Master Gardener: April gardening chores

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Deadhead spent blooms of flowering bulbs to avoid using energy to produce seed, Refrain from clipping back greenery; soaking up sun’s rays recharges the bulbs for next year’s blooms. Do not braid the greenery either - it interferes with the efficiency of sunlight absorption. Cut back once greenery yellows. If you are going to dig up and divide clumps of bulbs, do so at least six weeks after bloom.

Feed azaleas and rhododendrons after flowering with a fertilizer containing iron and other minor elements. Their roots are shallow, compact, fibrous and sensitive to drying because they grow near the soil surface. Give plants a two- or three-inch layer of mulch before hot weather arrives to protect against drying.

Sow annual flower seed directly into prepared beds, saving the time and expense of transplants. Seeds that perform well this time of year include zinnias, cosmos, eleome, abelmoschus, gomphrena, marigold, sunflower, tithonia and morning glory.

Perennials that have become overcrowded and are starting to show signs of growth can be dug up and divided now. Replant healthy ones or share with friends. Enjoy forsythia, quince, spireas and other shrubs currently in bloom. Wonder at the diminutive violets scattered carefreely across the landscape. (Important butterfly food.)

Cannas, dahlias, gladioli and tuberoses can be set out now. You can also grow agapanthus, calla lilies, caladiums and gloriosa lilies in the garden or in pots on a porch or terrace.

Clean up evergreen ferns before new, easily damaged young fiddleheads appear.

Avoid walking on wet soil as you risk compacting it. Till or dig under cover crops as soon as the soil is dry enough to be worked, crumbly but moist. Weed cracks on walkways and other paved surfaces by chemical application or good old pulling.

Spray peaches, plums and pecans with an all-purpose orchard or fruit spray twice monthly after petal fall to control insects and disease.

If a late freeze is forecast after you have transplanted, cover tomatoes with paper bags, baskets, straw or anything that will hold in ground warmth around plants. If using plastic, make sure it doesn’t touch the leaves. Remove or pull back cover during the day as excess heat build-up will damage plants.

Consider planting an additional row in the garden to share with folks who can’t grow their own or to support the local food pantry. Plant in succession for continued enjoyment of garden-fresh produce. You can also support local growers by purchasing what you need at the nearest farmers’ market.

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