Garden To-Do List for April

by Gary Crispell, Master GardenerSM Volunteer


What a roller coaster ride!!  Let’s call it Maruaryune because it came right after Februril.  Pity the plants.  They are sooo confused.  We have a pair of azaleas (Rhododendron x poukensis) in the backyard.  The blooms on one were totally annihilated by the last hard freeze.  The other one is doing just fine even though they aren’t four feet apart.  The fig (Ficus x Brown Turkey) may have received a terminal shot this year.  It is the second year in a row that the leaves have been frozen just as they were emerging.  The apple tree (Malus x Yellow Delicious) is unfazed by it all, thank you very much.

The Accidental Cottage Garden is surprising me yet again.  I had planned to remove the mulch and till the entire bed with the tractor, but there are too many perennials returning for me to justify that.  So, looks like a job for the mini-tiller and way more work for the gardener.  Life can be sooo hard sometimes.

One of the returning perennials is the Siberian wallflower (named for a junior high boy at his first dance).  (Cheiranthus allionii).  It is already in full bloom.  Let us hope April is pleasant (i.e., warm) so that the 250,000 seeds I bought will all germinate and give me something to write about all summer.  Now I have shared part of my “to do” list.  Here is a more complete list of things we can do together apart.

Cheiranthus allionii (Siberian wallflower) – photo credit: Gary Crispell

LAWN CARE:  Statistically this is the first month to fertilize warm season grasses (Bermuda & zoysia—not centipede) because they should be just breaking dormancy.  My zoysia broke dormancy three weeks ago.  Go ahead and fertilize like everything is normal (Might not be any such thing.)

Centipede gets its only feeding in late May.

Just like last year, the window for applying preemergent crabgrass control may well have slammed shut two weeks ago.  The rule of thumb is to make the application sometime between when forsythia blooms and when the dogwoods (Cornus florida) bloom.  The C. florida in my yard are wide open in bloom now.

Cool season grasses may also be fertilized now using a balanced (10-10-10 or equivalent) fertilizer in moderation.

FERTILIZING:  Besides lawns (see above), all the stuff you didn’t get to last month because you couldn’t bring yourself to do it in 45 degree weather or when it was raining (which was most of the time it wasn’t 45) can be fertilized now.

PLANTING:  It is soooo tempting.  Like the weather is mostly warm(ish).  And the sun feels so good.  And we’ve been cooped up since I don’t know when.  And…  It’s a crap shoot, y’all.  I’m gonna list ‘em with the caveat  that you might have to protect them before the month is over.  Or you can be conservative and wait until mid April.  This blog assumes no responsibility for frosted plants that we didn’t plant ourselves.  That said, here’s what can be planted ‘cause the soil temp is already all ready.

Squash, cucumber, melons and corn can be planted from seed.  Go ahead and bring out the flats of tomatoes and peppers that you started in January and stick ‘em in the dirt.  Please plant enough to share.  Some folks have thumbs that are other colors than green and some folks carry all their possessions on their backs and don’t have anywhere to plant stuff.  All of them like fresh veggies.

Warm season grasses (Bermuda, zoysia, centipede) can be planted now.  Bermuda can be planted from seed, but the requirements are stringent.  Zoysia, centipede and hybrid Bermudas need to be sodded or plugged (sprigged).  NCSU Turffiles website is a great resource for any North Carolina grass information.

PRUNING:  Remove winter damage from trees and shrubs.

Suppress any urges to prune spring-flowering shrubs {lilac (Syringa sps.), azaleas (Rhododendron x hybrids), mock orange (Philadelphus), etc.} until after the blooms fade.

Prune berry-bearing plants [hollies (Ilex sps.), pyracantha, etc.] while in flower to know how much fruit is being pruned away.

Prune flowering cherry (Prunus sps.) and redbud (Cersis sps.) only as needed.

SPRAYING:  The bugs are not confused.  They are opportunistic and the weather has been warm enough often enough to provide lots of opportunities.  So, they are out there feeding on anything they can get their little mouth parts on.  The usual suspects this time of the year are lace bugs on azaleas and pyracantha, boxwood leaf miners (self-explanatory), euonymus and tea scales on euonymus and camellias (and other stuff in the vicinity—opportunity) and spider mites on lots of varieties, but most likely on coniferous (cone bearing) evergreens.  Aphids will be on literally everything as soon as it is consistently warm.

A light horticultural oil will usually result in positive outcomes (the critters will die) as the oil smothers all phases of the insect life cycle.  Insecticidal soap is effective on larval and adult phases.  Other more toxic products are available, but are less ecologically friendly.  Always read the label and follow all the instructions contained thereon.

Spray iris beds for borers.

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

Spray squash plants weekly from now until June for squash vine borers.

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

Begin weekly fruit tree spray program after the blossoms drop their petals.

Pots of pansies brighten up the deck – photo credit: Gary Crispell


By mid-month it’ll be time to hit the local garden shop (not big box) for those delightful bunches of color we call annuals.  By the end of the month the selection should be awesome and who doesn’t love the cheerfulness of a pot full of Evovulus, or petunias, or celosia, or a thousand other species.  We keep pots of pansies on the deck all winter and whatever catches our eye at the garden shop for the summer.  I’m always open to trying new varieties.

Mulch is a many splendored thing.  It is the finishing touch to a landscape planting.  Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it is functional by helping to mitigate soil moisture loss, keeping roots cool and assisting in the suppression of weeds.

April being what it is in North Carolina, requires a bit of spontaneity on our part if we want to sit outside and partake of nature’s goodness.  I mean, the weather has been known to change hourly.  One has to be always ready and flexible.  It’s worth the effort when you hit it right.  Only May and October are better and October is equally unpredictable.  (It just has the multi-hued leaves as a redeeming value.)

So, IT’S SPRING!!!  Enjoy.  

Happy new beginnings, y’all.

Further reading:

From NCSU:

NCSU Turffiles

General Pruning Techniques

From the Blog:

More about horticultural oils

Mulch and more mulch

To Do in January

Lawn Care
•    Keep tree leaves from collecting on your lawn.

•    Spread ashes from the fireplace around gardens and bulb beds where soil pH is below 6.0.  Avoid acid-loving plants.  (3 lbs of ash = 1 lb of limestone)
•    Now is the time to put out limestone if needed (it takes about three months for lime to change the soil’s pH)
•    Fertilize houseplants as needed.

•    Asparagus crowns can be planted at this time.

•    Hardwood cuttings of many landscape plants like forsythia (yellow bells), flowering quince, weigela, crape myrtle, juniper, spirea and hydrangea can be taken this month.

•    Prune grape vines
•    Any dead or diseased wood can be pruned out anytime of the year.
•    Weeds or unnecessary trees should be removed from the landscape.

•    None

Other Activities
•    Poinsettias should be placed in the sunniest room in the house.
•    If you have received your soil recommendations, apply lime as suggested.  Don’t apply fertilizer until spring.
•    Order fruit trees and grape vines now if you wish to plant them in February and March.
•    Continue putting the leaves from your yard into a compost bin.