University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Articleline

RAISED BEDS AND OTHER APRIL GARDENING TIPS

Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant

Building raised beds, checking fruit trees for fireblight disease, and proper care of bare-root roses are some of the gardening activities for this month.
   
Raised beds dry out faster and warm up more quickly in spring than regular garden beds, so include at least a few in your landscape for early planting.  They’re good if you have poor or shallow topsoil.  They can be as simple as a flat-topped mound of soil, or as elaborate as decorative stone- and wood-framed beds. Fill them with soil that has been amended with lots of compost (make sure that it is weed-free). Whatever plants that you choose, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how well they grow, and the ease of bed maintenance and weeding.
   
Many that make raised beds may use pressure-treated lumber from a local home supply store.  This may be okay for flower crops, but some gardeners are concerned about possible leaching of the preservative chemicals into beds with food crops. 

Also, most don’t realize that there are different grades of pressure-treated lumber. Most less expensive such lumber is not rated for ground contact, where it may only last 3 to 7 years.  Longer lasting and often no more expensive is untreated hemlock, lasting 5 to 10 years, or cedar lasting 15 to 20 years with ground contact.  You’ll likely need to visit a lumberyard for these woods.  If using treated pine lumber, make sure to buy the more expensive grade rated for ground contact. It should last 25 to 30 years. 

If new shoots of your pear, apple, or hawthorn are blackened as though they were burned, that's a sign of fire blight disease. This bacterial disease, if severe, eventually can kill your trees. To control it, prune off infected areas several inches below the damage. Dip your pruners in a weak bleach solution between pruning cuts to avoid spreading the disease to other trees.

If you ordered roses through the mail or online, they’ll most likely arrive “bare root” with no soil.  Prepare bare-root roses by pruning away any damaged roots, then soak the roots in water for several hours. Dig a hole 18 inches deep and wide, and create a mound of soil in the center. Place the roots in the hole, arranging them around the mound and adjusting the height so the graft (the swollen part near the base) is at or just below ground level. Fill in around the roots, firming soil gently, and water well. Mound mulch over the tops to protect the canes while the roots take hold.

After a long winter it's tempting to buy those first seedlings, flowers, and vegetable transplants you see on sale.  Just remember these are tender and can be killed easily by freezing temperatures and frosts.  This especially is true as most seedlings, early in the season, come from greenhouses or southern climates and haven't been hardened off to cool nights.  If you do buy some now, make sure to not plant out until the last average frost date for your area (mid-May to mid-June in our northern climate, depending on locale).  Bring indoors on cold or frosty nights.  If you plant in window boxes and containers, make sure these can be carried indoors if needed.

Other gardening activities for this month include cutting back ornamental grasses and perennials, if you didn’t last fall; checking perennials (especially those newly planted last season) for “frost heaving” (pushing above the ground by frost action) and resetting if so; pruning summer-flowering shrubs and hedges now if needed, but wait until after bloom on spring-bloomers such as forsythia; and make sure lawn equipment is tuned up and ready for use.

(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach; gardeningwithcharlie.com).

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