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Gardening Basics: April Showers Bring May Flowers

Simply Put – April Showers Bring May Flowers

Go the lyrics to the song, more or less (from 1921; Googled it). We in the plant business love April showers, as long as they fall on a Tuesday evening. We likes rain on weekends about as much as Gollum liked Frodo.

What do you have to look forward to in April?

This is a big time for lawns. As the forsythias bloom (blooming now, bushes with big masses of yellow flowers), the soil is about the right temperature for crabgrass seed to begin to grow. If you are a lawn fanatic, you need to do your crabgrass treatments now. If you didn’t fertilize your lawn in the fall when you do most of your lawn feeding, and it’s a cool season lawn (one that is green now) you can still do a quick application of spring lawn food. If you have a warm season (zoysia grass) lawn (brown now) you don’t fertilize until it greens up in a month or two.

Early April is still chilly (off and on, this weekend is going to be a warm one) and it still makes sense to be planting cool season vegetables and flowers. That includes broccoli, lettuce, and pansies. Wait a few weeks before you plant the warm season stuff outdoors—tomatoes, geraniums, impatiens, marigolds— and look at the long range forecast for night temperatures. If it’s going to be in the 30’s or 40’s, you don’t gain much by early planting. Basil and peppers are best planted mid-May or later.

Think bigger. Early April is great for:

· Cleaning-up of last year’s dead plants, and mulching your walkways if they happen to be soil walkways like mine are. Hold off on mulching beds until the soil warms up a bit more. In that case, mulch when or after you plant.

· Planting trees, shrubs, and perennials. Generally, anything that is displayed outside at the garden center is safe to plant now. Plants that are under cover in greenhouses may still be too tender to go outside unless you are prepared to cover them if the night temperatures dip into the 30’s.

· Shop early for spring bloomers. You may as well enjoy the entire bloom period at your home instead of buying it after it’s already flowered for a week.

· Fertilizing shrubs: you can go ahead and apply your Holly Tone or Plant Tone around your evergreen shrubs. As soon as the ground warms up, the soil bacteria will start to break it down and make it available to your azaleas and so on.

· Plant containers for your deck or patio. Mixed containers or single specimens. If you use tender plants, you can move the container inside for a day or two if you need to because of cold weather.

· Keep thinking about the birds. They are getting ready to hook up and build nests. Maybe you can bribe more into nesting in your yard if you provide a water source (bird bath) and continue to feed them. Remember that birds mostly feed insects to their chicks. Long-term, you will have more birds if you plant native trees and shrubs, which support native insects such as caterpillars and the birds that feed on them. You’ll have more butterflies , too.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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