April in the Garden

Azaleas can be pruned as soon as their blooms fade.

This month’s Golden Spades event drew more attendees than ever – 40+ – which tells us that people are gardening early this year, driven into their gardens by an incredibly warm March.  The topic was shade gardening – more on that later – but as always, Gene started his talk covering This Month in the Garden, and here are the highlights.

  • Many of us are having “unbelievable weed problems” this spring, thanks to the weirdly warm weather.  While turfgrass and most other plants in the gardening world are waiting for soil to heat up consistently, which hasn’t happened yet because of our cool nights, weeds are up and at ’em.  Weeds, by definition, are opportunistic and they don’t play by the same rules as the plants that we want.   Gene recommends Weed Beater Ultra – it’s the only weedkiller that works at lower temperatures.
  • It’s time to plant!  Anything except summer annuals, of course, and for them we need to wait until May 1 or so.  Apparently many of us are risk-takers because summer annuals fly off the shelves starting in late April when Homestead puts them out – with the warning that if there’s a frost warning, better cover them up.   But hey, the chance of frost during that last week of April is only 10 percent, so it’s a pretty low-risk gamble.
    As for perennials, shrubs and trees, they don’t care about frost, but buy them as soon as possible before they’re picked over.  Who doesn’t know the disappointment of being told they’re all gone and not on order.  Having to wait a whole year to get plants you have your heart set on?  Arrgh.   Also, it’s smart to avoid the rush on spring weekends, if possible.
  • When you DO plant, Gene recommends adding some Espoma Bio-tone in the planting hole.  It’s a “new product that’s millions of years old”, one that gives the roots of new plants a big boost using microorganisms and mycorrhizal fungi.  That way, the plant can take in nutrients better for its whole life.   Gene’s so high on this product, he said if he had planted new dogwoods yesterday without using Biotone, as one Golden Spader had, he’d dig it up and plant it again with Biotone this time.  It’s that good.
  • This is a great month to fertilize both evergreens and deciduous plants because they put on their maximum growth in the spring.
  • It’s also a great time to prune our hedges – really anytime between now and mid-summer.  The big warning about pruning this time of year is to wait until your spring-bloomers have finished blooming; otherwise, you’ll be chopping off this year’s show.  So, prune soon after those blossoms have faded.
  • To a question about pruning butterfly bushes now, despite the fact that they’ve already produced new growth, Gene said to go ahead and prune as hard as you want.  Butterfly bushes thrive with hard pruning this time of year.
  • Worried about bagworms?  Hold off spraying for them until the second week of June.
  • Aphids are now out in droves.  And guess what – female aphids are born pregnant!  Kinda gives them a reproductive edge, doesn’t it?  Aphids can be dealt with by using a systemic spray, which works for 6 to 8 weeks or, if you use the Tree and Shrub systemic spray, the whole year.  OR you can go organic with an insecticidal soap, spraying it three times, three days apart each time to kill not just the existing aphids but also the next generation.

'Endless Summer' Hydrangea

  • One Golden Spader reported that her hydrangea buds were frost-damaged and was advised to just cut off the dead bits.  The plant will be fine; this year’s flowers, not so much.   The hydrangea variety ‘Endless Summer’ is great in these situations because it blooms on new buds produced in the spring, as well as buds produced the previous season that may be suffering frost damage now.
  • Another asked about the dead centers in her ornamental grasses and was advised to dig them up, divide them, and throw away that dead center.  Like many perennials, after a few years “It’s just Grandma’s time.”  Fortunately, the other parts of the plant are still young and vigorous.

Click here for More April Tips on our blog – covering spring clean-up, spring mulching, and moving perennial seedlings.

Aphid photo credit.   ‘Endless Summer’ photo credit.

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