Ground rules & tools for April
April 1, 2004
Victoria County Master Gardener Intern
April is a great time to celebrate the joy of gardening, and Victoria County Master Gardener Association aims to promote National Gardening Month in the next few weeks in various ways. Not only has spring officially arrived with trees sprouting and new leaves and flowers beginning to show their glorious colors, but temperatures are warm, and not too hot. This is the perfect time to get outdoors, enjoy the fresh air and start preparing to bring your garden and landscaping to its ultimate beauty.
A good place to start is weeding in the flower garden. Early weeding gets the weeds before they get too out of control and prevents them from competing with small plants that could delay flowering. A mulch will discourage weed growth and make those that do come through easier to pull. If you have not already pruned your evergreens and summer flowering trees and shrubs, then do so now. Prune spring flowering shrubs soon after they finish flowering. Keep the natural shape of the plant in mind when pruning and avoid excessive cutting except where necessary to control size.
As soon as azaleas have finished flowering, apply an acid-type fertilizer at the rate recommended. Don't over-fertilize, as azalea roots are near the surface and damage can occur. Splitting the recommended amount of fertilizer into three applications two weeks apart works well. Water thoroughly after fertilizing.
If your roses have had black spots on the leaves in years past, this is a disease called "black spot" that defoliates leaves and weakens the plant. Spray susceptible rose varieties with a fungicide containing triforine, such as Funginex, every seven to 10 days. Many of the old garden roses and some of the newer ones have considerable resistance to black spot and won't need spraying.
Climbing hybrid tea roses may be pruned as soon as they complete flowering. Roses have high fertilizer requirements. For most soils, use a complete fertilizer for the first application just as new growth starts, then use ammonium sulfate or other high nitrogen source every four to six weeks, usually just as the new growth cycle starts following a flowering cycle. For organic nutrient sources, use cottonseed, rotted manures or alfalfa meal.
If you have not already done so, now is the time to prepare beds for planting flowers and vegetables. This is not the most fun part, but the results are worth the time spent. Till up the soil using a garden tiller or a strong back and a garden fork. For every 100 square feet of bed area, work in a several-inch layer of either compost, pine bark or sphagnum peat moss, plus five pounds of balanced fertilizer, such as 15-5-10.
Seeds of amaranthus, celosia, cosmos, marigold, portulaca, zinnia and other warm-season annuals can be sown directly in the beds where they are to grow. Keep seeded areas moist until seeds germinate. Thin out as soon as they are large enough to transplant. Surplus plants can be transplanted to other areas. Leftover seeds can be saved for the next season by closing the packets with tape or paper clips and storing in a sealed glass jar in your refrigerator.
For instant color, purchase started annual plants. Select short, compact plants. Any flowers or flower buds should be pinched to give plants an opportunity to become established. For established annual beds, remove spent flowers, trim back excessive growth and dead stuff and apply fertilizer. This can do wonders towards rejuvenating and extending the life of the planting. Check new tender growth for aphids. A few can be tolerated, but large numbers should be controlled. Always follow label instructions on approved pesticides for control.
Color bowls will add another dimension to your landscape. Color bowls are pots planted with a variety of different flowers and plants. These can be planted in bowls, pots or hanging baskets, usually about 14 to 16 inches in diameter to give room for five or six plants. For each color bowl, select plants that require the same amount of light and water. Plant the tallest plants in the middle and the shorter or trailing plants, such as petunias, around the edge of the bowl. Non-flowering plants, such as dusty miller or English ivy, add interest. Color bowls can be placed on a deck or patio, next to a pond or in a bare spot in your landscape, and they can easily be moved from place to place.
April is National Gardening Month, sponsored by the National Gardening Association, whose mission is to promote gardening in the United States. This spring, don't just stop to smell the roses, but get involved in planting and nurturing a garden.
April is also a good time for visiting public gardens and for wildflower touring. Watch the newspaper and other publicity for information regarding open gardens and wildflower trails. These can give you real inspiration for your own backyard.
The third Annual Garden Tour, co-sponsored by Trinity Episcopal School and Victoria County Master Gardener Association, will be May 1-2 in Victoria, and will allow you to get a peek into other backyard gardens and to ask questions. Tickets will be available at most of the local nurseries.
In another week or so the wildflowers should be in profusion. Pick a day, pack a lunch and head for the backroads of Texas!
Thanks to Ellison's Greenhouses in Brenham,  Texas for permission to use the photo of the color bowl from their web site.