Sprout it from the rooftops!

“Sprout” it from the rooftops! Spring has finally arrived.
April is an amazing month in West Michigan. We all emerge from our homes and become reacquainted with our neighbors as the sounds of lawn mowers once again fill the air on a spring evening. The lush green grass grows so fast it seems you can watch it grow. Tulips and daffodils push their way out of the soil and the once dormant stems of forsythia, lilacs and magnolia seem to swell with pride as their buds pop open. Easter celebrations and Arbor Day tree plantings symbolize a new beginning.

Say "yellow" to spring!
Say “yellow” to spring!

“Sprout” it from the rooftops….spring is finally here!
April is a good month for soil preparation, top dressing planting beds with compost and refreshing mulched landscape areas. Consider application of pre-emergence weed control in landscape beds as the soil warms up. Most weed seed will germinate when soil temperatures get to around 60 degrees. The same applies to your lawn as this is month to avoid crabgrass by applying pre-emergence crabgrass controls in April. An organic weed seed suppressant and natural nitrogen source you may want to try for both your lawn and landscape beds would be corn gluten.
Remember that after a long cold winter the deer and rabbits will find the emerging new vegetation a wonderful salad buffet and taste treat. Oh “deer”! Use some natural repellant sprays on emerging vegetation like tulips and hosta before they are “deerly” departed. Many good repellants use garlic and herbal oils as well as other smelly and bitter tastes to make the sprouting buffet less attractive. I also like to use Milorganite as a fertilizer at the base as it will also double as a helpful repellant to foraging creatures.
If you’re doing some tree planting or tree care to celebrate Arbor Day this month, make sure to do it right. Tree planting depth is an important consideration when planting. Trees planted too deep or trees that have a “volcano” of mulch mounded at the base do not establish well and suffer in future years. Good taper at the base, root collar health at the soil level and roots that are allowed to spread and work their way into the upper profile of the soil to seek out nutrients, water and footing are important considerations for your tree.

If this tree had been properly planted years ago issues like poor taper and girdling roots would not be an issue now
If this tree had been properly planted years ago issues like poor taper and girdling roots would not be an issue now

As you “sprout” it from the rooftops remember that even though we get some nice warm April days the overnight temperatures can drop to below freezing. We often get a few “zinger” overnight frosts in April and our last frost date is usually not until between May 10 and May 20. Some plants like Pansies can handle light frosts but other tender vegetation and sprouts may need to be protected from time to time so watch the forecasts and harden off tender plants gradually before planting outdoors. Container gardening affords you this opportunity by giving you the flexibility to move plants inside on the occasional frosty night.
Have fun and “sprout”it from the rooftops….it’s finally spring!

How long has this been “growing” on?

How long has this been “growing” on? I’m so anxious to get growing, how about you? After a long winter we’re all ready to grow something. In April a lot of garden activities center on lawn care, mulching, soil preparation and some planting of hardy plants like trees. Remember Arbor Day? Well there’s more to it than that, it’s “grow” time. You can get a jump start on the season with some tender plants by pushing the envelope with some light frost tolerant annuals and by polishing up on your container planting skills. Contain yourself, it’s “grow” time.

Tulips growing through pansies planted last fall and reblooming in the spring
Tulips growing through pansies planted last fall and reblooming in the spring

Let me first “plant” this idea in your head. I’m a big fan of pansies and violas because they’re colorful and tough. That’s right, frost tolerant and durable with the cutest little colorful faces you’ve ever seen. I suggest you plant up some pots of pansies to get your fix. If we get an unfortunate night time temperature that goes beyond a light frost into the 20’s you can always cover them or bring them in for the night. I know of some folks who have their containers on a cart or on wheels so they can roll them into the garage at night if a cold snap occurs. You’ll find pansies enjoy cool weather and with some sunshine will bloom their heads off.Pansies wake up Other cool season tender plants that can help you get a jump on the season are the colorful Swiss Chard, perky Snapdragons, bold Ornamental Kale or the unassuming Sweet Alyssum. If it’s vegetables you crave the hardy and tough cole crops may be your answer. Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, broccoli, turnips are all healthy tough guys. cole crops
Of course other tender plants can be started indoors. A sunny windowsill is a great spot to start some tomatoes or pepper plants. These plants will have to be hardened off before going in the ground sometime in May.
The great thing about container gardening or raised bed gardening is the soil warms quicker in spring than ground soil, maintenance is easier, and you have control over the soil your plants will be growing in. Don’t go dirt cheap on the potting mix. Your soil should be fluffy not clumpy, hold moisture without being soggy, and give plant roots the perfect mix of air, moisture, nutrition, and gravitas. It will keep your plants well grounded. Roots need air, as well as water, to grow.
Now get yourself some colorful pots and get growing. Your friends and neighbors will be asking “how long has this been growing on?”

A “Root” awakening

If April showers bring May flowers then you my friend are in for a “root” awakening. Every April is different which adds to the adventure. I’ve seen 80-degree temperatures and I’ve seen frosts that would freeze the hardiest of plants. I’ve see sunshine and I’ve seen snow. Sounds like a James Taylor song doesn’t it?

Frozen tulips from last April
Frozen tulips from last April

Last year we had an early March warm up waking the entire landscape only to freeze in the great Arbor day frost of 2012. So what should we expect from our landscape dreams during the month of April? You my friend are in for a “root” awakening.

April first of all is a big month for lawn care in Michigan. The lawn greens and begins to grow and we welcome the sound of lawnmowers awakening in our neighborhoods.

Remember the drought damage from last year?
Remember the drought damage from last year?

A great month to get a deal on a 4 step lawn plan applying the first step now and storing the remaining 3 steps in the garage or shed for applications later in the year. The first feeding generally includes a crabgrass control which is important after the hot year we had in 2012. Crabgrass seed from last year over winters in the soil of your lawn and will wake and germinate when soil (not air) temperatures get to be around 60 degrees or warmer.

Soil thermometer
Soil thermometer

If you don’t have a soil thermometer, which most people don’t, you can listen to me on my radio show or you can use the old fashioned less scientific way of gauging spring’s wake up call.

That would be to act when the forsythias are in bloom or apply sometime around tax day. Certainly much easier for you than having to understand the methods of “growing degree days” that us horticultural people like to track at this time of year. Applying a crabgrass control in spring, especially in the hottest areas of the lawn like driveway or sidewalk edges or non-shaded areas will create a barrier to germination so you don’t have an infestation of unsightly crabgrass come the heat of summer.

Cold and frost tolerant Pansies

April includes Arbor Day which here in Michigan falls on the last Friday of the month. April is a great time to plant a tree or landscape shrub. We see many trees show off in April with Crabapples, Redbuds, Juneberry, Magnolia and Cherry trees to name a few. This month is perfect for planting evergreens and woody landscape plants, saving the more tender plants for May when frost is less of a threat. Remember that when it comes to “tender” plants a great frost tolerant plant for some early April flowers in the landscape would Pansies. In regards to tender foliage, keep some deer repellant handy and make sure to apply to susceptible plants during the month. Hungry deer after winter are anxious for a buffet of tender green growth including delicious Tulips and Hosta. Not tonight “deer.”

Understanding the weather can be a variable and tricky issue in April, it is a good month to work on soil preparation, planting bed preparation and some mulching. You don’t have to protect dirt and mulch from overnight frosts. Raised planting beds soil warm quicker in spring. If you’re itching to plant some herbs, pot up some containers and move them in and out contingent on weather conditions.

Thank you very "mulch"
Thank you very “mulch”

In regards to mulch, many will apply because it looks nice. True, but there is a functional use for mulch too. I saw a study that described the impact an appropriate layer of 2 inches of mulch can have for your landscape when the heat of summer does arrive. In this study on a San Antonio Texas day where the air temperature was 105 degrees and in the sun felt like 130 degrees, the bare soil was 102 degrees, the soil under the grass was 92 degrees and soil under 3 inches of mulch was 76 degrees. That gives you an idea of the soil temperature regulating benefit of mulch as well as its ability to hold moisture in the soil.

Let’s get out there and get “growing” now that winter is finally over. You my friend are in for a “root” awakening.