As gardeners, our least favorite jobs usually involve fighting pests and weeds. Education is our best tool. Create an environment that increases the biodiversity of your landscape with a wide range of plants, and you will help control a variety of insects by attracting beneficial bugs and birds to the area. If your crops are regularly attacked by insects, consider companion plantings to hide, repel, or trap pests. Some companion plants provide food and shelter to attract and protect beneficial insects. Click on the map at right to find your zone.
The first thing to do once the ground is workable is to prepare your planting beds. Raised beds warm up faster in spring, especially if you cover them with black or clear plastic for a few sunny days. Spade or till up the beds and add compost if you haven’t already.
In existing beds where compost has already been added last fall, use a turning fork to break up the surface of the soil. Don’t disturb the healthy structure of the soil by tilling.
Never use a tiller in soil infested with bindweed, quack grass, or other weeds that spread from small pieces of root. Most young weeds can be pulled out easily when the soil is moist. Getting the root up is crucial. If the weeds are breaking off at the crown as you pull, slip a forked dandelion puller or similar tool under the weed, and pry and twist as you pull it up. Weeds that have taproots, such as dandelion and plantain, usually must be pried out.
As the seedlings you started indoors become big enough to be planted outside, make sure you go easy on the fertilizer, water and heat. Too much of any of those will make for spindly seedlings that will have a hard time getting established outside. Instead, begin to harden the seedlings off, water only when needed, and dial back the nutrients. Harden off by leaving them outdoors during the day in light shade for a few days. Bring them in at night. Then start exposing them to the sun for a couple of hours a day, building up a little at the time. By the time danger of frost is past (late in the month), they will be ready to begin life in the ground.
You can put tomato seedlings outdoors in the shade whenever the weather is above 50 degrees, a week or two before you are ready to plant them in the garden. The cabbage and cauliflower seedlings can take cooler temperatures and go in the ground early in the month.
Tomatoes planted near your asparagus will prevent the asparagus beetle. Plant your tomatoes after harvesting the asparagus spears. Plant garlic around them, too.
Plant your lettuce seeds under growing collards, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. These plants will shade the lettuce as warmer temperatures come in, extending the harvest.
Keep up with your weeding. Use care when removing weeds that already have seed heads so you don’t inadvertently spread them.
Integrate some perennials into your vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects. Good candidates are daisies, coneflowers, cosmos, liatris, marigolds, nasturtiums and zinnias. Carefully deadhead the spent flowers, as needed, to keep them under control and encourage more blooms.
Plant alliums (chives, garlic, onions, shallots), parsley, and marigolds near roses.
A few tablespoons of Epsom salts per rose bush provides magnesium for new cane growth.
Divide and replant spring-blooming perennials after bloom.
Trees and Shrubs
Add garden sulfur to the areas around hydrangeas to increase soil acidity. This can help change the color of mop heads to blue. Follow package directions.
If you missed fertilizing your shrubs last month, do so now. They will need the extra nutrients during their big growth spurt over the next two months.
Look for lace bugs on your azaleas and treat immediately. Spray both sides of the leaves. Once damaged, the leaves will not regain their rich color. Spray every 10 days until June with the appropriate product.
Apply dormant oil sprays to fruit trees early in the month when buds swell but haven’t opened.
Never mow wet turf.
The mild temperatures make broadleaf weed killers effective and easier on the turf. Use the correct product for the type of grass being treated. Read labels or ask your local Home Depot Garden Center associate to find the right product.
Brown patch disease may be active in April and should be treated promptly to minimize damage.
Make sure your mowers blades are sharpened or replaced. Mowing will become a regular source of exercise beginning this month. Consider buying a mulching kit for your mower to keep from having to rake up the clippings.