Colder climates may still be shrugging off winter, but most gardeners are excited to be back to work. Spring gardens are blooming - here's what to do in April.
Clear debris from around clumps of bulbs
Tiny grape hyacinth (Muscari spp) will appear this month. Watch for its flower tips at ground level and gently pull away twigs and large leaves from basal growth early, before the stem pushes out of the ground. A small hand rake is good for this job.
Mark the locations of spring ephemerals
It happens to the best of us — we forget where we planted daffodils and other spring-blooming bulbs in the fall and don't keep records of what we put in. Stay organized and make a master spreadsheet using what labels you have lying around; update it regularly every time you plant something new. Include the location (for instance, entry garden walk) in your records and then mark the spot with a plant label.
Make containers fun
April marks the official start of garden center madness. You'll still battle the crowds (especially at big-box stores), but look for unusual perennials with texture and great foliage color to add to containers, like Sedum rupestre 'Angelina', a low-growing chartreuse sedum, or the aptly named 'Dark Chocolate' coral bell(Heuchera 'Dark Chocolate', zones 3 to 9), and pair with trailing silver licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare).
Direct sow carrots and other root crops
With soil temperatures above 50 degrees, you can sow seeds for cold-hardy edibles like carrots, beets, kale, spinach, chard and arugula for an early-summer harvest. Carrots are especially versatile and come in some crazy colors, like 'Purple Dragon', an heirloom that has an unusual purple exterior with a yellow core.
Transplant cold-hardy edibles
If you don't grow your own lettuce under lights or in a greenhouse, you can buy cell packs at garden centers this month. Ready your soil by lightly tilling and removing weeds; top-dress beds with a fresh layer of compost before planting. Look for interesting lettuces with red-tipped or burgundy leaves, like 'Red Oak Leaf' or 'Merlot', which can also be direct seeded for an extended crop.
Start seeds indoors
The great advantage of growing your own plants from seed is the enormous selection from which to choose. Celebrate Earth Day on April 22 with your kids or friends by making your own eco pots out of recycled newspaper. They're more attractive than an egg carton or empty yogurt container, and the paper will decompose easily once the pots are tucked into the garden.
Add more spring-blooming trees
One of my favorite native trees for the northeast is Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis). The unusual magenta buds open directly on branches before the leaves emerge at this time of year, and the leaves are heart shaped (cordate). Grow this small tree in full sun as a focal point, in an open setting or along the edge of a woodland for visual interest in early spring.
Migrating birds make their appearance this month; welcome them with a bird-friendly garden that includes food and shelter for raising young. Put up a birdhouse and plan to offer a supply of water using shallow saucers or birdbaths, then watch for the arrival of goldfinch, purple finch, Carolina wren and warblers.