Spring in Minneapolis! The calendar tells us that it is spring and we have been teased with a few days of temperatures in the 60s, but we can’t be sure that we won’t still see some freezing temps or snow. Northern gardeners are always eager to start digging in the dirt, but is it still too early to start gardening? Not if you remember that there is a lot more to gardening than just sticking some plants in the ground; there are plenty of gardening and landscaping activities that can be undertaken in April.
The sun is higher in the sky than it is in October so we could see some early spring flowers start pushing their way up to cheer us. Hopefully you will have a few in your garden that will put on a good show to lift your spirits. Perhaps not by Easter, but by the second week in April we should begin to see some flowering bulbs, such as snow drops, crocus, tulips and hyacinth emerge, followed by some perennials. Also in early spring we can see some early ephemerals emerging. The word ‘ephemeral’ means lasting a very short time, and in the plant world they are plants that grow, bloom and die in just a few days or weeks. Some early spring blooming ephemerals are native wildflowers that you will see in the woods (or the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden) and some you can plant in your garden, such as Virginia Bluebells, Marsh Marigolds or Bleeding Hearts. You can remove winter mulch gradually as the temperatures warm, keeping it close at hand so you can recover plants should the temperatures threaten to dip below freezing overnight. If no mulch is available you can cover emerging perennials with old sheets or towels, anything that will contain the thermal heat.
There are also ample activities that can be done in your garden to ready it for the day when you will be able to plant. If you did not do your garden fall clean-up, it can be done as soon as days are consistently above 50°. You want to give overwintering insects, including bees, a chance to wake up, before you remove their winter harbors. Pull up annual plant material and cut off perennials that didn’t get taken care of last fall. This plant material will be a good addition to or starter for your compost pile. Just remember to tread carefully if you walk in your garden so that you don’t step on and damage the crowns of your perennials.
There are ways you can help your lawn get off to a good healthy start this spring, but don’t jump the gun. Stay off the grass until the ground has thawed, dried and is firm. If your footsteps leave impressions in the grass then you should probably not be walking on it or you will be compacting the soil and the grass roots.
Once the lawn is dry you can get out there and start raking. A light raking with a leaf rake will not only clean up the debris and litter, it will also allow the sun to warm up the soil a little faster. You will especially want to rake if the disappearing snow reveals snow mold. Pink and gray snow molds are fungi that become active near 32°, appearing in circular patches of matted and straw colored grass in your lawn. The fungi become inactive as the temperature rises and the lawn dries. No chemical treatment is required; once the lawn is dry you can lightly rake the snow mold out of the grass.
While early fall is also the best time to do lawn repair (over seeding) the second best time is spring; just be sure the soil ground is thawed and the soil is warmed. If there are sparse areas in your lawn, scratch up the soil with a garden rake, sprinkle some grass seed on the bare soil, rake it into the loose soil and tap it gently so the seed makes good contact with the soil. Keep the seed moist and it should sprout in two to four weeks. Do not allow the seed to become too moist or it may rot. Once they have emerged don’t allow the seedlings to become to dry or they will die.
The best time to prune most of your deciduous trees and shrubs is when they are dormant, in late February or March. The exception to that are spring flowering shrubs, such as lilacs, rhododendrons, azaleas or some spireas. Because these shrubs set their buds in the fall, you should wait until they finish blooming before pruning them. April is not too late to trim other trees and shrubs, except for oaks or elms. Oaks should not be trimmed between April and June, the high-risk time for Oak Wilt. Elms should not be trimmed until the fall in order to protect them from Dutch Elm disease. If you have a young tree that you wrapped last fall now is the time to remove the wrap. New bare root trees that are still dormant can be planted in April if the ground is thawed.
There is plenty that can be done in your yard and garden in April to keep you busy, so that when the time comes to begin planting, your lawn will be flourishing and your garden will be ready.
God made rainy days so that gardeners could get the housework done. – Anonymous