Saturday, April 3, 2010

April Gardening Chores

Hello again,

I found these helpful garden tips at I thought about changing the title from "chores" to "tasks" or "to-do's" as a way of saying these activities are certainly useful and fun! I think the subject matter is "right on" but I will let you be the judge of that!

The advice given is based on a zone 5B situation in very northeastern NY state and western MA so the gardening info given is quite appropriate to our conditions in Skillin's Country which probably averages zone 5A. I like a lot of the information presented. So I am listing some of what they have to say (their advice is in quotes) and I comment "somewhat" briefly (in italics) as to how we hardy gardeners in Skillin's Country can follow this gardening advice to our benefit.

As always let us know at or in the comment section of this post if you have any questions or comments!
"APRIL IS THE MONTH NORTHERN GARDENERS WAIT FOR, and then we freak out when it arrives. Cleanup! Seed-sowing! Division! Transplanting! Fertilizing! Chaos! However frazzled we feel, remember to feel this: grateful to be here to see it, and even to be here to do it all (or as much as we can get done, because the list is worrisome, isn’t it?). Progress, not perfection, as they say in the 12 Steps.

APRIL IS THE MONTH THAT UNHINGES me slightly, as I said last year, and then comes May, when I just come apart. That said, it’s also pure heaven, this thing called spring: the affirmation each day of possibility and potential coming true before your eyes, the magic. What died will make itself known this month…and what lived will scream for your attention, all at once. And not in harmony.

COOL-SEASON ANNUALS like pansies and violas can be potted up for spring color." Or planted in the ground in a filtered sun area for Spring color. We have beautiful Skillin grown pansies and violas that are just ready to go! Don't believe me? Check out our many "twitpics" at!

"ONCE BEDS ARE CLEANED UP, topdress according to label directions with an all-natural organic fertilizer and a layer of finished compost. Wait to apply mulch until the soil warms thoroughly." Great advice! I recommend Plant Tone by Espoma or Plant Booster Plus by Organica for the all natural fertilizer. If you added a layer of compost in the fall, feel good about that. You can add another layer now or wait until fall. I definitely recommend adding corn gluten or Preen to the soil BEFORE adding the fertilizer and compost. Corn gluten (all natural) and Preen (a chemical product) both act to suppress weed seed germination.Suppressing weeds from seed in the Spring can mean for MUCH LESS weeding in the summer. I love corn gluten for its natural attributes but I have to admit it's weed suppression prowess is only so so. I know that will make some people cringe but that is my experience. I do use corn gluten twice a year on my lawn and I think the performance is okay BUT a one-time yearly application of Preen is very effective. I prefer not to use chemicals but a once a year application of Preen in a flower garden (not a veggie garden) onto soil that is very well cared for organically all year does not trouble me. There I said it! That being said corn gluten undeniably has SOME weed control success and is outstanding in that it is an excellent way to add organic matter to the soil!

"PREPARE NEW BEDS by smothering grass or weeds with layers of recycled corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, then put mulch on top." The cardboard and newspaper break down very quickly because the worms LOVE IT! And their castings are superb for the soil!

"FEED BULBS as green shoots get up and growing". This is a great time to add some Bulb Tone (or Plant Tone) by Espoma into the soil. Make some holes in the ground about 3 to 4 inches deep about 4 to 5 inches from the bulbs and pour the all natural fertilizer into the holes. Fill the holes up and soon the nutrients from these fertilizers will be used by the bulbs to grow bigger and stronger. This means more flowers next year! All shoots no flowers? Carefully dig the bulbs up. Check to see that they are firm. Plant them about 3 inches DEEPER with a healthy dose of Bulb Tone by Espoma. If the soil seems very wet, consider moving the bulbs to a better drained location. Also check for sun exposure. Flowering bulbs want as much sun as possible for best performance!

"WHEN WORKING IN BEDS and borders, be careful not to clean up too roughly; desirable emerging self-sown annuals and biennials (larkspur, clary sage, Verbena bonariensis, perilla) can be disturbed unless you pay attention." Don't jump the gun on cleanup. Make sure you can see those little plants poking through the ground. But it is easy to be too rough. I "busted" a couple of little shoots cleaning off some mulch a couple of evenings ago.

"TENDER BULBS like cannas, callas, tuberous begonias, dahlias get a headstart if potted up indoors now, then transplanted after all frost danger passes." We have all the bulbs and supplies you need to get going on this. Don't wait until late May to plant just the bulbs outside! If you do that, you might have flowers at Labor Day! Get them started now; use peat or cow pots and some quality soil like Bar Harbor Blend by Coast of Maine Organics. Keep your seedling indoors in the sun. Plant them with some Bulb Tone or Plant Tone by Espoma. Eventually these biodegradable pots can get transplanted into the ground or the destination container outdoors in mid to late May. (Use more Bulb Tone or Plant Tone) Give them occasional feedings with Fish and Seaweed Food by Neptune's Harvest and then get out of the way! Color galore!


"PRUNE ROSES just as buds begin to push, removing dead, damaged and diseased canes and opening up the plants to allow light and air; feed. Plant new roses, especially those that come bare-root." I just uncovered my roses the other day. After I finish this post I am going to prune them back to a good shape and apply some Rose Tone by Espoma (or Plant Booster Plus by Organica--I have one of them in the shed). When you uncover them make sure you remove all mulch around the base. Good air circulation is now crucial.

"HYDRANGEA PRUNING: Prune paniculata hydrangeas and Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ (not moptop blue hydrangeas).". These hydrangeas are later bloomers and bloom on new growth. The next couple of weeks is the last chance to prune here. Also get some Plant Tone by Espoma or Plant Booster Plus by Organica around the base of each plant! I recommend this twice yearly.

"WAIT UNTIL AFTER BLOOM to prune spring-flowering shrubs like lilacs. " This is the early part of June for Skillin's Country. But you can apply some Plant Tone by Espoma or Plant Booster Plus by Organica around the base of each plant. I recommend this twice yearly. Also if you have not applied lime in the past year or so, get some lime down around each lilac. Ask us about Magi-Cal by Jonathan Green!


"LAST CALL FOR PEAS is mid April , to avoid running into hot summer weather." Yes but be ready in early July to plant the second crop of peas for late summer or early fall harvest. You can also plant peas as late as August 1 for fall harvest. Fall harvest? Talking about that already?

"SOW MORE SPINACH; sow salads, arugula, broccoli raab. Repeat in short rows or blocks every 10 days." Great advice! I like the every 10 day idea!

"COLD-SEASON TRANSPLANTS like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts can still be sown indoors if you hurry (or store-bought seedlings can go outdoors around month’s end). Sow carrots, radishes, dill outside, and even kale and collards and many Asian greens." Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts seedlings will all be available at Skillins' by the third week of April. This is probably the most effective way to go with these crops unless you have gobs of time on your hands (ha!) OR you have to feed a veritable army! Come see us!

"TOMATOES ARE SOWN INDOORS around six weeks before their frost-free set-out date, or around mid-April here for early June planting outdoors. Eggplants and peppers can be sown indoors, too." Get cracking on those eggplants and peppers. Jeff Skillin says April 15 to 20 for the tomatoes!
"FERTILIZE GARLIC planted last fall as greens get up and growing." Again Plant Tone or Garden Tone by Espoma or Plant Booster Plus by Organica.

"PRUNE GRAPE VINES to no more than four fruiting canes with 7 to 10 buds apiece if you didn’t in March."

"CUT OUT CANES OF RASPBERRIES that have borne fruit, and any that are thinner than a pencil. Shorten the remaining young canes by at least a foot."


"STAY OFF SOGGY LAWNS, period. Once the ground is firm and dry, lawns need a vigorous raking with a bamboo rake (not plastic) or dethatching with a rented machine, then overseeding"  A vigorous Spring raking does any lawn just tons of good! Put all that dead grass in your compost pile! I overseed all year long. I am always carrying a bag of Jonathan Green's Black Beauty Grass Seed and Lebanon's Grass Seed Acclerator (compressed paper pellets that make a great mulch) in my garden cart. Scrape any open soil, throw down seed, throw down a few pellets, add water. Check for water daily (the pale color of the mulch tells you it is time to water) and soon you have thickened grass! Easy!


"REMOVE FINISHED COMPOST from bottom of heap and make room for incoming debris." I use finished compost to layer between my perennials, to add to vegetable garden areas, to combine with Bar Harbor Blend for container pots (2/3 Bar Harbor Blend). Any left over or ununsed finished product stays either at the bottom of the heap OR becomes a new temporary pile until needed!

"SCREEN FINISHED COMPOST before using to remove twigs and stones; turn and moisten remaining partially broken-down contents to aerate and get things cooking. Use finished compost to topdress beds before applying mulch in a few weeks." I am not a big bark mulch fan; I tend to use compost as my mulch. I do occasionally buy and often recommend Fundy Mix by Coast of Maine Organics for mulching around perennials.

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 3, 2010

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