- Old Plants – Cut back all old material from plants so new growth can emerge and get the sun’s nutrients. If plants have heaved out of the ground over the winter, firm them back into the soil
- Mulch – If your garden has winter mulch protecting your plants you can now take off that layer so your spring bulbs and plants can emerge from their winter nap, breathe and start again. Don’t wait too long as the crowns may rot. Add the winter mulch to your compost pile.
- Compost Pile – Once your compost pile has thawed out you can rework the pile. Take out new soil and use it for your garden areas. Turn the remainder of the pile and start adding new materials from your garden cleanup. Don’t use diseased plants—burn or discard them.
- Weeding – Perennial broadleaf and grassy weeds may grow all winter. While the perennials are dormant weeds are easy to see. Pulling or hoeing these weeds at this time will get the entire root and will give you a start on a less weedy garden.
- Peonies – If necessary, spray emerging peonies with fungicide to prevent botrytis blight.
- Seeds – You should have already sown spring annuals or perennials. If the plants are large enough, harden then off in a cold frame or in a warm, sunny location during the warmest times of the day and bringing them inside at night. Once the plants are hardened off you can plant in the garden toward the end of April.
- Summer Seeds – Also sow seed indoors for summer gardens. Sow seeds 4-6 weeks before the last frost. (last frost date is usually May 15th in Northern Illinois) OR sow seeds directly into the garden. Read the instructions on seed packets and see if “direct sow” is an option.
- Preparing Garden Beds – Spade or rototill the garden bed 12 inches and incorporate 4-6 inches of organic matter. When you do plant, dig a hole twice as wide as the soil ball and as deep. If a plant is growing in an artificial soil, shake off that soil and mix it with the soil going back into the plant hole. After planting lightly firm in the soil around the plant and thoroughly soak the soil around the plant to settle it in. Do not water unless dry, usually the rain should be enough at this time of year. Do not allow water to collect around the plant (like a shallow bowl around the plant) because the root and crown of the plant can develop crown rot.
- Pest Control – Aphids, slugs, diseases, weeds and animals are starting to become problems in the garden so be watchful for those signs in your garden. Use environmental friendly controls whenever possible. If problems are caught early or preventive methods are used before the problems develop the entire plant won’t be affected. Slug control with collars or bait will get slugs in their tiny stage and easier to control. A bottle of Tabasco sauce mixed in a gallon of water and sprayed on plants usually keeps rabbits away. Insecticidal soaps on the foliage can keep away many aphids or mites.
- Planting – I know we’re itching to plant by now, but wait just a bit. You could plant by the middle or end of April. However you need to be watchful of the frost at night. Keep something handy to cover those plants at night. There is nothing worse than planting too soon and losing the plants to frost. Mulching new perennials and annuals will give them added protection as well, but covering at night for frost prevention is best.
- You should already been enjoying snowdrops, crocus, iris reticulate and many more March bulbs. April should bring more beautiful spring bulbs.
- Cut off faded blooms to allow the energy to go back into the bulb for next season and not into seed developing.
- Protect the foliage of the bulb as this is where the bulb gets its energy for next season. Braiding of daffodil leaves will create a pocket for water to collect and rot the plant and bulb. Instead hide the old leaves with other emerging perennials (such as daylilies or hosta).
- Fertilize after the blooms fade. Mix the fertilizer with the soil at the base of the bulb. (not on the leaves or you’ll kill the leaves and thus no energy for next year’s bulb)
- Tender Bulbs, Corms, Rhizomes and Tubers– If you haven’t done so clean, divide and dust with fungicide for planting in the month of May.
- Begin to carefully uncover winter mulch protection from around and under the roses. Hose the remaining soil or winter mulch can be hosed off the roses.
- Replace the old winter mulch with fresh mulching material. Shredded bark, wood chips, or other coarse organic material will keep soil from compacting, reduce evaporation, and reduce the chances of heavy rains splashing water and spreading disease.
- That old winter mulch can be added to the compost pile.
- Prune back the canes once the emerging growth develops. Remove the winter die-back on the canes and try to keep as many leaves on the plants as possible.
- Roses need about 1 inch of water per week. Usually, there is enough rain at this time of year. Do not water unless the soil is dry.
- Fertilize with a water soluble (Peters or Rapid-Grow or similar fertilizer) following directions for mixing on the package, and apply 1-2 cupfuls per plant. OR use granular 10-10-10 using 1 handful spread evenly around each rose. WATER in to soak and wash off plants spilled by fertilizer.
- Spring lawn care includes raking and cultivating the lawn, core-aerate if lawn is compacted with thatch, renovate bad patches and broadcast seed for a fuller, lusher lawn.
- If necessary, apply a pre-emergent crabgrass herbicide to the lawn. Spring is the time problems develop check for other disease problems and control as needed.
- Proper mowing is important for healthy lawns. Grass dictates how often to mow. The more fertilizer, water and vigor the more often you will mow. Mow often enough that NO MORE THAN 1/3rd to ½ of the length of the grass blade is removed at a time. (2 ½ inches tall is usually best)
- Check all lawn mower equipment. If you have not done so in fall, drain old gasoline and put in new gas, make sure oil levels are correct, repair anything on the mower and sharpen the blade.
- Shade Trees – Most shade trees can be pruned in April. HOWEVER, don’t prune Maples and Yellowwoods as they will bleed. ALSO oaks can develop oak wilt fungus from the wound. Prune Oaks in late fall.
- Shrub Pruning – Summer or Fall-blooming shrubs can be pruned at this time. Prune out 1/3rd of the oldest stems to the ground for rejuvenation and blooming on new wood. DO NOT PRUNE Spring-blooming shrubs (lilac, forsythia, azalea, etc.) prune after they bloom or you will prune out the blossoms. You can prune out dead branches at this time.
- Pest Control – Watch closely for any pest or disease problems and control as needed.
- Planting – Spring is the best time to plant trees and shrubs. Follow planting instructions for each type (container, balled & burlapped and bare-root). Just remember as you plant remove all twine, burlap and wire baskets or your roots will not grow properly. Many large, older trees have died because of this problem. Also remember to plant at the right depth, at the root line (don’t expect the container to be correct or the balled & burlap line to be correct) – FIND WHERE THE ROOTS BEGIN AND PLANT AT THAT LEVEL. Also remember do not mulch up the tree trunk or shrub stem. Roots will develop high up the tree and eventually will kill the tree or shrub years later. Each tree and shrub has special needs for planting and care. Find each out and care for them accordingly and you will have wonderful, healthy trees and shrubs for years to come.
- General Care – Clean up all vegetable beds, rototill the soil once you can work it and add any amendments to the soil as needed.
- Pruning – Last chance to prune fruit trees, grapes and brambles. Pruning should be completed early in April. Train grapes and brambles to supports. Fertilize fruit trees and brambles. Apricot and peach trees should be pruned just before they bloom. Apricots and peaches need severe pruning every year to develop the new wood on which the trees flower and develop fruit.
- Seedlings – You should have placed cool-season vegetables in a cold frame to harden off for planting in mid-April. Start summer vegetable seeds (tomatoes and peppers, for example) sowing 4-6 weeks before the last frost (May 15th in Northern Illinois)
- Onion Sets – Onion sets should be planted the late March or early April.
- Strawberries – Plant strawberries, and pinch off first year’s flowers to develop strong roots.
- Planting – In mid-April plant asparagus, early potatoes, lettuce, radish, mustard, onions, peas, rhubarb, spinach, turnips, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots and all other COOL-SEASON CROPS.
- Direct Sowing – Check to see which vegetables can be direct sowed into the vegetable beds and plant according to instructions.
- Pest Control – Insects, diseases, weeds and animals all will affect your vegetable garden in spring. Control methods for soil borne and transplant diseases should be used when possible. Do not overwater as many diseases can develop. Use environmental controls whenever possible. Weeds can be controlled by hand or hoe method. Animal damage is usually hard to control; many times fencing is the only reliable control.
- Garden Ornaments or Supports – Clean and repair any garden ornaments or supports that you are putting back into your vegetable garden.
- Journal – Look over last year’s journal for helpful hints or jobs that need to be done now or in the future. If you haven’t started a garden journal now is a good time to start recording what your garden looks like, what is planted, what jobs need to be done or other garden ideas you might have for the future.
- Record Keeping– Keeping records is tiresome! However there are some wonderful tips that arise from keeping records of bulbs, plants, annuals, trees, shrubs, and other plants in your garden. You can note successes and failures, what to plant, and what to avoid (numerous non-successes in the past). Sometimes you don’t recognize an emerging plant, but your records can tell you what plants are planted in particular beds so that you can generally find out what it is.