Spring means many things to people but for gardeners it is a time of pure joy to be outside and in the garden again. Spring can also be the marriage of agony and ecstasy—there are so many tasks to do, it is hard to decide where and when to start. The savvy gardener will want to craft a plan and so here are some guidelines for you to organize and take on the April gardening chores:
• Watch the weather and plan tasks accordingly, leaving lawn and soil work until the ground is dry and not spongy to walk on. Do not rake a wet lawn or try to turn or till wet garden soil as it will compact the soil.
• Inspect plants to see if buds are beginning to swell—this is the first clue that the plants know it is spring. Cut back woody perennials and clematis vines according to their type. Roses can be pruned for shape but also remove any dead wood from the base of these plants. If you have questions as to what to prune and when, call a Master Gardener for advice. (In Albany County, call 765.3515; Schenectady County, call 372.1622; or Rensselaer County, call 272.4210).
• If your soil is dry enough to work, this is the time to dig and divide perennials that bloom later in the summer and fall. To determine if your plants need to be divided, look for large clumps that may have bloomed lightly last year. Some perennials will have a hollow center resembling a donut when they need division. This is especially true of ornamental grasses. Most perennials will need dividing after 3-5 years, so time in ground can also be a clue.
• Deadhead the larger spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips and allow the foliage to die back naturally—a long process for daffodils. This allows the foliage to photosynthesize, thus feeding the bulb for next year’s bloom. Fertilize bulbs anytime that they are actively growing to help them with this storage process.
• It is possible to plant trees, shrubs, perennials and cold-tolerant vegetables such as beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach, collards, peas, potatoes, chard, and kale now, weather depending, as some years we have snow in April. Pansies make an appearance in the market in April as they can withstand cooler temperatures or a cold snap.
• Add organic matter (compost) to vegetable beds and work in a balanced organic fertilizer to be ready to plant as the weather warms.
• If you grow roses, late April is the time to start a fertilizing program that continues throughout the summer, stopping in late August to allow the plants to harden off for winter.
• Compacted lawns can be aerated in the spring and over-seeded early, with a second round of over-seeding in late summer through September. Reconsider your fertilizing practices and try to reduce the number of feedings overall.
• Start a journal to record garden information, new plantings, fertilizer applications, etc.
• If you like to start your own tomato seedlings, early April is the time to begin, as six weeks remain until planting time. An ideal transplant is short and stocky and six weeks is a good timeframe for tomatoes. Planning helps to keep the tasks enjoyable and not overwhelming—always a plus during the busy gardening season.
Susan Pezzolla, Master Gardener Coordinator, Horticulture Educator. Cornell University Cooperative Extension. 24 Martin Road, Voorheesville, NY.