“Oh, the lovely fickleness of an April day,” wrote the naturalist William H. Gibson a long time ago. And, as I write this post, April certainly is fickle. Yesterday, it was windy but pleasant and warm in the 50s. Today, sleety rain and the low will dip into the 20s. The pansy basket has moved from the porch to the living room and a few other plants are taking refuge under my simple hoop house.
So what are the April garden chores northern gardeners should do?
1. Watch the weather! April is fickle and we can have blizzards (remember 2018??) or endless sunny days. Your perennials and hardy spring bulbs do not need extra protection—they can take whatever nature hands out—but any early annuals will need a cover or a quick trip inside if the temps drop. The same goes for any cool season vegetables you may have put out. Hoop houses, cold frames and other protection are a good idea for vegetables that are set out in April.
2. Start seeds. This is an especially good year to start seeds indoors—because you’re probably home to watch them. If you are a first-time seed starter, lettuce germinates quickly and plants can be put out in the garden as soon as the soil temperature hits 50 degrees. If you don’t want to set up lights for indoor seed starting, you can do it in a sunny window. Here’s how our DIY columnist Eric Johnson does it.
3. Clean up sloooowly. This is one of the biggest April garden chores and the temptation is to clean up the entire garden now that the weather is warm. But hold off a little while. You want there to be several days in a row with temperatures well into the 50s before clean up. This is to make sure you do not compact the soil and make sure that pollinators that have overwintered in the soil or plant debris are up and out. You can move mulch off some plants, but you don’t want to be vigorously raking or running wheelbarrows over the lawn until the ground under foot is firm. Author Margaret Roach recommends starting near the house so you aren’t bugged by the untidiness and moving out from there!
4. Lawn care. The University of Minnesota recommends applying preemergent crab grass control in mid-April, if you choose to do that. Fertilizing is only needed in August. Please do not mow your grass until late April at the earliest. Let it green up and the ground firm up before mowing.
5. Divide perennials. Later in April, as perennials start to emerge, it’s a good time to divide those that need it. In spring, divide only late summer and fall bloomers, such as hostas. Divide spring and early summer bloomers in fall. On hostas and other perennials that grow from the inside out, look for the telltale donut to indicate it’s time to divide.
6. Plant lily bulbs. Remember those hardy lily bulbs you bought at the Minneapolis Home and Garden Show from MSHS? Once the frost is out of the ground, you can plant them. Add a light dressing of compost or some all purpose fertilizer to the hole. Sometimes it’s fun to put lilies in containers and then move them around the garden wherever color is needed. Hold off on planting dahlias, canna lilies and other tropical plants until the weather is fully warmed up.
7. Put out a pansy bowl. Many of our garden centers are offering no-touch pick up of annuals and other spring garden supplies. It’s easy to order online and then pick up your order. Plus, nothing raises spirits like a pretty bowl of flowers now. Please support all of our garden centers during this difficult time.
8. Turn your compost. When the compost pile thaws out, give it a turn and collect the good compost to spread on plant beds and in the vegetable garden. Don’t spread any mulch yet — let the ground warm up fully before adding mulch.
What are your must-do April chores?