Springtime delights abound: Red-winged blackbirds telephone in the wetlands as they start their nesting rituals; spring peepers punctuate the day from the woodlands behind our house; and wondrous ephemerals like wood lily (Trillium spp) and trout lily sprout among the ancient green shoots of the forest ground. Purple trillium (Trillium erectum), also referred to as wake robin, makes its appearance at the bottom of an old maple in the backyard and is always a joy to discover as I survey the shade gardens.
Because the floor is still soggy, I wear protective mud boots as I make my rounds. And as far as I’d love to wear a T-shirt and shorts, layering is still necessary. So I am usually clad in wool, fleece, down or water-resistant nylon, with a hat and gloves.
Clear debris from around clumps of bulbs. Tiny grape hyacinth (Muscari spp) will look this month. Watch for its flower tips at floor level and lightly pull off twigs and massive leaves from basal growth early, before the stem pushes from the floor. A little hand rake is good for this particular job.
Mark the places of spring ephemerals. It happens to the best people we forget where we planted daffodils and other spring-blooming bulbs in the autumn and don’t maintain records of what we place in. Stay organized and earn a master dictionary using what labels you have lying around; upgrade it regularly each single time you plant something fresh. Include the location (for example, entrance garden walk) on your documents and mark the spot with a plant label.
Make containers pleasure. April marks the official start of garden center insanity. You’ll still battle the audiences (particularly at big-box shops), but search for uncommon perennials with feel and fantastic foliage colour to add to containers, like Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, a low-growing chartreuse sedum, or the aptly named ‘Dark Chocolate’ coral bell (Heuchera ‘Dark Chocolate’, zones 3 to 9), that is yummy paired with trailing silver licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare).
Immediate minced carrots and other root crops. With soil temperatures over 50 degrees, you can sow seeds for cold-hardy edibles like carrots, beets, spinach, spinach, chard and arugula for an early-summer crop. Carrots are particularly versatile and come in some crazy colours, like ‘Purple Dragon’, an heirloom which has an unusual purple outside with a yellow core.
Transplant cold-hardy edibles. In case you don’t grow your own lettuce under lights or in a greenhouse, you can buy cell packs in garden centers this month. Ready your soil by lightly tilling and eliminating weeds; top-dress beds with a fresh layer of compost prior to planting. Search for interesting lettuces with red-tipped or burgundy leaves, like ‘Red Oak Leaf’ or ‘Merlot’, which may also be direct seeded for an extended crop.
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Start seeds inside. The fantastic benefit of growing your own plants from seed is the monumental selection from which to pick. Celebrate Earth Day on April 22 along with your kids or friends by making your own eco friendly baskets from recycled paper. They’re more attractive than an egg carton or empty yogurt container, and the newspaper will decompose easily once the pots are tucked into the garden.
Add more spring-blooming trees. One of my beloved native trees for the northeast is Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis). The odd magenta buds open right on branches before the leaves emerge in this time of year, and the leaves are heart shaped (cordate). Grow this little tree in full sunlight as a focal point, in an open setting or across the edge of a woodland for visual attraction in early spring.
Welcome birds. Migrating birds make their appearance this month; welcome them with a bird-friendly garden that includes food and shelter for raising young. Put a birdhouse and intend to offer a source of water utilizing shallow saucers or birdbaths, then watch for the arrival of goldfinch, purple finch, Carolina wren and warblers.
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