Jan’s online garden hints

Jan’s April Tips

-Fill planters with fresh potting soil, then plant frost-tolerant annuals such as alyssum, nemesia, osteospermum, pansy, snapdragon, stock and viola. If you’re dividing crowded perennials such as creeping bellflowers, daylilies, foamflowers, hostas, coral bells, or lamb’s ears, include some of the extra plants in mixed container plantings.

-Celebrate emerging perennials but don’t give up on those that don’t yet show signs of life. Some, such as balloon flower, butterfly milkweed, and hardy hibiscus, are notoriously late to appear.

-If you buy perennials or cold-hardy annuals that have been growing in a greenhouse, allow them to stay in a somewhat protected spot for several weeks to get used to outdoor conditions before you plant them in the garden.

-If bare-root roses, shrubs or trees arrive before you can plant, give them a temporary home in the garden. Dig a shallow hole, lay the plants at an angle, and cover the roots with soil.

-Get cool-season bedding plants off to a quick start by adding a weak dose of liquid fertilizer to their first watering because soil nutrients are often not available to plants growing in cold soil. But take it easy when fertilizing the perennial garden, since many plants react to a rich soil by growing weak and floppy.

-If cats or dogs are digging in your garden, lay a piece of welded wire fence fabric on the soil as soon as you plant.

-Prepare potted perennials for planting by first cutting off any roots that are growing outside the pots. Remove each plant, then “score” the root ball with a knife to encourage roots to grow out into the surrounding soil.

-Before planting a new flower bed, dig a 2-inch layer of compost into the soil. In an established perennial bed, spread the compost on top of the soil around plants and top with mulch.

– Pop bottomless gallon-size plastic jugs over new transplants to offer temporary protection from wind and cold. Mound soil against the sides of the jugs to keep them from blowing away. If you screw the caps on the jugs on frosty nights, remember to remove the caps in the morning.

-If slugs are damaging your plants, control them with a product such as Sluggo that contains iron phosphate, a substance so safe it’s used to fortify bakery foods. For less trouble with slugs chomping on hostas, choose varieties with thick leaves.

-To clean pots encrusted with mineral deposits, soak them overnight in a solution of 1 tablespoon vinegar in a gallon of water, then use a wire brush to remove deposits from a clay pot. If your pots are plastic, use a knife for scraping the deposits.

-After nighttime temperatures stay consistently above 20 degrees Fahrenheit, dig and divide crowded perennials such as aster, chrysanthemum, and phlox, discarding their old, woody centers. Postpone dividing perennials that bloom in spring. Also leave alone perennials that resent disturbance, including baby’s breath, bleeding heart, candytuft, columbine, cushion spurge, false indigo, gas plant, goatsbeard, Japanese anemone, Lenten rose, lupine, monkshood, and Oriental poppy.

-Put cut daffodils in a separate vase of water for a couple of hours before adding them to a mixed bouquet, so the sap that leaks from the cuts won’t shorten the life of the other flowers. After your daffodils quit blooming, allow the foliage to die down naturally. Blame failure to bloom on one of the following: Less than half-day sun; foliage braided, bundled, or removed before it dries; or a fertilizer imbalance (too much nitrogen and too little phosphorus).

-Plant sweet peas near a chain-link fence or trellis to support the vines.

-Feed roses with a slow-release or organic fertilizer. To make your own, follow this recipe from the American Rose Society: For one mature rosebush, mix 1 cup each bone meal and cottonseed meal. Add one-half cup each blood meal, fish meal, and Epsom salts. Scratch the mixture lightly into the top 2 inches of the soil around the rose bush.

-Top off decaying bark chips with a fresh layer of mulch to inhibit plant diseases and artillery fungi, which shoot sticky goo on house siding and automobiles.

-Prune panicle and smooth hydrangeas by cutting the shrubs back by half before new growth begins.

-Remove any winter wrap from tree trunks. If you have a staked tree, loosen the ties now and plan to remove the stake as soon as possible. Replenish mulch to maintain a 4-inch-thick blanket around all trees, but don’t allow mulch to touch the trunk. Remove plant tags and rabbit guards that could constrict growth.

-Make notes of bare spots where spring-blooming bulbs would be welcome, such as tucked around shrubs or between slow-to-emerge perennials. Mark your calendar as a reminder to plant the bulbs in October.

-Remove bagworms from arborvitae or other evergreens anytime before the eggs in the bags hatch (usually about the time Japanese lilac begins to bloom).

-Clean up established ground covers such as pachysandra or creeping myrtle quickly by using the lawnmower, with the blade set to cut as high as possible.

Lawn Care

-Buy an extra blade for the lawn mower so you’ll always have a sharp blade ready to go. If the lawn is wet, postpone your mowing to avoid injury to the grass.

-When forsythia shrubs begin to bloom, spread corn gluten meal on the lawn to stop crabgrass seeds from sprouting.

-If you apply herbicide to the lawn this spring, wait four weeks before saving grass clippings for garden mulch.

-If soil is compacted from foot traffic, either rent a core aerator now, before the weather turns hot, or wait until fall to aerate the lawn.

-Fill bare spots in the lawn by sowing bluegrass or perennial rye in sunny spots or fine fescues in the shade. (If you plan to sow grass seed this spring, skip the pre-emergent herbicide, which keeps desirable grasses from sprouting, too.) If moss tends to crowd out grass in shady spots, improve drainage, fertilize, aerate, and test the soil to see if it’s too acid.

-If you’re tired of struggling to grow grass under a tree, substitute a shade-tolerant ground cover such as periwinkle, lungwort, barrenwort,  Herman’s Pride yellow archangel, or Pennsylvania sedge.

-When fertilizing your lawn, apply half the recommended amount of fertilizer with your spreader. Then, to avoid striping caused by uneven fertilizer coverage, apply the second half by walking perpendicular to the first.

-If you apply a slow-release lawn fertilizer and it doesn’t rain, water the lawn before using a mulching mower which might otherwise knock off the slow-release coating and release too much fertilizer at once.

-Inhibit weeds by mowing tall. Cut bluegrass and other cool-season grasses no lower than 2-1/2 inches. Dig dandelions before they bloom.

Vegetables, fruits and herbs:

-Destroy any volunteer potato plants, which may harbor disease that could infect this year’s tomatoes and potatoes.

-For a quick onion crop, plant dime-sized bulbs (called sets) an inch or 2 deep if you want green onions, or barely covered for big bulbs.

-Plant cool-season crops such as beet, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, kohlrabi, lettuce, pea, potato, spinach and radish. Mix small seeds like carrot and lettuce with sand before planting to get more even distribution. If you have a heavy clay soil, cover any small seeds with sand instead of soil to make it easier for the seeds to sprout.

-Encourage beneficial insects by planting alyssum and dill among the vegetables.

-Soak parsley and beet seeds in water overnight before planting.

-Sow dill and cilantro seeds in the herb garden.

-Mulch potatoes with a 6-inch-deep blanket of straw to prevent weeds, keep the soil cool, and possibly prevent an infestation of Colorado potato beetles.

-For the earliest tomato harvest, plant a quick-maturing variety such as Early Girl with a Wall-o’-Water for frost protection. Or put a sturdy tomato cage over your plant and wrap the bottom of the cage with an 18-inch-high strip of black roofing paper, then slip a clear plastic, vented bag over the cage. Keep plants protected until after the last frost.

-Provide stakes or branches for pea vines to climb. Water peas if the weather is dry, but avoid getting their leaves wet. Apply an inch-deep mulch of grass clippings to conserve soil moisture and keep the peas’ roots cool.

-If your spinach leaves often develop light-colored blotches, blame insects called leafminers. To keep them from ruining this year’s crop, cover the plants with a lightweight cloth, such as cheesecloth or Reemay.

-As soon as apple blossoms fade, put traps for coddling moths in place to prevent wormy apples. Fill each gallon-size plastic jug with 1 cup sugar, 1 cup vinegar, 1 banana peel, and water almost up to the jug’s neck. Hang one trap in each tree.

-Speed up the melon harvest by planting cantaloupe and watermelon seeds indoors. To avoid disrupting roots when you’ll transplant them outdoors, plant each seed in a peat pot or paper cup.

-Keep extra mulch or a row cover handy to toss over blooming strawberries if frost threatens. As soon as the plants start to green up, prevent leather rot by spreading new mulch thick enough to keep rain from splashing from the soil onto the leaves. Postpone fertilizing June-bearing plants until after harvest.

-Mulch blueberries with pine bark chips, which help make the soil more acid as they decompose.

-When planting fruit trees, choose a north slope so flowers will open later and not be as likely to be zapped by frost.