April: To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

April is upon us.  Good riddance to March.  What a crazy thrill ride that was!  Seventy degrees today and twenty-five tonight and all points in between in the next 4 days.  A little sun, a little rain and not nearly enough of either.  G’bye March.

The saucer magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana) in the front yard was almost pretty for almost a week.  It got nipped as the buds were opening, so it was never awesomely gorgeous.  Then a twenty-one degree overnight brought the whole display to an abrupt end.  Dark brown is an okay color for soil, but not so much for magnolia blossoms.

The Accidental Cottage Garden is a big question mark.  Some of the 250,000 seeds I put out have apparently survived attempted drowning and hypothermia.  Which ones?  Who knows.  It’ll just have to be a surprise.  There is a rumor afoot that part of the lawn might get tilled up and planted with sunflowers for Ukraine.  Just seems like the right thing to do.  And speaking of right things to do…let’s go garden!!


Fertilize warm season grasses (Bermuda grass, zoysia) with a high Nitrogen slow release fertilizer as they are breaking dormancy now and would really like a good hearty breakfast.  Hold off if you have a centipede lawn until late in May.

It is no longer mandatory to cease fertilizing cool season lawns (bluegrass, fescue, rye) after mid-March.  Use a balanced (10-10-10 or equivalent) fertilizer and be judicious.

The window for applying crabgrass preventer may have closed.  The colloquial way of remembering when to do that is sometime between the blooming of forsythia and blooming of dogwoods. 


Besides the lawn (see above), it is appropriate to feed any of the shrubbery that you didn’t get around to last month.  (It’s ok.  Nobody’s judging.)


A big question mark this year.  How optimistic are you?  Are you willing to cover stuff if we get a late frost?  When the overnight temperature quits dipping into the thirties the soil temp will soon enough get warm enough to plant melons, squash, pumpkins, cucumber, and corn from seed.  Save the okra for the end of the month.  You can transplant tomatoes and peppers.  Be sure to plant enough to share with friends and with folks whose thumbs might not be so green and those whose homes might be real portable.  They like fresh produce, too.

Warm season grasses can be planted in April.  Most need to be sodded or plugged/sprigged.  Seeding is either not available or not generally successful.  Check out the NCSU Turffiles web site for all things grass in North Carolina.


Remove any winter damage from trees and shrubs.

Leave spring flowering shrubs like azaleas, lilac (Syringa sps.), forsythia, spiraea, etc. alone until after they have finished blooming.

Prune berry bearing plants such as hollies (Ilex sps.) and pyracantha while they are in bloom so you can judge how much of this year’s berry crop you are removing.

Prune flowering cherry (Prunus sps.) and redbuds (Cercis sps.) as needed.

Check the NCA&T web site to see if your Bradford pear (Pyrus calleriana ‘Bradfordii) is eligible for a bounty replacement.  There is a program to replace cut down Bradfords with free native tree species.

Shoulda happened years ago.


It is open season on azalea lace bugs, boxwood leaf miners, euonymus and tea scales and spider mites.  Spray only as needed preferably with an organic product and ALWAYS read and follow label instructions.

Spray iris beds for borers.

Treat cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts) for worms.

Spray squash plants weekly near the base from now until the first of June for borers.

Spray apple and pear trees with streptomycin to control fire blight.  Spray once at bud opening and again at full bloom.  In rainy weather a third application might be necessary. 

Begin weekly fruit tree spray program after bloom petals fall.


There is always mulch.  There are many options and much depends on your aesthetic preferences.  There is pine bark in its many guises and single, double and triple shredded hardwood.  Decorative stone next to the house if you are concerned about termites.  Pine straw (needles) looks great in natural areas.  There is dyed pallet chips (if you must) and wheat straw is good around the vegetable garden.  All of them help retain soil moisture and cut down on the number of weeds. Total weed elimination is a myth.  They are both prolific and tenacious.  Besides pulling them by hand is therapeutic, provided you can get back up afterward.

Here’s a thought.  Let’s just sit outside and revel in nature unveiling herself yet again.  I mean sometimes it might require a cold beverage of some sort and other times in April it might take hot chocolate and a fire pit, but either way it’s a celebration of April in North Carolina.  Happy Spring, y’all. 

*Resources and Further Reading

NC State Extension Organic Lawn Care Guide

NC State Extension TurfFiles

NC Extension Gardener Handbook – Vegetable Gardening

Central North Carolina Planting Calendar for Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs

How to Prune Specific Plants

North Carolina Production Guide for Smaller Orchard Plantings

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (find your perfect plant or figure out what that unknown weed is!)

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