FARGO - This past week I trudged out to the toolshed through a few remaining snowdrifts to reminisce with my old friends. I wanted to reassure my hoe, rake and tiller that I hadn’t replaced them with shiny new models, moved away or gone to that big vegetable patch in the sky.
It seems like an eternity since we’ve spent time together. April is a month we transition our yards and gardens from winter into spring.
Here is an April to-do list, with some items time-sensitive as approaching warmth stirs plants into action.
April yard and garden tasks
- Although pruning can be done earlier, the long winter caused the task to land mainly in April this year. Apple trees, shrubs, shade trees and all leafy, deciduous woody plants can be pruned anytime while still dormant, before warming temperatures initiate “bud break,” the time when the plants begin leafing out.
- Prune shrubs that are choked with old wood, such as potentilla, spirea and ninebark every three or four years by cutting back to about 6 inches above ground level, as they bloom more prolifically and the branches are more attractive with fresh new growth.
- Larger shrubs that eventually become overgrown with a tangle of woody branches after decades of growth, like dogwood, mock orange and lilac, can be rejuvenated nicely by pruning back to 6 inches above ground level.
- Prune summer-bearing raspberries by removing the 2-year-old dark, woody canes that bore fruit last year, leaving the 1-year-old fresh-looking canes that will bear this summer. Everbearing types, also called fall-bearing, can be pruned the same way, or by mowing all canes to a few inches above ground level, as they’ll bear on the new canes that regrow.
- Vole damage on lawns became evident as snow receded. Rake areas of dead grass chewed away as the tailless field mice made runways and nests. Grass usually survives as roots produce new shoots. If green grass shoots aren’t visible by early May, overseed the damaged areas.
- Using a leaf rake, fluff up matted grass and lawn areas where white or pinkish-white snow mold is evident. Delay heavy, vigorous raking until the lawn has dried to avoid tearing moist grass crowns. When you can kneel on the lawn without getting a wet spot on your jeans, it’s ready for raking.
- Dethatching or power-raking is best delayed until lawns have been mowed once or twice, according to university Extension recommendations, to avoid damage to grass crowns.
- Delay fertilizing lawns until around Memorial Day for most efficient and effective fertilizer uptake, based on turf research.
- Crabgrass, the annual weedy grass that sprouts from seeds each year, is triggered into germination by soil temperatures approaching 55 degrees, and can be controlled using crabgrass preventative products placed shortly before germination, which usually happens between mid-April and mid-May. Note that many wide-bladed weedy grasses aren’t crabgrass, and aren’t controlled by such products.
- Cut back tops of perennial flowers and ornamental grasses before new growth appears at the plant base.
- Prune roses by cutting back blackened, winter-damaged cane portions and thin out crowded weak branches while reducing height to stimulate fresh branching capable of better flower production.
- To prevent the raised bumps that disfigure maple leaves, called maple leaf gall, apply horticultural oil to the trunk and main branches while the tree is still dormant, to kill the causal mites that overwinter in crevices of tree bark.
- Some vegetables, called cool season crops, enjoy cool temperatures and chilly soil and can tolerate light frost. In mid- to late April, plant peas, radish, lettuce, onion, carrot, potato, kale, kohlrabi, cabbage and broccoli.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at email@example.com.