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Almanac: March-April 2108

What To Do in the Garden in March & April

Cherry blossoms by Jane Milliman

The following are some general ideas for early spring. Take weather conditions into account.

Winter Damage
Remove leaves and winter debris (frequently loaded with phosphorus) from paved surfaces and sewer drainage openings. This helps to increase soil drainage and improve water quality by reducing the potential for algae growth later in the season.

Thoroughly soak areas near roads, sidewalks, and driveways to flush out de-icing salt that may have been deposited over the winter.

Prune out branches damaged by the snow, wind, and ice.

Replant plants that have heaved from the freeze-thaw cycle as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the roots.

Prune summer-flowering shrubs if they need restructuring or have been damaged.

Prune dormant Bradford pear, wisteria, butterfly bush, potentilla, honeysuckle, and flowering plums.

Don’t prune ash, oak, elm, azalea, crabapple trees, forsythia, big leaf hydrangeas, lilac, mock orange, rhododendrons, or weigela.
Never top a tree! Cutting off the top portion produces an ugly, weak tree!

Prune fruit trees and grapevines before bud break. Prune out any branches with cankers or black knot. Clean your pruners in between cuts so you don’t spread disease.

Prune brambles (raspberries, blackberries) in March to remove dead, diseased, or damaged canes and to increase air circulation.

When pruning trees be careful not to cut flush to the trunk. Cut outside the branch collar. Wound dressing is not recommended. (For more information contact your local CCE or go to

Prune roses when forsythias bloom. Cut back dead canes to the crown. Cut back crossing canes to about one-quarter inch above an outward-facing bud.

Cut pussy willows back drastically after they bloom to encourage stronger plants and more blooms next year.

Cut back lavender into green wood late in April.

Cut back grasses and perennials that remained as winter interest before new growth is more than a few inches tall, and place plant material that has not harbored disease into the compost pile.

Move mulch away from emerging spring bulbs.

Hand pull emerging weeds so you don’t disturb the roots of perennials and bulbs.

Wait until the soil is workable before digging up and dividing perennials such as hostas, liriope, daylilies, Shasta daisies, dicentra, and coral bells.

Scatter annual poppy seeds in the garden for bloom in June and early July.

Plan your vegetable garden now. Be sure to rotate families at least every three years.

Direct-seed cool season vegetables and flowers.

Read seed packages so you know when to start seeds, where to start seeds (indoors or out), and the time needed for setting young plants outdoors.  Make sure you can provide seedlings with adequate light.

Resume feeding of houseplants following directions for dilution and application.

Check houseplants for disease and insects. Check roots to see if the plants need division or repotting. If you want a plant to continue to grow just repot in a container about one-inch greater in diameter but the same depth. If you want the plant to grow in the same container but its roots are taking up the space, root prune, and repot.

Prune any dead or yellowing leaves and branches.

Make cuttings of appropriate plants for gifts, garden sales, or for yourself.

Apply horticultural oil to trees and shrubs that have had past problems with piercing and sucking insects such as mites, aphids, scale, whitefly, and adelgids. Follow the application directions for temperature and weather conditions.

If you didn’t clean, sharpen, and check your garden tools in autumn do it now!

If your mower doesn’t start easily move it out into the warmth of the sun. It may make starting easier!

Place new birdhouses outdoors and/or clean out older ones.

Make cuttings to force branches indoors. Examples include forsythia, weigela, and pussy willows.

Turn the compost pile.

Scrub and sterilize reusable pots and seed starter trays by washing in a dilute solution of bleach and warm water.

Inspect stored summer tubers and rhizomes. Discard ones that have decayed.

If you overwintered zonal geraniums make cuttings now.

Start seeds of slow growers now: celery, leeks, onions, and pansies.

Replace fluorescent bulbs in grow lights that have been in use over two years.


—Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera, Master Gardeners, Erie County

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