples, oaks and ash) with Espoma Holly Tone. It is formulated for acid loving trees and shrubs.
  • MEASURE THE RAINFALL WITH A RAIN GAUGE POSTED NEAR THE GARDEN SO YOU CAN TELL WHEN TO WATER. THE GARDEN NEEDS ABOUT ONE INCH OF RAIN PER WEEK FROM APRIL TO SEPTEMBER.
  • ENCOURAGE MIGRATING BIRDS TO STOP IN YOUR YARD OR TAKE UP RESIDENCE BY SUPPLYING FOOD, WATER, NESTING MATERIALS, BIRDHOUSES AND PLANTINGS OF TALL SHRUBS, EVERGREENS AND PLANTS WITH BERRIES, SEEDS OR NECTAR FOR HUMMINGBIRDS.
  • Consider, applying a weed preventer, such as Amaze or Preen. These pre-emergence herbicides can significantly reduce weeding by preventing new weeds from germinating.
  • Plant violas and primroses along with pansies, for early spring color in the landscape.
  • Although we think of April as a rainy month, keep transplanted flowers watered during dry spells.
  • Celebrate Arbor Day and Earth Day this month by planting a tree in your landscape. If you have children, this is a great way to introduce them to gardening. The benefits of planting a tree include added beauty, and a considerable energy savings as the tree reaches maturity.
  • Check the plants in containers, and those under the eaves of the house and under tall evergreens to see that they are getting enough water.
  • WEED, WEED, AND WEED! NOW IS THE TIME TO PLUCK, FROM YOUR GARDENS AND YARD WHILE THEY STILL HAVE SMALL ROOT SYSTEMS. DON’T LET THEM GO TO SEED; WEEDING NOW WILL SAVE YOU A LOT OF WORK LATER ON.

SHRUBS and TREES

  • This is a super time to plant trees and shrubs. They will benefit from April showers if planted now. Early planting gives these plants time to grow new roots that help the plants deal with hot and the dry conditions that are sure to come later in the growing season. When planting, be sure to incorporate Black Forest Soil Conditioner into soil backfilled around the plant.
  • One of the most important things to check for prior to planting trees and shrubs are circling roots or root bound pots. Corrected these root conditions before planting. Find solutions by watching this video: First open this link www.finegardening.com/videos/how-to/root-pruning-for-container-plants.aspx, and then click on the video entitled 'The New Root Pruning Guidelines'. It is a bit of an effort to get to this U-Tube clip but it is worth the effort.
  • April is ideal for pruning evergreens such as Juniper, Cypress and Yew. Remove all dead, diseased, and undesirable wood, but do not prune back into the bare wood part of the plant. New growth may not sprout from these areas.
  • Make lawn mowing easier and provide better growing conditions for your trees, shrubs and flowers by incorporating landscape plants together in beds with flowing curved edges. Remove grass between plants, install edging, and add 3" of mulch. The mulch will reduce weed problems and hold moisture in the soil during dry periods.
  • Prune your Forsythia and other spring flowering shrubs immediately after they have finished flowering.
  • Apply Bonide All Seasons Horticultural Oil, a dormant oil spray, to any trees and shrubs (except blue spruce) that are plagued by scale insects or mites. This includes all fruit trees. Do it now because once the buds begin to open, it is too late. Additional sprays during bloom are also important for fruit trees. Bonide Citrus & Fruit Orchard Spray is the recommended natural product. To obtain additional recommendations, contact Mark our Tree & Shrub Manager.
  • There is still time to transplant deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. Both potted and ball & burlap plants can be planted throughout the summer and fall.
  • Cut back to the ground, summer flowering shrubs such as spirea, that have grown excessively large. Do this also with the Annabelle type hydrangea. These plants bloom on new wood and will quickly grow back and bloom in mid-summer.
  • Fertilize roses should now with Espoma Rose Tone, before flower buds begin to open.
  • Fertilize spring-blooming shrubs after flowering With Espoma Tree Tone.
  • Continue removing protective mulches from around roses, butterfly bush, clematis, azaleas and other tender shrubs.

 PERENNIALS, ANNUALS and BULBS

  • It is now safe to plant annual seeds of asters, cosmos, snapdragons, bachelor buttons and sweet pea marigolds, zinnias in the garden.
  • Remove the spent blooms from your spring flowering bulbs. Do not cut off the green foliage until it dies naturally. These leaves should be left to grow into early June, allowing the plant to develop strong bulbs capable of flowering next spring.
  • If you have not already done so, prune roses and cut back ornamental grasses before new growth begins.
  • Divide ornamental grasses and late blooming perennials. Examples would include asters, mums, agastache, anemone, coneflower, joe-pye-weed weed, hosta, daylilies, Shasta daisy, monarda, Russian Sage, garden phlox, Black-Eyed-Susan, and sedum. Candidates for division would include clumps that are 4-5 years old, and those that may be dying in the center, or have fewer, smaller flowers. Use a spading fork to lift the whole clump and a heavy knife or sharp spade to cut the healthy, outer parts into divisions, each containing some good roots and several shoots. These will grow quickly when replanted at the same depth in rich garden soil.
  • When chrysanthemums show signs of life, dig up and divide large plants. Discard woody portions and replant divisions 12 to 15 inches apart.
  • Clean up gardens by cutting back dead stems of perennials, raking out leaves, pulling winter mulch from around the new shoots, and removing any volunteer trees or shrubs you may have missed last year. Prepare gardens for planting by mixing in Master Nursery Bumper Crop and Espoma Garden Tone fertilizer
  • Late April is the time for planting summer flowering bulbs like dahlias, gladiolas and lilies. Mix Espoma Bulb Tone fertilizer and Bumper Crop into the planting soil. Tuberous Begonias and Cannas should not be set outdoors until the first week of May.
  • Consider planting flowers, which may be dried for winter arrangements. Some of the best are strawflower, statice, celosia, and globe amaranth.
  • In a sunny location with poor soil, plant nasturtium seed for a colorful show. They require warm soil to sprout and start blooming in about 50 days. Too much water and fertilizer produces excess leaves and few flowers.
  • Fertilize spring-flowering bulbs with Espoma Bulb Tone. The goal is to build the underground bulb for next years flowers.
  • Fertilize perennials with Espoma Garden Tone when you see 2-3" of new growth.

FRUITS and VEGGIES

  • April is the best time to plant fruit trees and shrubs. Some fruit trees and blueberries for example need a pollinator (two different varieties that bloom at the same time). Fruits and berries do best when planted in full sun.
  • Plant perennial vegetables such as asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish now. It is also time to plant peas, carrots, beets, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, etc. Plant root crops like potatoes, radishes, parsnips and onions anytime. Wait until early May to plant beans and corn. Hold off planting warm weather crops like tomatoes; squash, cucumbers and peppers (unless protected) until late May.
  • As your direct-seeded crops sprout, be sure to keep them thinned out to avoid crowding.
  • Start tomato seeds indoors during the third week of April using Fafard Seed Starter. Kept the soil uniformly moist during the germination period. Provide good light and transplant seedlings into 4" pots when they are about 1" tall. Grow the plants in a warm, bright place until they are ready for transplant outdoors in late May. High light is necessary for healthy plants, so set them outdoors on warm sunny days. Bring then back in during the cool nights.
  • Cut out all the dead canes from your summer bearing red raspberry patch. The new canes that will bear this year's fruit should have new, swollen buds along the edges. Thin these to five canes per foot of row to allow good air circulation and prevent overcrowding. Different raspberry cultivars require different pruning requirements. Call us if guidance is required.
  • Mix organic matter into your vegetable garden. We recommend Master Nursery Bumper Crop. Incorporate organic products well into the soil. If you find that that your soil has high clay content, add Espoma Gypsum and Peat Moss to loosen the soil. Do not till or spade the vegetable garden if the soil is wet. It will clump and become very hard to work all summer. Dry soil will crumble as you work with it, if it sticks together and forms mud balls, it is too wet.
  • Fertilize ornamental fruit and berry plants now, but only if they were not fertilized in March. Raspberries benefit greatly from an annual spring application of Espoma Garden Food 10-10-10.

THE LAWN

  • April brings in warmer temperatures and spring rains, so now is a good time to seed, over-seed, or sod the lawn. Be aware that newly seeded lawns may take two or more weeks to germinate in the cooler spring weather. Seed bare spots in your lawn using a mix of Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and creeping red fescue. Jonathan Green and Green Thumb have selections that will match any sun exposure condition. Rake out dead grass first to insure the seed is in direct contact with bare soil. Once seeded, fertilize, lime and cover the area with a layer of straw Keep the soil moist until the new grass is growing well. If the soil dries out the germinating grass will quickly die. Keep it watered.
  • Have your lawn soil tested if you have not done so already, and apply lime or nutrients if needed. Often lime is more important to your lawn than fertilizer. If needed, lime the lawn to increase soil pH. Lawns prefer a pH range of 6.2 - 6.8. If your tests show a level lower than 6.0, or if you have not limed the lawn in the past two years, you should lime at the rate of 50 lb. of lime per 1,000 square feet of lawn area. This will raise the pH 1/2 point. If you need to apply more lime, wait six weeks between applications. Call Penn State Co-Op Extension to obtain soil test kits. 412-473-2540.
  • Get your mower blade sharpened. Mowing with a dull blade tears the grass blades, leaving ragged ends, which later turn brown.
  • To eliminate wild onion, dandelion and other weeds that are currently growing in your lawn, use Bonide Weed Beater Ultra. This product will not affect grass but will kill all broad leaf plants. Use it with care. (Always read the label before applying)
  • Stop grub damage with an application of Milky Spore. Excessive mole damage may be an indication of a large grub population.

HOUSEPLANTS

  • Feed houseplants with a good quality indoor plant food such as Shultz All Purpose Plant Food, Bonide Liquid Plant Food or Monterey Fish & Poop, which is a natural fertilizer.
  • If needed, re-pot root-bound houseplants to a larger pot.
  • Check the leaves of your houseplants for insects or any other problems. Bonide Systemic Houseplant Insect Control will provide protection for 8 weeks. Capt Jack's Bead Bug Brew is an organic solution. If needed, bring in a representative plant sample in a sealed plastic bag and one of our plant specialists will seek to diagnose the problem and recommend the appropriate control.
  • Rotate your houseplants weekly so that each side receives its share of light. This practice will insure even growth and a balanced shape.
  • As the sun's rays strengthen, move delicate plants such as African Violets, from a south-facing window to avoid leaf scorch. Move light loving plants to a location where they will receive more light. A protected porch might be a good location to rejuvenate plants that suffered over the long winter. Frost and cold damage can occur if tender unhardened plants are not protected on cold nights.
  • Give your houseplants a spring-cleaning to help keep them beautiful and avoid diseases. Remove any spent flowers, and dead or yellowing leaves. Rinse the dust from the leaves.
  • Pinching back the tips of foliage plants will stimulate new growth and create a fuller and bushier plant.
  • If you keep a Coleus as a houseplant, you can still start taking cuttings for transplant to the garden. Use a sharp clean knife to cut the stem just below a leaf node. Remove the lowest leaves, dip the cut end into a rooting hormone and insert it into some fresh, sterile potting soil. These cuttings will be ready to use as a bright garden accent by early June.

PEST CONTROL

  • Many pest problems begin to appear in April. As was mentioned above, if you have plants that you suspect may be facing a pest problem, bring in a representative sample (in a sealed plastic bag) and speak with one of our plant specialists.
  • Watch out for tent caterpillars in cherries, crabapples and plums. Eliminated the colony organically by first removing the web with a stick and then crush the worms. If that seems a bit gross, use Captain Jack's Deadbug Brew. It contains a natural occurring soil bacterium that kills bag worms, beetles, caterpillars, spider mites, loopers, spider mites and of course tent caterpillars.
  • Look out for Aphids on the new growing stems and leaves of many plants. Curling leaved could be a sign of aphid infestations. Either Bonide All Seasons Horticultural Spray Oil or Insecticidal Soap will control the problem.
  • More and more of our trees and shrubs are subject to new invasions of insects. Ash, Hemlock, Elm, trees are examples. Lacebug infestations on broad evergreens and aphids on spiraea and River Birch are other examples. Systemic insecticides such as Bonide Annual Tree & Shrub are the only realistic solution short of expensive tree injections. It is easy to apply, just add the material to a bucket of water and dump it around the plant. Bonide Annual Tree & Shrub provides protection foe a full year. The only drawback is that it takes a couple of weeks to be fully absorbed by the plant; only then will insects be controlled.      

 Revised 7 April 2014

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