Last updated on March 29th, 2014
YESTERDAY, while photographing the ‘Grand Maitre’ crocuses in my Serpentine Garden, I discovered I wasn’t alone. Meet the helpful garden-guest I encountered, and then — when you’ve finished screaming — have a look at the month’s (plentiful) chores:
Say “hello” to Gerta the Garter snake. She obviously enjoys purple flowers as much as I do. More about Gerta, and how she promotes good health in the garden.
Do snakes dwell in your garden, too? And if so, do they freak you out? You can let me know by leaving a note in the comments field below.
Meanwhile, here are the April chores, at least as I practice them in New York’s Hudson Valley, zone 5-b:
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 composted for at least one year. Fresh 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. I spray plain white vinegar on weeds which emerge in my brick, gravel, and blue-stone paths. (And this year, instead of cursing my dandelions, I’m going to eat them.)
Tender Annuals. Sow these in 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.
And finally, don’t work so hard that you miss out on the miracle of Spring!
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