Spring garden checklist
Get your garden ready by staying on schedule
By Katie Marks, Networx
I know it's spring outside because the wisteria planted by my front door has begun to burst into bloom. It started with a single delicate spray of flowers at the end of March, but now, the whole plant is starting to flush blue, and it looks stellar. At the same time, it's erupting with new shoots, showing me that despite the heavy frosts of December, it recovered okay and it's ready to keep on looking fabulous.
The same can't quite be said of the rest of my garden, which is looking a little ragged right now, a reminder that I need to get on my April garden checklist -- and I can't use the heavy rains of March as an excuse any more! Soggy soil or not, it's time to get started, because my garden is growing at a runaway pace and it doesn't care how lazy I feel.
The Chicago Botanic Garden reminds me that I can safely plant out cool season annuals as well as seedlings at this point, which means I can start whipping my garden into shape for the coming months. Get floral borders going, fill in gaps, and make your vegetable garden shine! If you still haven't started seedlings, get on it -- or consider making a trip to the nursery and picking up six packs of favorites like lettuce or newcomers like mizuna.
This is also the time to divide most summer and fall-blooming perennial plants and redistribute them (along with some fertilizer). Leave irises, day lilies, and oriental poppies alone for now, though -- you'll want to relocate them later in the year. Meanwhile, fertilizer your bulbs and cut off dead flowers, but let their foliage remain so they can gather energy. Older bulbs should be dug up, divided, and replanted.
If you've had insect or fungus problems with your fruit trees in the past, now is the time to spray them with an appropriate product. There are a number of organic products like copper sulfate on the market, but no matter what you use, remember to follow the directions carefully and wear face protection while you work. Even organic solutions can cause skin and eye irritation!
Check your greenhouse more frequently. April brings warmer weather, which can in turn get your greenhouse a little toastier than it needs to be. Open windows and doors for ventilation if necessary. If you want a weekend project, consider upgrading with an automatic ventilation system that will open windows when the indoor temperature gets too hot -- and close them again when it starts to get cool.
Rake, fertilize, and overseed your lawn to get it growing lush and healthy. Meanwhile, step up your mowing schedule (like me, you probably need to, just because the grass is growing so fast). Save money on fertilizer by setting your blades high and leaving the clippings behind -- they're a great source of nitrogen and as they break down, they'll enrich the soil for the growing grass left behind. The tradeoff, however, is that you'll have to mow more often!
Climbing plants like wisteria, along with shrubs, should be fed so they can develop healthy, even growth with that warm spring weather. Meanwhile, you can plant some smaller trees and shrubs, although bigger specimens should already be in the ground. This is also the time to finish winter pruning -- after around the middle of the month, you should plan on leaving any remaining pruning until next year, because it will be too late.
All this work in the garden should be generating some serious compost fodder. Make sure to maintain your balance of greens and browns to keep the compost healthy, because you'll be wanting to use it. This is also the time to get your mulch up to speed after a rough winter. Remove thick mulch to give roots some more room to breathe, and add a fresh layer of light mulch to help them retain moisture as the temperatures start to heat up.