IN THE GARDEN
DO IT NOW
• If you haven't done it yet, cut back last year's perennials.
• "Looking at the weather forecast, it's OK to remove winter mulch to give plants sunlight," said Kooyman. "But keep it close by so you can rake it back if it gets cold."
• Improve the garden soil. Add organic material (compost, peat moss, aged manure) for better flower and vegetable production throughout the summer.
• Start composting. Make your own "black gold" by buying or making a compost bin and adding kitchen scraps, grass clippings, dead plants and weeds (no meat or dairy products). Turn it every two or three weeks.
• If you already have a compost pile, turn it. "If we don't get rain, sprinkle some water on it a couple times a week," said Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota climatologist.
• Plant cool-weather vegetables, such as peas, leaf lettuces, beets, radishes and onions.
• Divide and multiply. "Hostas are much more manageable now," said Kooyman. But she advised only dividing and transplant perennials in your own garden. "If you want to give plants to someone else, pot them up and wait until the weather is warmer. You might have a better growing situation."
• Design a rain garden, which captures water that runs off from your house, or buy or build a rain barrel to capture runoff from your gutters. (For information on getting started and tips, visit www.metroblooms.org.)
• Plan to plant. Start a wish list for plant sales and garden center visits.
• Prune spring-blooming shrubs, such as lilacs, azaleas and forsythia, until they're done blooming. (If you prune now, you'll remove this year's flowers.)
• Water and fertilize ornamental trees and shrubs in early May.
• Plant small trees and shrubs in May, when the soil is moist and the temperatures are neither too high nor too low.
• Fill containers and beds with tender annuals. Plant warm-season vegetables, including tomatoes and peppers, when the soil is warm enough. Remember, the average last frost in the Twin Cities is early May.
IN THE YARD
DO IT NOW
• Rake the lawn to loosen up matted areas, remove debris and branches and dead grass to promote air circulation. "Clean up the lawn and expose it to the sun. It will be able to take in the April showers a little bit better," said Seeley.
• Seed bare or thin spots to encourage thicker growth and deter weeds.
• Aerate (if you haven't done so in a couple of years). It'll help the grass absorb water and nutrients.
• To encourage deeper roots, let the grass grow longer (2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches). Longer grass has a better chance of toughing it out during hot, dry weather.
• Leave grass clippings on the lawn to add nutrients to the soil.
• Give your lawn and garden a drink. "At this point we have a moisture deficiency," said Seeley. If we don't get a lot of rain, he advises a light sprinkling of water once or twice a week to help plants get initiated.
• Apply fertilizer and weed control. Lawns were growing rapidly after our warm March, but recent cool nights and days have slowed things down, said Brian Horgan, turfgrass specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service. "It is still too early to fertilize home lawns or apply weed control."