This year, April teased us with sunshine and 76 degrees, then slapped us with cold and snow.
"It's been a tale of two Aprils," said Pete Boulay, DNR climatologist. "It has felt colder because we had such a nice start to the month."
If the forecasts from the National Weather Service hold true, April is likely to finish near average in the temperature department, said Boulay. But the mid-month cold snap did slow plant development.
"Some of the tulip buds should have been open by now," said Jim Gilbert, a teacher at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., and a phenologist. Gilbert said that while many plants may be lagging behind their normal spring awakenings, they aren't lagging by all that much.
"The blossoms on the earliest fruit tree, the apricot, are just three days behind," he said. "The sun is high in the sky and very powerful. Three days isn't a big deal."
The cool weather has slowed grass growth a bit more. Bob Mugaas, a University of Minnesota Extension horticulture educator, said grass is about a week behind normal. That means you may need to put off raking and other lawn chores a bit longer. (He recommends applying fertilizer only after the grass is growing so actively that you've had to mow it at least once.)
But it seems that people, rather than plants, have been most affected by the cool spring. Gardeners have held off planting even cold-tolerant flowers.
"This time of the year, our pansy flats [typically] would be almost gone," said Chris Gueorguiev, manager at Wagners Garden Center in Minneapolis. "But we have plenty left."
That means for gardeners, at least, this spring may be a short one. "They may skip pansy season altogether and go directly to geraniums," said Gueorguiev.
IN THE GARDEN
ONCE THE SOIL IS DRY AND FIRM
• Clean out the garden. Cut perennials to the ground and use a lightweight rake to remove winter mulch, debris and dead plants.
• 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 dirt 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.
• As soon as the soil can be worked, plant cool-weather veggies such as peas, cabbage, leaf lettuce, beets, broccoli and onions.
• Prune summer-flowering shrubs that bloom on new wood (such as some hydrangeas, shrub roses and spireas).
• 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. What holes do you have to fill? In sun or shade? What needs to be divided? Start 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.
• Divide and transplant perennials, such as hostas and daylilies. (The soil should be warm and dry, which usually happens by mid-May.)
• Fill containers and beds with tender annuals and warm-season vegetables, including tomatoes and peppers. Wait until May 15, the estimated frost-free date in the Twin Cities.
IN THE YARD
ONCE THE SOIL IS DRY AND FIRM
• Rake the lawn to loosen up matted areas, remove debris and branches and dead grass caused by snow mold to promote air circulation.
• 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.
WHEN THE GRASS IS ACTIVELY GROWING
• Apply fertilizer and weed control after you've cut your lawn once or twice. If you fertilized in the fall, you'll need only a light spring application, according to Bob Mugaas. "You don't want to encourage rapid growth, just maintain the health of the plant," he said.
• 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.
KEEP EMERALD ASH BORERS AT BAY
If you have ash trees, watch for signs of emerald ash borers, said Jeff Hahn, entomologist at the University of Minnesota. The beetle destroys ashes by burrowing in the wood and feeding on nutrients.
For information on identifying ash trees and borer infestation, plus information on treatment and tree removal, go to the University of Minnesota Extension website at www.extension.umn.edu/garden (it's under "Current Issues").
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619