April Garden Chores

DO YOU PANIC IN APRIL? I don’t blame you. This is the month when the garden requires us to move in 10 directions at once. Still, spring is too beautiful not to keep a few hours for savoring. Between planting, pruning, feeding and weeding jobs, let’s stop to enjoy the parade of tulips (that’s ‘Purple Flag’ in the photo up top), and to inhale the sweet air of hyacinths and daffodils. Then it’s on to the following chores:

Mulch. My policy is to consider how much I’ll need, and then obtain twice that amount. This way there is plenty on hand for beds and paths. Shredded woodchips, which many of us can obtain for free, makes a fine mulch for beds, as long as the material has been allowed to compost for at least one year. Un-composted, these woodchips make a cushy paving surface for informal paths.

Boxwood. Late this month or early next, hire a professional to shear and shape these enduring evergreens. I always save some of the trimmings to make new plants.

Roses. Uncover and prune shrubs.  I prune my David Austin roses back by about half, and then apply a balanced, organic fertilizer beneath the drip-line of each. To conserve moisture and reduce weeds,  mulch beds heavily with either shredded leaves or shredded, composted wood chips. Here are some of the better roses I grow for their handsome form and intoxicating perfume.

Weeds. Every weed pulled now is a thousand you won’t have to confront later. A forked tool is useful for pulling up weeds with long tap roots.  To kill the annoying weeds which emerge in my gravel, brick, and blue-stone paths, I spray them with  plain white vinegar.   (And this year, instead of cursing at my dandelions, I’m going to eat them.)

Cool-Season Vegetables. To enjoy abundant harvests before hot weather arrives, sow  peas, lettuce, and spinach early this month.

Tender Annuals. Sow these in the milk-jug greenhouses. Transplant  seedlings to the open garden following this schedule.

Perennial Beds. To avoid damaging emerging shoots, clean up beds by hand. Then apply a balanced, organic fertilizer over the old mulch. Place fresh mulch over the fertilizer.

Peony. Apply a trowel-full of wood ashes and one of manure or compost (triple these amounts for huge plants). Also, set ringed supports around plants before heavy growth makes the job impossible. If your peony refuses to bloom, it is either planted too deeply or set in a too-shady location.

Chrysanthemums. Lift and divide. Then plant the rooted divisions 18 inches apart.

Iris. Remove and destroy old leaves. Also, remove any surrounding debris in which the eggs of the dreaded iris borer may lie. As you can see in the photo above, my own iris bed is in desperate need of attention.

Winter-Sown Perennials. When large enough to handle, transplant seedlings to permanent quarters mid-month. My transplanting method for winter-sown seedlings.

Ponds & Fountains. Clean out leaves, but watch that you are not cleaning out frogs, too. These are emerging from their muddy hibernation now.

And finally, don’t work so hard that you miss out on the miracle of Spring!

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From Wild to Woodland
Garden Taboos…Yours & Mine
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  1. Brandon says:

    Kevin, how do you keep your roses from getting all bare and straggely looking? We just got a house built in 1903 and I honestly think the roses there weren’t planted mush after. I want our bushes to be nice and full, even if I can’t get them to flower a rose bush that has nice vegetation looks a heck of a lot better then one with a few flowers that look like they’re starving the plant to death. Any suggestions?

  2. Brandon – Nice to meet you. Sparse foliage is often a sign of poor soil or too-little sunlight. Are your roses located where they receive at least 5-6 hours of direct sun?

  3. Rachel Clark says:

    This is such a wonderful website! Thanks for brightening my life. And I’ll probably hate you later for the cheese Danish recipe, but right now I can’t wait to make them for Easter!

  4. Rachel – I’m glad you like this site, and thought to tell me so! And yes — Cheese Danish is PERFECT for Easter morning. Great idea!

  5. Angela O. Hedgepeth says:

    My Liriope (sp.?) don’t look good: brown spots all over. I have cut them way back to the new shoots but don’t know if that is all I need to do. What is wrong with them and is there any annual care I should provide them? They have been planted about 15 years.

  6. Angela – According the Univ. of Delaware Cooperative Extension, the spots on your liriope are caused by the fungus Colletotrichum. The first signs of infection are small red spots that enlarge into large spots with tan canters and red borders. The fungus is favored by either stress conditions during the growing season or above average rainfall. Collectotrichum overwinters on the old infected leaves, so removing the old leaves before the new ones emerge usually keeps it under control. Fungicides are generally not needed.

    But if the problem persists, spray the leaves with “Immunox” every few weeks in spring. Immunox should be available at your local garden center.

  7. badger gardener says:

    I love Spring! We are back to seasonally cool temps. but beautiful sunny day. Perfect for a little garden clean-up. Thanks for the tip on the peonies. They may be my favorite flower of all. I have a beautiful white variety that came w/ the house and a pink one from my mother-in-law. Tip from my MIL when cutting peonies for indoor display, turn them upside down in a bucket of water and the ants will crawl out so you don’t bring them inside w/ you.

  8. Oh Kevin the panic has definitely set in! I’ve never been so ahead, while so behind, on April 2! This amazing Spring has certainly given us lots to talk about! It’s been so nice out that I’ve gotten none of the planned ‘inside the house winter projects’ done. Oh well there’s always next year! It’s 92 degrees today in St. Louis, and my knockout roses are already in bloom! Everything is so lush, green, and prematurely mature! Yesterday I planted dill, carrots, and beets, and I also transplanted the cilantro, peas, and spinach from my winter sowing containers, (I was nervous as I separated them but I think they’ll be ok!). I refilled those containers with watermelon & basil seeds. Should I start tomatoes now as well? It’s been so hot I think the batchelor’s button all got fried. I’ve got a full container of oregano, but my oregano overwintered so beautifully (along with my tarragon, marjoram, creeping thyme and rosemary) that I don’t even need to plant it. I need to divide my daisies, which are so beautfiully overpowering much of my garden. Some of the garlic scapes are turning brown, so I dug one up, but it seems to be far from ready to harvest. I think we’re getting enough rain, so perhaps I just need to give them some fertilizer? Thanks for all your great recipes… my goal is to make cheese danish using homemade cream cheese & yogurt (subbing yogurt for sour cream). Wouldn’t that be an interesting undertaking? Thanks Kevin!

  9. Brandon says:

    Yea Kevin, They get full sunlight for about 8-10 hours a day and are up against the the south-west facing border of the house and garage. These plants are ancient and I have them pruned back well for this upcoming season. What would you recommend I use for a fertilizer? Also … APHIDS! They’re here already what do you do?

  10. badger gardener – Thanks for the tip from your MIL regarding peonies! Ants and peonies have a symbiotic relationship, I think, but who wants to bring the insects in the house?

    Kay – You sound like me…frazzled! If I were you, I’d go ahead and plant tomatoes in jugs. Fertilize garlic with balanced organic formula. And just curious – are these record temps for St. Louis?

    Brandon – Your roses might be so old that they are on their way out. If they don’t shape up this summer, maybe remove them in the fall and start over with new plants. Also — grow shrub roses (like the David Austin varieties). Most are disease-resistant. As for aphids, get out the garden hose and give the plants a FIRM spray of water. Spray both the top and underside of leaves. This will dislodge the pests, and kill many of them. Continue this treatment every few days until the aphid-eating lady bugs appear. Fertilize with an organic food for roses — I’ve used the Espoma brand and like it. And by all means avoid a systemic product called Bayer Rose & Flower Care. The stuff contains clothianidin, which is known to kill honey bees.

  11. it’s the time of year i think there need to be three of me, one in the gardens in the yards, one in the veggie garden, and one to keep doing what i’m suppose to be doing inside, where i don’t really want to be. as i always say, i’d rather be outside, it’s where my heart is. oh, and thanks for reminding me about dividing the chrysanthemums!

    Cindy Sue

  12. Hi Kevin,
    Tks for your response ~ I’ll get some fertilizer on that garlic, as well as all the other veggies. Yes, these temps have broken records set in the 1940’s. It’s been amazing ~ but we’re paying for it with weeds & pests! This week we’re back to more seasonal temperatures, in the upper 60’s & low 70’s. I had a few volunteer tomato plants pop up in the garden, so I transplanted them, and also started some seeds in containers. BTW, my friend turned a whole raised bed into a ‘winter sowing jug’ by covering it with plastic, and it did beautifully. She’s got mature chard kale, spinach, and developing carrots and beets. I should take a picture of it for you. Tks again Kevin!

  13. Have you ever watched the Brit-com “Good Neighbors”? It’s about a couple who decide to be self-sufficient, in the suburbs, by gardening and raising animals, and such. Your post reminded me of a line in the show:

    “You know who I hate right now? That Mother Nature woman. She has a nice cozy lie in, all winter, and then Bang! Wallop! Goes stark raving mad!”

    Lots of chores in April, all right.

  14. Michelle – Yes, lots of chores. Fertilized exactly half the roses this morning, and will do the rest later today. Thanks for the tip — I’ve always enjoyed Brit-coms (loved “Keeping Up Appearances,” “Waiting for God,” and “Are You Being Served?”), and will now schedule my TV to record “Good Neighbors.”

  15. Hi Kevin,
    I just found your site and i wanted to say thank you for the mulch tip! My city is planning on dropping off woodchips this week free of charge!!!! You just saved us about $200 and now i can go and buy wood to make my first raised veggie bed!
    I did have a question about the woodchips for mulch. The woodchips that i’ll be getting are fresh and not composted for a year, so these should only be used in our walkway areas. Is there a way to somehow help the compost of these chips so that it won’t use up the nitrogen in the beds and i can use it as mulch in the beds this season?
    thank you!

  16. Paula – Nice to meet you. Using un-composted woodchips for mulch is a tricky business. You could add nitrogen to the soil before laying the chips among your plants. But how much nitrogen I unfortunately do not know.

    In the meantime, it’s great that you are able to build a raised bed for your veggies. You’ll love all the benefits that gardening “on higher ground” affords!

  17. Kevin,
    I have just found your website and I love it. We have just moved into a newish house with shrubs and no gardens to speak of.

    I am planting perennials, especially roses. The veg garden is started but I have a question about “safe ” chemicals to use in the garden. I want to keep the butterflies and bees, not kill them.

    So, does your site have a list of safe fertilizers that can be used that are environmentally friendly? Weed killers, like preen are new to me.

    I seriously envy your boxwood. My husband and I grew box hedges from cuttings in our old house and the new owners ripped them out. I wish they had at least given them away but they burnt them. Still hurts..



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