GARDENING WITH CONFIDENCE™
THIS MONTH IN THE GARDEN
April Maintenance Guide
The entire month of April is wrapped in spring. With March madness behind us and the merriment of May ahead, we feel the need to stop and appreciate our gardens in April.
Our area’s last listed frost date is April 15th. The IRS has made this easy for us to remember! Sure enough, the date has been accurate in my journal for several years, but it is always close. All was fine until April 17, 2007 when we had, not just a late frost, but a killing winter freeze. I don’t recall experiencing anything like it before.
The month of April is full of tulips, daffodils, Virginia bluebells, Youshino cherry, flowering dogwood, crabapple, candy tuff, azaleas, creeping phlox and more.
- If you forced paper-white narcissus indoors over the holidays using a soil based medium, they can be planted outdoors for years of enjoyment. If you forced them in the absence of soil, they are spent; compost them!
- I know it drives you crazy to see the fading leaves of the daffodil. Yes, it really is necessary to keep the green as long as possible for next years’ food.
- Wait until after the last frost before planting tender annuals such as Impatiens and Petunias.
- Plant herbs after the treat of the season’s final frost. Plant annual herbs such as basil, bi-annulas such as parsley, and perennial herbs such as rosemary, chives, thyme, and mint.
- The Cross Vine trellised over my garden gate and up the side of our house is striking in April. Love, love, love this vine. This is why we put up with a ratty looking vine in the winter…or at least, this is why I do.
- The sticks of Miss Huff Lantana left for architectural interest (or should have for the health of the plant) can probably be cut to the ground now. I usually leave mine until the new growth comes in so I can have a visual to remind me of what will come.
- Now is a good time to divide Hostas. There is lots of good advice out there on the proper way to do this. I take the in-situ method; i.e. as the green appears, I take a shovel, split the plant while still in the ground, pull half of it up and move it to its new home. Works for me. But in Helen’s Haven, I no longer grow Hostas, which saddens me greatly. The one area where we can grow them is infested with voles. Trying all the usual tricks, none have worked. But I would not longer grow them there even if I didn’t have voles. This area also too dry. When I re-worked Helen’s Haven into a water-wise design, I was no longer willing to bring water to this area. Such is gardening. The real beauty in gardening is the wealth of plants available to fill any niche – one door closes with one door opens. I now have a very nice display of hellebores. Hellebores provide year round greenery, flowers in the late winter (wow), are drought tolerant and poisonous to voles, so they stay clear.
TREES AND SHRUBS
- The time to prune azaleas is just after they bloom. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to prune most blooming shrubs right after they bloom. If you wait too long, you will cut off next years bloom.
- If you have to tame forsythia, do it now. It can be cut back – as much as you need – and still have some flowers next winter.
- If you got winter burn on your gardenia, just cut off the burned ends. Or, take the lazy method, which is what I do. Let the new leaves self prune the dead. The dead leaves will eventually drop off. If you see a lot of yellow leaves, test the soil and remember gardenias like acid soil! However, also remember this is part of the plant’s natural cycle. It looses leaves in the spring and then produces new growth. So be patient.
- Now is good time to cut back the red-stemmed dogwood branches. The winter red color is on the new growth.
- It is normal to see a large amount of Magnolia leaves shed beginning this month. Some find it messy, but if the Magnolia was left to grow properly, the leaves will fall within the drip line and should be of little consequence. By ‘grow properly’, I mean Magnolias are not meant to be limbedup. In fact helping the branches droop is encouraged. In earlier days, it was common to weigh the lower branches down with rope and bricks. By keeping a ‘skirt’ on the tree, it hides the falling leaves and makes the tree very stately from the ground up. Once the limbs are cut, there is no going back. I have friend in Burtee County. Her sister inherited a pre-civil war home with magnificent Magnolias out front. For whatever reason, she limbedthem up. Now the beauty of these magnificent Magnolias has gone with the wind.
- After the quince have bloom, cut back to shape and keep to a manageable size.
- With the last frost behind us, we can uncover our mulch protecting the grafts of our hybrid tea rose bushes. Unless of course, you have own root roses. We are starting to see a swing back to own root roses for many good reasons. Even growers such as Jackson & Perkins are dedicating time and money to produce more own root roses.
The selection of potted roses is plentiful now. Plant now to get establish before summer. This is a good time to evaluate what you want from a rose. It is best to own up to what you are willing to do or not do or to hire someone else to do it for you. Let’s be realistic and not just get draw in by a pretty face. If you are going to care for your own roses, but don’t want to really have to do anything, there a few wonderful ones to consider. The shrub rose ‘Knock Out’ is wonderful and not yet overused. I may never tire of it and the grower keeps improving upon it with double flowers and additional colors. It will also bloom all summer. The ‘Lady Banks’, which blooms this month, is one of my favorites even though it only blooms once a year. ‘New Dawn’ is also relativity maintenance free. But if you are looking for the single, long stem roses only found with hybrid teas, they are high maintenance and I just want you to be prepared for what you’re getting into. I also love David Austin roses, but in Raleigh, if there every was a high maintenance rose, in my opinion, these roses are the mother of all high maintenance roses.
- Fertilize roses with a good organic fertilizer like Holly-tone Epsoma or Messenger, they don’t help with black spot though. If you want the plant to be green from the bottom up, you will have to spray with a fungicide. There are organic options available. Be sure to follow the label instructions carefully and then begin spraying weekly. This year I will be using Witherspoon’s new organic program, called their Green Program. I plan to monitor my roses weekly photos and identify pest damage and amount of black spot. I will record the spray record and what was used. Cutting the roses at the height of Japanese beetle season is a must. They are attracted to the colorful flowers. The more the roses are cut and enjoyed inside, the less the persistence of pests.
- For your azaleas, fertilize now by adding an acid loving fertilizer just after they bloom. Holly-tone is my products of choice see Epsoma.
- It is always a good idea to get a soil test. It is not just for the grass, although I do recommend getting that soil tested too. Check multiply areas of your garden particularly if you are co-mingling acid loving, neutral or sweet loving plants in one area. That is why Camellias, Azaleas, and Dogwoods do so well altogether. They have the same pH requirement.
- For soil testing in North Carolina, It is easy to do and can be mailed taken in directly to the Soil Test lab for analysis on Reedy Creek Rd.
- Hopefully, your mulch is down. If not, do so now. Mulch retards weeds, retains water, moderates soil temperature, and makes the garden beds look tidy.
- Nothing looks worse than a garden that is not maintained. Be realistic about what you are willing to do. If you only have money to invest in one element – mulch!
- If you really don’t like slugs, try encircling your young plants with crushed shells, coarse sand or kitty litter. The texture will keep them from getting any closer. Not as very effective if done late in the year…you may then actually trap them inside!
- Eastern tent catepillars and gypsy moths winter over in trees and shrubs. Removing them now, will reduce plant loss.
- Stay ahead of the weeds. As you know, I recommend adding mulch. But as weeds emerge, hoe them to the ground. If you stay on top of them, you will thank yourself later. The more you do now, the less you will have to do later. Remember too that cultivating your soil brings weed seeds to the surface, exposing to the light, geminating, making even more weeds.
- Automatic irrigation is turned on again after the threat of last frost. If you automatic irrigation system does not have a rain sensor, please consider adding one. This way, you are not watering in the rain. Also, know how much you are putting down and how often. Water is a valuable resource.
- Fill feeders, daily or as needed. In the early spring, when migration is in full swing, natural food is in its shortest supply.
- Hang your hummingbirds feeders now! Did you know that hummingbirds are actually insect eaters? The feed on insects for needed proteins and sip on nectar for energy; especially in the fall when they are ‘beefing’ up for their long flight south! To attract hummers to your garden, have plenty of nectar plants and/or feeders. The nectar is a mixture of 4 parts water to 1 part water. Never use anything but white sugar and water. No color is necessary and honey, brown sugar or saccharin are a no-no. Change the water often. The sugar water will ferment in the feeder making it unusable for the hummers. Make it a habit and you will be rewarded.
- Blocks of suet, store bought or made at home, give birds quick energy on cold spring mornings.
- Bluebirds are attracted to mealworms. Live or dried work to attract and feed these gifts to the garden.
- Keep the birdbath clean and filled with fresh water. Its a necessity for them and a joy for us to watch.
- In the fall, after the first frost when the garden suddenly transparent, I pull most of my garden accents in for the winter so it does not look like a yard sale when all the plants are dormant. Garden accents to be among my plantings not necessarily the dominant feature. Garden accents should be surprises in the garden as you stroll through to see the glory. In April, I bring them out and put in the garden. Garden accents are great to fill in holes in the garden. I think of most of my accents as movable. I use to run out and get a new plant whenever I had a ‘hole’ in my garden, now I add a garden interest through garden accents as my garden waxes and wanes. It is much more interesting and allows the garden to be interactive without having a pair of clippers in my back pocket!
Guide and photo by Helen Yoest
Gardening With Confidence