By Barbara Gyarmathy
Garden Club of Morgan Park Beverly Hills
Spring has returned! Hopefully you had some time over the winter to ponder your sleeping garden, browse gardening magazines and spring catalogues or even read an article or two about adding native plants and practices to your gardening routine.
We are excited to go outside and get started, but we need to wait, to take time. Current information our declining pollinators recommend that we leave some of the winter debris in place for a while, as many insects over-winter in leaf mulch or hollow stems. Do not rush to clean up or cut down. Let it warm up and do a little at a time. After all, gardening is about the love of the journey.
The frost-free date for our neighborhood is May 15, but there’s still a 50-50 chance of frost on that date.
April garden tasks:
Cut ornamental grasses to 4-6 inches before new growth starts. (For sesleria, cut back only to where the stems are green at the bottom.)
Cut back dead material from perennials, cutting stems in small lengths so the debris can be left on the ground to naturally fertilize the area. Originally, every plant community on earth lived in healthy soil that was sustained by the plants themselves.
Begin to divide and replant perennials (except peonies and bearded iris) as growth begins. Dig around the plant and remove the entire clump. Using a sharp knife or spade, divide the clump into sections, then replant and water well. Resist the urge to work the soil too early. It can damage the soil’s structure and reduce air pores. To determine if the soil is dry enough to work use a spade to turn over a slice of soil about 6 inches deep, then take a handful of soil and squeeze it into a ball. If the ball crumbles easily, it’s safe to work. If it stays in a tight ball it is too wet.
Do not apply mulch around plants until May. Covering the soil too early will delay it from warming up.
For a colorful welcome to your home, plant cool-season hardy annuals such as pansies, violas, kale, primroses, ranunculus, sweet peas, snapdragons, bacopa nasturtiums, calendula and sweet alyssum in containers
Prune clematis. Early flowering species that bloom in April to May require little pruning; they flower on “old wood” (the previous year’s growth). Early double and semi-double mid-season cultivars, which bloom in May and repeat bloom in fall and flower on old and new wood should be pruned lightly when buds swell, removing dead and weak stems. Late, large-flowered cultivars such as autumn clematis need a hard spring pruning.
Prune hydrangeas. Some hydrangeas bloom on old wood while others bloom on new wood (the current year’s growth). Knowing which hydrangeas species you have planted will help your gardening efforts.
Plant lettuce, cabbage, peas, mustard, broccoli and collard greens now. Wait until mid-May for the soil to warm to plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplant or basil outdoors. Consider using “no-till” gardening methods: Layer three to five sheets of black and white newspaper on the soil and then add layers of composted organic material lasagna-style. Plant directly into the layers.
Transplant trees and shrubs before bud break. Visit www.urbanext.illinois.edu/treeselector to choose trees that grow well in Chicagoland or www.urbanext.illinois.edu/shrubselector to choose new shrubs or replace invasive ones.
Call your local University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener helpline at 773-768-7779 with any questions. Master Gardeners answer calls about plant selection, tree and shrub health, vegetables, insects, diseases and more. You can also visit the Hort Answers website. www.urbanext.illinois.edu/hortanswers, for answers to common gardening questions.
(The Garden Club of Morgan Park Beverly Hills was established in 1926. Members are dedicated to beautifying the neighborhood and educating themselves and others about garden caretaking,)