Spring Garden Tips

Melinda's Gardening Tips for Late April

Whether you are hoping for a big harvest, a beautiful landscape, or a little stress relief, knowing the when and how of gardening will help you be a success. Use these timely garden tips to eliminate some of the guesswork. For more gardening tips, check out Melinda's gardening books.


The last Friday in April is Arbor Day. It's a great day to celebrate with family, friends, and your favorite tree. Plant a new tree in your yard or take a walk and look for the oldest or largest tree in the neighborhood. Mulch, weed, and water your existing trees. Plan tree related activities with children including a family picnic under your favorite tree.

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Growing Green

Share extra plants and divisions with neighbors, friends and gardeners in need. Contact nearby schools, Habitat for Humanity, Master Gardeners and other groups that may benefit from your green donation.

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Gardening Tips for Flowers

Give your perennials a boost this spring. Spread a thin layer of compost (topdressing) over the soil surface. This adds needed nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Recent research has shown that topdressing with compost every other year is all the fertilizer most perennials need. Give heavy feeders or those that need a nutrient boost the added fertilizer they need. I prefer low nitrogen slow release fertilizers. These provide small amounts of nutrients over a long period of time. The low nitrogen reduces the risk of burn and overfertilization that can result in lots of leaves and no flowers.

Check with your local municipality or garden center for large quantities of compost. Or better yet make your own. Turn all your yard waste into useful compost for future use.

Annuals need a bit more fertilizer to give that big show in a short time. Incorporate needed fertilizer into the soil prior to planting. Follow soil test recommendations for best results. If these aren't available, apply 3 pounds of slow release, low-nitrogen fertilizer per 100 square feet for your annual flowers' season long needs. Or incorporate 1 pound of a quick release fertilizer into the soil just prior to planting. Add an additional pound each month for the next two months. Check the fertilizer label for additional information.

Give your flowers a head start over the weeds. Remove weeds as soon as they appear by pulling or lightly cultivating the young seedlings. Quack grass, ground ivy, and bindweed should be pulled (roots, shoots, rhizomes and all) and destroyed to prevent re-sprouting.

Annual gardens infested with hard-to-control perennial weeds may need extra help. You can treat them with a total vegetation killer prior to planting. Several applications two weeks apart may be needed for more thorough control. Read and follow label directions before treating and replanting the garden in as little as 4 to 14 days depending on the product and as recommended on the label.

Divide perennials that have poor flowering, open centers, or floppy growth. Some plants, such as shasta daisy and moonshine yarrow, benefit from transplanting every few years. Others, such as purple coneflower, and perennial geraniums, can go many years without division. Let the plant, not your calendar be your guide.

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Gardening Tips for Edibles

Plant asparagus roots 12 inches apart. Dig trenches 6 to 8 inches deep and 9 to 12 inches wide. Set the asparagus in the trench, spreading the roots away from the crown of the plant. Cover with 2 inches of soil. Gradually add soil throughout the season until the trench is filled. Wait several years to harvest.

Take advantage of all your hard work for years to come with fresh-from-the-garden asparagus. Harvest three-year and older asparagus when spears are 6 to 8 inches long. Snap or cut the spears off below the soil surface. Harvest three-year-old plantings for no more than one month. Four-year and older plantings can be harvested for six to eight weeks.

Plant a spring container filled with edibles and flowers. Use Bright Lights or another colorful Swiss chard as a vertical accent. Surround with pansies, they are edible, and colorful leaf lettuce. Add a decorative vine like ivy or vinca.

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Trees, Shrubs and Roses

Celebrate Arbor Day by finding the big trees in your community. Make it a fun event for family and friends. Visit the American Forest website at www.americanforests.org/resources/bigtrees/ for details on measuring the height and spread of the tree. And, if you think you have a giant, compare its size to the champions listed on the same site.

Spring is a good time to add trees, shrubs and roses to the landscape. Mulch the soil around new plantings to reduce competition from grass, prevent weeds and conserve moisture. Be sure to water new plantings often enough to keep the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil moist, but not wet. Water thoroughly and wait for the top few inches of soil to be crumbly, but moist before watering again. Check clay soils weekly and sandy soils twice a week during cool spring weather. Established plants need less attention, but should not be forgotten during droughty springs.

Watch for European pine sawflies on mugo, scotch and other pines when the saucer magnolias begin dropping their petals. These wormlike insects feed in large groups and often rear up and do a bit of a dance when frightened. The colony moves from branch to branch devouring all the older needles. They won't kill the tree, but it may look less attractive with just the tufts of new growth at the end of the branches. You can smash these pests with a leather glove-clad hand or prune out and destroy the infested branch. Insecticides labeled for controlling these pests on evergreens can be used. Be sure to read and follow label directions so you minimize the negative impact of the chemical on the good insects in the landscape, the environment and you.

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Lawns and Groundcovers

Lawns that suffered through hot dry summers last year may have a bigger infestation of crabgrass this summer. Reduce the problem by mowing high. Tall grass shades out crabgrass and other weed seeds, preventing many from sprouting. Proper watering during dry periods will help your lawn grass better compete with this and other weeds.

Those considering chemicals may want to try corn gluten meal. The University of Iowa found it helps prevent crabgrass and other seeds from sprouting. Gardeners using this product in spring and fall report a 50% reduction in lawn weeds after three years.

For best results, apply corn gluten and traditional crabgrass pre-emergents when the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees. This is after the forsythia bloom and when the Vanhouette (often called bridal wreath) spireas are blooming and lilac buds are swelling.

Start mowing your lawn as soon as the grass greens up and starts to grow. Mow the grass high so it can shade out nearby weeds and produce plenty of energy to keep the grass healthy. Minimize the stress by removing no more than a third of the total grass height each time you mow. Grow cool season grasses like bluegrass, fescue and ryegrass 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 inches tall. Warm season grasses like bermudagrass, carpetgrass, centipedegrass and zoysia should be grown at 1 to 2 inches tall, while St. Augustine should be a bit higher, 2 to 3 inches, for best results.

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Tips for Indoor Plants

Do not compost that Easter lily! Get years of enjoyment when your Easter lily blooms each summer in your garden. For now, grow your Easter lily like a houseplant. Remove the flowers as they fade, keep the plant in a sunny window, the soil moist and fertilize with a dilute solution of any flowering houseplant fertilizer.

Move the plant outdoors when the danger of frost has passed. Plant your lily in a sunny location with well-drained soil. Both the traditional and hardy lilies forced for Easter can be planted outdoors for years of added beauty. Gardeners in zones 4 and colder may have limited success with the traditional Easter lily and may want to purchase one of the hardier species now being sold.

Wait for the weather to warm and danger of frost to pass before moving houseplants outdoors for the summer. Take several weeks to introduce them to their summer home. Start the plants in a warm shady spot outdoors. Increase the amount and duration of sunlight the plants receive each day until they are ready for their permanent home. I keep my plants in a somewhat shaded area for the summer. This makes the transition in and out of the house less stressful on the plants and easier for me.

Clip off brown tips of spider plants, dracaenas, and prayer plants. Reduce this problem by keeping the soil slightly moist. This dilutes the fluoride and chlorine in the water, preventing tip burn. Or, use fluoride and chlorine free rainwater, dehumidifier water, or distilled water for these plants.

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