April in the Mid-atlantic Garden
Warm Spring Brings May Flowers
Here on the east coast the exceptionally warm spring weather has brought May flowers to my April garden. With temperatures approaching 80 degrees, I've already given the lawn a second mowing. The first was to remove all the leaves and seed heads of rapidly developing dandylions, and the second was the first official cutting. Instead of May, trees and shrubs that usually bloom then are bursting with color on or before April arrived. So, what does this mean for us mid-atlantic gardeners who are used to following a program of what to do when? Just move everything up a month, i.e. what to do in May is your April in the Mid-Atlantic list now. As you can see in the above photo, my garden path shows the emergence of fresh sage, dogwoods in leaf, my Grandma Jennie's wild rose bush, hostas, iris, daylily and vinca which usually do not appear until mid-April.
Decide What to Plant Now
On my way out the door to the mailbox today I noticed the violets were rapidly spreading their carpet of blue everywhere I had allowed them to thrive. Blue violets are very invasive, and my hubby disagrees with me over my permissive nature when it comes to a natural garden. However, one of my fondest childhood memories is of a shady spot where the blue violets had spread as they pleased. If you would like to grow blue violets, it is simple to just transplant them anywhere, they thrive in almost any soil. Again, be careful where you plant them, as they will take over.
Another plant that has emerged early this year is the Lily of the Valley, a small patch of which I've been nursing along for years near the front door. Once you've smelled this tiny flower you will surely fall in love with it. Again, it is very hardy and grows by rhisomes that spread like a strawberry plant.
April in the Mid-Atlantic is the month you should do your transplanting of any and all trees, shrubs, a few hardy annuals, perennials and vines. Especially after such a warm March, keeping your transplants well-watered may become a chore as it looks as if summer is fast approaching in May this year.
Remember the last frost day for the Mid-Atlantic is in mid May.
Clean Out Your Bird Houses
Although the sparrows have chased off my blue birds, I still have plenty of other feathered friends in my yard including gold finches, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, robins, blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, crows, flickers, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and an occasional pileated woodpecker.
What this means is I have a lot of bird feeders, including suet feeders, that I keep stocked year round. In the spring I clean out my bird houses, getting rid of any spider or wasp nests, ants, or other nuisance that has decided to take up residence during the winter. Now is also the time to keep your hummingbird feeder full of 50/50 water and sugar mixture. The additional sugar is to help the little fellows get back on their feet after their long trip north.
Azaleas have always been a favorite of mine and I've grown a number of varieties over the past 40 years. When you purchase an azalea, have in mind where you want to plant it beforehand because they have specific requirements. They prefer a semi-shaded location, ideally on the north to northwest side of your home. The soil should be amended with plenty of peat and leafmold if you have it. Dig a hole that is about a half foot larger in diameter, and 3 inches deeper than the rootball of your plant. Dig out the soil from the hole and chop it up with the leafmold and peat. Back fill the bottom of the hole and set your plant on it to see if the top of the rootball is even with the sides of the hole. If so, remove the plant from the pot, loosen the white root mass a bit if it is a twisted around the pot, place in the hole and backfill with the rest of the amended soil. Water in and cover the ground with a couple inches of pine straw or some other mulch. Never weed or scratch underneath an azalea as their feeder roots grow near the surface of the soil.
Azaleas that have grown leggy or have dead limbs recover easily if you prune them after they bloom. Keep in mind, for every cut you make, at least 3 branches will emerge. I recall my Grandma Jennie, after taking a local gardening class, came back to our farm and drastically pruned her azaleas. The result was so amazing, I recall it as if it were yesterday how her old scraggly azaleas looked like they had just come from the nursery after she severly pruned them.
Hosta is another plant that has been a staple of my garden borders ever since I started gardening. My first plants were given to me by a friend, who had saved them from an abandoned farmhouse. The variety was that horrible variegated type, with twisted leaves. Hostas such as Elsie Williams grace my garden now. After joining The American Hosta Society in the 80s I had the chance to interview the famous hosta hibridizer, Alex Summers, at his Honeysong Farm, one of the premiere hosta gardens on the east coast located in Bridgeville, Delaware. There is actually a hosta named in his honor. Mr. Summers died in 2009 at the age of 95.
Hostas are native to Korea, Japan, and China. My Grandma Jennie called them by their common name or Plantain Lily. Very easy to grow, they are shade tolerant, herbaceous perennials. Known mainly for their beautiful foliage, hosta leaves come in a wide range of colors, sizes, shapes, and textures such as puckered.
If you purchase hosta, follow the same planting instructions as I give for azalea, incorporating peat and leafmold, then mulch and water. They are easily propogated by dividing the crown either early in the spring or in the fall. Quite frankly, hosta, like German iris, are difficult to kill, as a tiny piece of root will usually take hold and grow despite your efforts to kill it off.
In the spring I often find tiny hosta plants emerging that are crosses from my hosta border. From time to time an interesting hybrid will occur, such as one with yellow leaves.
Other Things To Do In April in the Mid-Atlantic
Besides purchasing new trees, shrubs and perennials, you will probably want to pop in a few annuals here and there for instant gratification. Depending on the location, whether full sun or shade, there is an annual for you which I'm sure Lowes or Home Depot carries in abundance.
As I was pulling out of the driveway on my way to work I noticed that my neighbor had a lawn service cut her lawn. Scalped is more like it. Here is my two cents about lawn: raise the level of our mower to its highest level and leave it there except for the one time you lower it in the late fall or early spring to remove dead leaves and debris. A thick lawn is achieved by allowing the lawn to grow 3 inches high, thick enough to keep weed seeds from germinating. I don't use any fertilizer besides compost which I throw about by the handfuls before a heavy rain is expected.