Gardeners need to show a little restraint in April

THE OLYMPIANApril 4, 2012 

The first week in April is your reminder not to be an April Fool. It is too cold and too early to plant warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and beans. It is the perfect time to seed cool-season edibles such as potatoes, onions, lettuce and chard. You can still plant strawberries, blueberries, raspberry and fruit trees. Mild weather is on the way, but we still may have some frosty mornings ahead.

Dig in to general garden cleanup and your landscape will be looking good just in time for Easter. Hop to it this week and mow, mend, plant and weed. A few hours in the garden this month will save you days of sweat and maintenance all summer long.

Remember your New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, save money, de-stress, eat healthy and get more exercise? Working in a garden does all these and more.

Here are 10 things to do now - for less work this summer.

Aerate the lawn.

Why? Aeration will help spring rains penetrate the soil so roots will grow deeper and your lawn will need less water from you. Leave the plugs to decompose back into the soil.

Spread dolomite lime or calcium on top of the lawn after you aerate.

Why? Lime helps to break up clay soil and improve aeration, plus it makes the soil less acid so moss won’t thrive. Wood ashes sprinkled on top of the lawn or garden beds will also help sweeten the soil.

Pull last summer’s dead annuals from your old pots – and stir up the potting soil.

Why? Over-wintering insects and disease could be hiding in those dead plants, plus their removal gives you room to add some fresh potting soil and mix it up with last year’s soil.

Compacted potting soil requires more water and fertilizer to support plant growth.

Plop wet grass clippings or wet newspaper on top of blooming shot weeds – until you get around to pulling or mulching on top of them.

Why? Smothering any blooming weeds will stop them from making seeds and shooting them all over the yard.

Hand pull or cut back any large and noxious weeds now.

Why? Roots are growing fast as the soil warms. Pull thistle, dig dandelions, cut back horsetail and morning glory before they spread into a summer maintenance nightmare.

Layer a mulch of bark chips, moo doo, gravel or other mulch on top of your beds now.

Why? Fresh mulch levels out the ground and covers up fallen leaves, moss, lichen and winter debris. Not only does a mulch conserve moisture and block weeds but it makes the whole yard look neat and tidy. It’s lot like frosting a cake the way a mulch hides imperfections.

Bait for slugs or go on slug patrol.

Why? Their eggs have hatched and this week all the slugs are going into a frenzy to mate and lay more eggs. Slug patrol now keeps the slimy rebellion under control.

Finish pruning, collecting debris and cleaning up from the winter storm damage.

Why? This is the time to see what open and extra empty space you have for new plants. Spring is when local nurseries are well-stocked with replacement plants. Plant now and let the spring rains keep the soil moist so the plants are established before summer.

Define your boundaries, get edgy with it.

Why? When you edge the lawn or add a border of brick or timbers between your grass and your garden beds you stop the underground roots from invading the planting areas. Wandering grass is easier to remove in the spring when the soil is soft and damp.

Prepare your soil for flowers and vegetables – dig in some organic matter.

Why? If you add 2 inches of compost or manure to a bed now, then turn the soil over and smooth it out you’ll have less weeds and deeper roots on any plants you add later in May. Plus April is a good time to use up all the compost from your bins so you’ll have plenty of room in the compost pile for all the material from your spring clean up.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her web site at binettigarden.com.

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