April Gardening Tips for the Midwest
Celebrate spring's arrival by spending time in the garden. There's plenty to do in the Midwestern garden in April.
Enjoy Spring Color
When daffodils and hyacinth are finished flowering, clip off the faded blossoms. Allow leaves to naturally turn yellow; as they do so, they're storing food vital to next year's flower show.
Bulb foliage turns yellow, then brown -- and can detract from a pretty spring garden. Disguise this ugly-duckling stage by planting perennials that will unfurl pretty foliage as bulb leaves die. Some of our favorites include fall-flowering sedum, 'Rozanne' geranium, peonies, and daylilies.
Enjoy Container Gardens
Test Garden Tip: Spring containers sparkle when you tuck forced bulbs into outdoor planters. You can buy forced bulbs at supermarkets and home centers. Look for daffodils, tulips, or hyacinths. This is a great way to enjoy tulips in areas where otherwise rodents dig and devour bulbs.
If you want a longer spring show, fill containers with long-blooming cool-season color: spicy-scented flowering stock, pansy, sweet alyssum, or snapdragon.
Grow a Vegetable Garden
It's not too late to add edible plants to your garden. In coldest areas of the Midwest, you can still plant seeds of cool-season crops, like radishes, lettuces, and other greens. You can also add seedlings of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbages to the garden.
In the southernmost parts of the Midwest, this month witnesses the last average frost date. When all danger of frost has passed, plant seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, basil, and eggplants.
Annual vegetables: Get potatoes in the ground as soon as possible. Don't plant sweet potatoes until closer to Memorial Day.
Other edibles perfect for planting this month include:
Perennial fruits: raspberries, strawberries, and shrub fruits (gooseberries, goji berries, blueberries)
Perennial vegetables: asparagus, rhubarb
Certain crops prefer warm soil (60 degrees F). Plant these seeds too soon, and they'll just sit in soil, not germinating and heading toward rot. Wait to plant these seeds until soil is warm: green beans, squash, melons, corn, and cucumbers.
Test Garden Tip: How can you tell when soil is 60F? If it's warm enough to walk on barefoot -- without cold toes -- it's warm enough for planting.
Stop weeds before they start by adding a pre-emergent weed killer to plantings (there are organic and synthetic options available). You'll zap more weeds -- including early ones -- if you apply in early April. These types of weed killers prevent seeds from germinating. Do not use them if you count on self-sowers like larkspur, forget-me-not, cleome, dill, or cosmos to fill in garden gaps.
Wait to divide spring-blooming perennials until after flowers fade. Wait to divide bearded iris until late summer. Get divisions in the ground by mid-September. Roots must be established before the ground freezes for clumps to survive winter.
Test Garden Tip: Divide peonies in fall, if at all. They don't require regular division, but can be dug if you want more or flower power has diminished.
Remember not to prune spring-flowering trees and shrubs until after blossoms fade. Make cuts immediately after blooming to lessen impact on next year's flower show.
Prune evergreens from now until late summer. Stop pruning in late summer so that new growth can harden off before freezing temperatures arrive.
Roses are heavy feeders. When you give them the food they want, you'll reap the reward of a stronger, healthier plant with more flowers. You can satisfy a rose's appetite in several ways:
- Liquid fertilizers: Start applying in early spring as growth emerges. Apply every two weeks until August.
- Slow-release fertilizers: Typically, you work this type into the upper few inches of soil every 6 weeks. Read the package label for timing.
- Fertilizer and pesticide: Some fertilizers include a systemic pesticide, which is absorbed by rose roots and spread throughout the plant. As you feed, you're also fighting pests. Read the label carefully to understand if the product kills beneficial insects and butterflies.
- Homegrown compost: Heap a spade of compost onto soil around the base of roses monthly.
Test Garden Tip: Some gardeners bury banana peels around roses to enhance flowering. (Peels are high in potassium and phosphorus, which fuel flower bud formation.) Cut up peels in pieces and completely bury them, or toss them in a blender with water and pour the slurry onto soil.
If your roses have suffered from diseases such as black spot, consider replacing them with the new generation of disease-resistant shrub roses. They offer beautiful blooms and require a lot less care!
Tackle mower maintenance if you didn't last month. Replace spark plugs, oil, and air filter. Sharpen the blade.
Test Garden Tip: Mowers can be hard to start in early spring. Warm the engine naturally by placing the mower in the sun an hour or two before starting.
Bare Patches and Crabgrass
Add a crabgrass preventer on the lawn while forsythia is blooming. Consider trying corn gluten meal for this task if you want an organic option. Developed at Iowa State University, corn gluten meal is effective against crabgrass. Just remember that crabgrass preventers interfere with all seed germination -- including turf grass seeds. If you apply crabgrass preventer, wait to seed bare spots until fall.
A crop of dandelions can sprout overnight. Choose from two easy controls:
Spot spray, using a selective herbicide that doesn't damage grass.
Hand-dig, using specialized tools designed to pry dandelion tap roots from soil. Digging is easiest after spring rains soften soil. Tap roots slip out easily then.