Early spring gardening and lawn care preparation can mean the difference between lush foliage versus greenery that looks tired. Throughout fall and winter, your garden and lawn collect debris. Debris often includes sticks, dead leaves, and even litter blown into the yard by wintry winds. All winter mulch should be removed. When adding new mulch over top of existing mulch, make sure the total depth does not accumulate to more than 3 to 4 inches, as too mulch is detrimental to your plants.
Plants will thrive in almost any well-drained soil. Once the soil has dried out, aerate the soil with a narrow fork or hoe taking care not to damage roots. Add compost or any organic material to loosen heavy clays or retain water in light sandy soil. Most plants prefer slightly acidic soil, a pH level of 6.0 to 6.5. If the pH is too low (acidic) add lime. If it is too high (alkaline), add sulphur.
Refer to labels on plants or packages for proper sunlight requirements. Full-sun plants prefer a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight per day. Shade-loving plants prefer no more than 4 to 6 hours of morning sun or dappled light under trees. Do not place plants where there is sun between noon and 3 pm. Most plants will adapt to a partially shady location. If leaf burn occurs, move plant by end of June.
Perennials can be started now from seed in April. This includes asclepias (milkweed), baptisia, (false indigo), callirrhoe (poppy mallow), hepatica, hosta, and hyssopus (hyssop) and solidago (goldenrod). Check carefully packet instructions and propagation guidelines. Perennials can also transplanted when new leaf growth is 3 to 4 inches high, including Japanese anemone, yarrow, hosta, astilbe, phlox, asters, black-eyed susan, chrysanthemums, and daylilies. Use the double-fork method to split the crown.
Prune shrubs that flower on this year's new stems, such as summer-flowering spirea, roses, dogwoods (Cornus), honey suckles (Lonicera), and evergreen climbers.
For fertilizing, incorporate 5-10-5 or 10-6-4 fifty percent (50%) slow-release fertilizer into the soil during soil preparation for transplants and new plantings. Do not simply toss a handful of the fertilizer into the planting hole because it will burn the roots. Spread slow-release fertilizer around ornamental plantings, trees, shrubs, and perennial beds. Fertilize your roses. Mid-April is the time for the first application.
If a late hard frost is expected after flower buds on some shrubs have started to swell, cover with a sheet, drop-cloth or newspaper.
Set out transplants for cool season crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, edible-pod peas, spinach, kale and onions. Make sure they are hardened-off before planting in the garden in mid to late month. Lettuce and other salad greens can be planted, but you will want to have a row cover fabric. Warm season transplants like tomato require careful hardening off. Set seedling trays outside during the day in a protected area and water, as needed. Begin a week or two before planting out. Ideally, the soil temperature should be above 55 degrees before planting. Otherwise, the seedlings will take longer for major growth to get started. It takes about 6 weeks to grow transplants for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. The first week in April gives you about the right amount of time to plant seeds to be ready to plant out in the middle of May. Water newly planted transplants and seeds that have been set out. Make sure transplants are moist before they go in the ground. If it does not rain, water seed daily until they germinate. Seedlings indoors are still best watered from the bottom.
It is important to remember that herbicides for crabgrass control work by preventing seed from germinating. Therefore, it needs to be applied before seeds germinate. A good rule of thumb is to apply half the recommended pre-emergent crabgrass control when the forsythias and Bradford pear trees bloom. Apply the other half 6 to 8 weeks later. Rake and aerate the lawn. Mow lawn as soon as necessary. Do not let the grass get higher than 4 inches. Mow to a length of 2 to 3 inches.