Gardening Tips

April tips 2015

‘Those April showers that come our way

They bring the flowers that bloom in May

And when it’s raining, let’s not forget,

It isn’t raining rain at all, it’s raining violets’

~A popular ballad sang during World War II by Dame Vera Lynn in England.

To create and maintain a healthy organic garden, please discard any pesticides and herbicides that you may have used in the past. They have the same effect as second hand smoke on you, your children and pets. Scientific research has shown that these chemicals are responsible for many diseases including cancer.

My mission through my Garden Earth lecture, which I give to hundreds of people throughout New England, is to encourage all of you to garden organically. Reconnecting people’s hearts, hands and minds with the nourishing energy of Mother Nature’s Life giving gardens. In this lecture I tell you how to create and maintain a beautiful organic garden. Organic farming and gardening has been my family’s philosophy on tending the earth for over four hundred years. Please check my lecture schedule on this website.

In Mid to late April Manure all the borders with composted manure, which can be purchased in bags from the garden center, or aged manure from the bottom of the pile at a farm. Then as the ground warms up in May, mulch with fine brown hardwood mulch.

In the vegetable garden, I suggest you mulch with composted manure. Composted manure does not ‘cap’, which means that it does not form a crust like other mulches, consequently air and water can get through to the roots of the plants where it is needed.

Well finally, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed when I say that spring is here. I just put on my coat and stepped outside, lifting my face to the sun. In front of the kitchen window the Daffodils are peaking above ground.

Around the corner on the West side, the Iris is showing foliage and buds will soon bloom on the flowering Almond. I picked up branches from the grass that had been broken and blown during the winter and observing one of my butterfly bushes and lavender, put them on the agenda for pruning within the week.

Near the barn wall the buds on my Carlesii viburnum will open in another few weeks and their perfume will fill the air.

I filled the bird feeders and heard my feathered friends telling the others ‘lunch is served’. Ian and I stirred The English Lady Manure tea and Seaweed tea, and those potent brews will be ready to be purchased in May and can be found on this website.

I consideher April a month of awakening activity, when gardeners experience new energy and enthusiasm, just itching to get their hands in the soil. I am only just beginning to see the faint flush of red on the maples soon, our old nemesis, and weeds will begin to rear their heads. As soon as you see them, I suggest you get busy and pull them up by hand before they get ahead of you.

Did you know that all our cultivated plants began as weeds and at some point humans decided which ones they wanted in our gardens? Some that were not chosen have turned out to be beneficial weeds, like nettles, which are food for butterflies, clover takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil and oil from jewelweed soothes poison ivy rash. With that thought in mind, Comfrey which is not a weed and for centuries has been cultivated as a medicinal plant soothes the rash from poison ivy when added to bath water or used as a tea.

Young Dandelion foliage is nutritious and tasty in salads. Soon they will appear in my field on the west side and my mouth is watering in anticipation. Some beneficial weeds encourage songbirds and other wildlife to linger in the garden; the weed seeds are an important food source for them.

In the garden, after problem weeds have been pulled, apply an organic corn gluten based weed pre-emergent by Bradfield Organics. This product will keep weeds at bay for quite a few weeks. However, do not use this product on newly seeded lawns, as it will prevent grass seed germinating.

I checked on my David Austin roses today and tomorrow will prune any stems that were broken in the winter and in mid April prune the roses that have been in the ground for more than one year, by two to three feet depending on the type of rose. Do not prune roses that were newly planted last season. I remove the old mulch from around the base and add more composted manure and mulch.

I prefer David Austin roses, which are trouble free, repeat bloomers, fragrant and have beautiful colors. Plant bare root roses at the end of April and container roses in mid May.

Note – Planting depth of roses only as deep as they come in their container

Add manure to the planting mix and fill the hole about half full of soil then add water and wait a few minutes to ensure the roses have good drainage.

Do not fertilize at this time. When buds appear in early June add more composted manure and the brown fine bark mulch about four inches away from the base of the plant. You may apply an organic systemic rose food at this time and once monthly until mid August and then stop feeding the roses to allow them to go into a slow dormancy.

David Austin roses I enjoy are as follows:

Evelyn – apricot

Gertrude Jekyll – pink

William Shakespeare – dark pink with a strong damask rose fragrance – reminds me of my Grandmother’s favorite rose ‘Crimson Glory’.

Heritage – pale pink

Fair Bianca – white

All David Austin roses are repeat bloomers, beautiful colors and fragrances.

To give the roots of newly planted roses a boost, add our Seaweed tea which has a root growth hormone with many nutrients ensuring strong, healthy growth.

Be careful clearing winter debris from around rhododendrons, mountain laurel and azaleas, these evergreens are shallow rooted exposing roots to the air can damage them. If winter has eroded soil around any roots, cover them with soil, peat and add compost manure and gently resettle them into the ground. In late April a layer of fine bark mulch, but do not mulch up to the trunk as this encourages rodents to nest and gnaw on the wood.

Conditions in April are the most favorable for new plant-root development. In April evergreen shrubs may be transplanted and new evergreens planted. In the planting hole add composted manure and peat. At the end of May, when the new batch of Seaweed tea is available for purchase, soak the soil with our seaweed tea to quickly establish strong root. Give the roots a work out before planting to release them and open them up so the roots will reach into the surrounding soil for nutrients and water.

In late April plant Gladioli corms at two-week intervals. By following this method, you will get a succession of bloom. Plant the corms eight inches below the soil surface with composted manure; the extra depth helps prevent the heavy blooms of the gladioli from toppling over.

The Red Lily beetle will soon be rearing its ugly head soon; the solution to this problem is organic Neem oil. Add the Neem oil as soon as the foliage reaches four inches in height; this will eliminate the beetle larvae.

Soil solarization – is an effective way to control many soil borne problems, especially tomato blight that results in fruit rot. This blight has been epidemic in New England in the last few years.

In early April cover the soil with clear plastic 4 mils thick where you will be planting your tomatoes. Dig a trench several inches deep around the bed, and press the plastic into close contact with the soil overlapping into the trench. Keep the edges in place by filling the trench with soil that was removed. Leave the plastic in place for two months, during this time the heat from the sun will suffocate nematodes, weed seeds and many disease organisms including the tomato blight.

This process has proved invaluable for gardeners and farmers for years and the beneficial effects last through several seasons.

Apply an organic grub control on the grass in April and again in May to eliminate grubs thereby offering less food for the mole population.

The soil is the most important component of the growing business, compost, composted manure and peat for evergreens; amend the soil to rebuild its structure. The ratio is one part compost to three parts manure. Composted manure, at least three inches on the soil in April, July and October will ensure a rich growing environment.

Good soil structure helps with drainage issues, retains moisture and prevents compaction, particularly important with clay soil. Compost and composted manure breaks down in water, an ideal scenario, encouraging the millions of soil animals beneath the surface to produce nutrients for roots of the plants.

On the Shore in a light sandy soil, humus in the form of compost and manure binds the sand particles together and in heavy soil such as clay the more compost and manure helps to break up the clumps. Grow the soil and it will grow the plants.

When I moved into my farmhouse on the shore seventeen years ago, the soil in my garden was, as you can imagine, sandy – good for drainage but without nutrients. I began adding a quite a few inches of manure to all planted borders in April, July and October and within a few months I could see the color deepening and becoming richer. Within a couple of years the soil was black gold.

When working with composted manure in the garden, gloves should be worn as bacteria is present in this animal bi-product. The bacteria are great for the plants and the soil but not good for your health. When Daffodil foliage is about six inches tall add composted manure around the plants and again when the foliage has gone yellow, add the manure, which will fortify the bulbs for next season.

As well as the amendments of organic aged manure, peat and/or compost you can incorporate an organic root development enhancer like our seaweed tea by soaking the top four inches of the soil around the base of all trees, shrubs and perennials. Organic soil enhancers like our manure and seaweed tea when applied throughout the season to the soil, dissolve in water and are most quickly absorbed by plants and are especially useful for container planting.

Foliage (aka leaf) feedings with the Manure tea in the late afternoon when the pores of the plants are open are a quick acting tonic, supplying nutrients to all plants, including vegetables. Roses in particular like the tea foliar feed especially in the heat and humidity of mid summer, helping to prevent black spot and many insect infestations.

The Daffodils will soon be in bloom and when the bloom has past do not cut the leaves of any of your spring flowering bulbs, the leaves send down energy into the bulbs to store for next season’s nutrition.

April is the time to tackle a new lawn or patch seed, use only good quality seed and organic fertilizers.

The soil is still damp and wet and we can still get a late frost, I can hear you groan, me too! Keep an eye on the weather forecast.

Do not panic if you are not able to get the April tasks done until May, your garden will wait for you and the constancy that is Mother Nature will continue to keep your patch of earth flourishing.

Enjoy the pleasure of being outdoors now, inhaling the warm fragrance of awakening soil and experience the connection with growing things. Do not overdo it; warm up the body before any garden labor and stay well hydrated with lots of water.

We are inexorably entwined with the earth and know that even the smallest gesture of a garden has positive rewards and the effects not only on you but our planet. I’ll see you next time in your garden.


“Those March winds will blow\

And we will have snow

And what will the Robin do then, poor thing?

He’ll hide in the barn, to keep himself warm

And hide his head under his wing”.

March is a very unpredictable month and I know you are really itching to get out in the garden, but it pays to be cautious. Do not work the soil around your plants as its too cold and wet and can damage friable root systems. A clean edge with a sharp spade makes the borders look neat and is a first step to you getting back in shape after winter’s hibernation.

In late March APPLY A TOP DRESSING OF MANURE: Manure builds soil structure, aids in drainage and encourages dormant nutrients to come alive for a good planting environment. Poultry manure contains about 2% nitrogen, one of the highest levels of all manures; the drawback to this manure is that the odor is rather objectionable. Horse manure is about .5% nitrogen and cow manure, is .25 % nitrogen. If you get horse and cow manure from the farm ask the farmer to give you manure from the bottom of the pile; the oldest stuff, as fresh manure will burn the plants. Or buy bags of manure from the garden center.

You can use The English Lady Manure Tea and The English Lady Seaweed Tea, the recipe passed down through my family for hundreds of years. These teas are excellent for soaking seeds overnight before planting in March. To be eco conscious start tender annuals in old milk or juice cartons; make sure all containers are clean.

Seaweed from the shore is excellent as mulch or compost it; rinse it first to remove sea salt. Seaweed contains trace elements that plants need and also growth promoting hormones. If you spread it like manure apply 1-2 lb per 100 square feet of garden each spring.

ON A CLOUDY DAY – Remove protective covering gradually from shrubs and perennials. In exposed garden areas where wind is a problem, leave the covering on until mid to late April depending on the weather. Cold wind is more damaging and drying than extreme cold and frost.

FROST HEAVE: If some of the perennials, trees and shrubs planted last fall heaved out of the ground, cover the roots with fresh topsoil until mid May when they can be replanted.


Butterfly bush and the Smoke bush (Cotinus) to two feet from the ground in late March.

Prune Forsythia after it has bloomed, pruning out sparse flowering old wood.

Prune roses when the forsythia blooms. For their first full year in the ground do not prune roses. Do not remove the winter protective mulch from around the base of the roses yet, wait until early May, then apply a dressing of manure and mulch. Do not begin to feed an organic rose food until the end of May and discontinue feeding roses in mid August.

Hedges can be sheared for shape, so that any stubby ends will be concealed by the new spring growth.

Prune Spirea down to six inches from the ground.

Prune Lavender in April

Sweet Pepper Bush (Clethra) prune out oldest branches in late March

Lilac – before leaf growth begins, cut back all old branches to various lengths from two to five feet, keeping in mind a good shape of the shrub. Sprinkle lime around the base and add manure.

BACKSCRATCH: When the lawn is dry, rake it lightly and remove excess debris such as leaves and dead twigs. Raking gently will also raise the mat up so the lawn can breathe again. Aerating machines are useful to develop a healthy lawn. Puncture holes with the aerator and pull out plugs of soil every four to six inches; after this treatment, root development takes off and thatch is reduced. Stay clear of those large thatching machines, they damage the grass.

GRASS Fertilizer: Apply an organic fertilizer before the grass begins to grow. Reseed bare or sparse spots reseed in April after loosening the soil, liming and fertilizing, cover the seed with salt hay to keep the seed warm and to prevent wind from blowing the seed away. Water the seed for the first three weeks. Do not blast the area with water, which will also scatter the seeds.

MOLES: to keep down the mole population in your garden; apply organic grub control once a month for four months; less grubs, less food for the moles. Apply organic pre-emergent crabgrass formulas in March and April.

DEADHEAD: the crocuses when they start to look a mess; do not cut off the leaves; the leaves make food for in the bulbs for next season’s bloom.

DAFFODILS: When the green shoots emerge, spread an organic bulb food around the plants and water in well. Do not let the fertilizer come in contact with the unfurling foliage.

DAFFODILS FOR INDOORS: the stems release a sap like “goop” that harms other flowers. Before adding Daffodils to an arrangement, cut the stems at an angle, and leave them in a vase half filled with lukewarm water for a couple of hours. Discard that water and add the Daffodils to the other flowers. If you recut the stems you will need to repeat the process.

ORGANIC FERTILIZER FOR PERENNIALS: When perennials are about four inches above soil level, about the second or third week of April, depending on the weather, apply an organic fertilizer, but if you put down manure you will not need the fertilizer. Be careful working around any plants in the garden when the soil is still wet and cold as roots can be disturbed.

At the end of April DIVIDE late blooming perennials that have become too large or have not been flowering as profusely. Discard the older, inner parts of the clumps and plant the new outside portions. Do not plant the new divisions any deeper than they were before and certainly not with Irises; just barely cover the root system so they do not fall over.

PLANT Pansies: pick the flowers regularly to encourage more bloom.

Before planting soak seeds in manure or seaweed tea and now sow SEEDS indoors of gaillardia, salvia, marigold and zinnia indoors, also seeds of petunia, snapdragon, stock and verbena in sphagnum moss to prevent damping off if these did not get sown in February. Cover pots and seed trays with plastic wrap creating a mini-greenhouse, which provides the moisture the seeds need to germinate.

NOTE: Remove the plastic once the seeds have germinated, the soil needs to drain and air circulation is needed around the stems.

If you are going away on business, vacation etc. put the plastic covers back on the pots and trays and prop some sticks or skewers in the corners; they will stay moist, but be sure the plants do not come in contact with the plastic.

START tuberous begonias, and caladiums indoors.

DORMANT SPRAYING of fruit trees, flowering cherry, crabapple, hawthorn, mountain ash and lilac can be done before the leaf buds open. Spray with The English Lady Seaweed Tea to encourage fruiting and call in a professional company if you notice any disease on the trees. Ask the company is they use organic products; you do not want chemical pollutants in the garden.

HOUSEPLANTS: As a general rule I suggest repotting of house plants when they are growing vigorously in spring and summer. Water the plant, turn it sideways on a newspaper and gently slide it from the pot. Repot in fresh potting soil in a pot only two inches larger than the original. With the plant firmly in place, with the soil about one inch from the rim, water it and give a dilute application of organic fertilizer to lessen the shock of repotting.

Some trouble free foliage plants are: Rubber plant, Spider plant, Aloe, Succulents and Cacti (if you have a sunny window), Ivy, Philodendron, Monstera and Spaphyllum.

Some blooming plants for amongst the foliage ones – I keep my plants in groups touching one another; they enjoy and flourish in the closeness. Cyclamen, African Violets, Kalanchoe and Primula.

To keeps pets from damaging the houseplants, add some cayenne pepper to the water when watering.

GERANIUMS: When the new side shoots appear on those that you brought in at the end of last season and cut back in February, repot them in pots about and inch and a half larger.

Well I think that’s given you plenty to think about at the moment and to get started. Enjoy your garden indoors and out.

43 Responses to Gardening Tips

  1. admin says:

    Barbara, buy some organic Neem oil, it works on the red lily beetles. Maureen

  2. barbara says:

    My lilies have red beetles on them. What do I do?

  3. sharon says:

    My climbing Rose bush seems to have all little holes in the green leaves. It had looked so healthy at the beginning of the season. Seems to have buds but nothing flowering yet. Please advise – looking for my flowers to bring me joy this year as that’s all I have at this point – tough year. Please help if you can………Thanks, Sharon

  4. admin says:

    Don, Mountain Laurel are shallow rooted and if they were planted any deeper than they came in the pot or burlap covering they will not do well. If you feel they were planted too deep, dig them up and replant with enough soil so they do not fall over and add manure and peat to the planting mix and mix with a brown fine bark mulch and keep watered through the season. Do not worry about the black spot, that should take care of itself. Maureen

  5. don says:

    we have mountain laurel that were planted last year. in mostly shade and this year neither plant looks good. they have black spots on the leaves and the leaves are dried out. what can we do to save these plants? thank you

  6. admin says:

    Cindy, on this website click on ‘what to use in the garden’ and look for soap shield to use on the mountain laurel. Maureen

  7. admin says:

    Cindy, the harsh winter wind of the last few years has caused leaf damage to the mountain laurel, they should respond to the spring weather with some manure and peat (they like acidity) around them and some fine bark mulch to protect their shallow roots. Let me know later in the season how they respond. Maureen

  8. Cindy says:

    My parents have several approx. 15 year old mountain laurels that they love. Each year lately they look terrible with brown spots all over the leaves. Could this be some type of fungus, and do you have any reccommendations? Thank you.

  9. admin says:

    Barbara, do not cut back the hydrangea now, at the end of April plant it in the garden, no deeper than it has been planted in the pot. Add manure to the planting mix and keep it watered while the roots establish. For future care, on the home page of the website type in the search box ‘hydrangeas’ and an article amongst others will come up as to their care. Good luck Maureen

  10. Barbara says:

    Could you please tell me if now is a good time to cut back my hydrangea that has been in the house for the winter. and if so how far do I cut it back??? Thanks so much.

  11. admin says:

    Deb, you obviously have a deep problem with crab grass. Check the website ‘what to use in the garden’ for the organic crab grass killer and apply it each month through the season until it eliminates the problem. Good luck Maureen

  12. Deb says:

    I have a question bout crabgrass. I don’t remember if it was something of yours that I read or heard about good drainage but sandy soil. My husband puts down crab grass killer every year and we still get crab grass come late July and August in one corner of the back yard. I told my husband you said we need more top soil. Can you please give me some tips so I can give them to my husband, my father-in-law has the same problem. My husband takes great pride in his lawn but he can’t stop the crab grass.

  13. admin says:

    Theresa, on the website on the home page, click on ‘what to use in the garden’ and that will direct you to the Gardens Alive site for organic fertilizer and grass seed. Maureen

  14. Theresa says:

    Can you please tell me which organic fertilizer I can use on my lawn to make it green and the name of any good grass seed to plant in shade and semi-shade areas.
    Thank you for your good advice.

  15. admin says:

    Barbara, transplant the hydrangea at the end of April. Do not plant it any deeper in the new location than it is in the ground now. When you dig it up, keep the roots covered with its original soil and plant immediately, air getting to the roots can damage the plant. Add manure to the top soil mix and water frequently so that the roots will re-establish. Maureen

  16. admin says:

    Lynda, prune the lilacs immediately after blooming about one third, this must be done then so that you do not prune off next season’s buds. In November prune out the suckers at ground level at the base of the trunk. In April add some manure and lime around the base. Maureen

  17. admin says:

    Lorraine, prune the ninebark shrubs after they have flowered and prune by about one third. Good luck Maureen

  18. Lorraine says:

    I have two diablio ninebarks shrubs (3 yrs old) planted close to my foundation. They are getting tall and very bushy even though I prune them. Am I pruning too much? When is the best time to prune and how much can I take off? Thank you Maureen

  19. Lynda says:

    I have two lilac bushes/trees. One in full sun light, the other more shaded. The first two years they looked great, but now i’m not getting alot of blossoms. I was told not to prune, is is correct?

  20. Barbara says:

    When is the best time to transplant a hydrangea plant?

  21. Peggy Petrovits says:

    I have an asparagus bed. Is it time to manure.? May I continue with the manure for ALL of the garden and shrubs and plants.? Thank you for your most need advise.

  22. admin says:

    Hi Dennis, cut it back to a foot from the ground at the end of next March and put some manure around the base. Have a great holiday season and finish up all gardening tasks before the weather changes. Maureen

  23. admin says:

    Sharon, prune the climbing rose to keep it in check by about three feet now and then in April by as much again if needed. Put some manure and mulch around the base and do not cover it. Many trees, shrubs and others did not bloom well this season due to lack of sun and too much rain in June. Put my old faithful manure and mulch around the base and hopefully next season the sun will shine for us. Maureen

  24. Sharon says:

    What do I do for my climbing Roses for the winter? They are real tall. Should I cut back? Should I cover with something? Should I put mulch all around for the winter? Also Rose of Sharon bush did not blossom this year – what should I do for it for the winter? Thanks so much for any help you can provide!

  25. admin says:

    Terry, perhaps the tree you purchased was not one of the fernleaf maples. But I hope you enjoy the one you have. Horse manure is as good as cow manure, but needs to be aged at least four months before use, but only use horse manure from stables where straw or peat is used as bedding, as wood shavings may be a source of plant disease.
    Good luck Maureen

  26. terry says:

    Hi ,
    I was wondering if you could help.
    I bought a dwarf japanese red maple tree, and this year is has grown over 5 ft
    tall. It’s not red and its not getting wide and low to the ground like those beautiful
    ones I see in other peoples gardens.
    What should I do? Also is horse manure just as good as cow ?
    Thanks for your input.

  27. admin says:

    Barbara, on my website in the search box, type in Hydrangea and you will find an article I wrote about the care of Hydrangeas. Enjoy Maureen

  28. Barbara says:

    I have a pink hydrangea which had 3 blooms last year…but don’t see anything coming so far this year… It is July…others in the same garden are beginning to bloom…

    Thanks, Barbara

  29. admin says:

    Denise, the butterfly bush needs full, rich soil with plenty of manure and peat, as it likes acid, and the soil needs to drain well. If your bush is close to the house it could be getting a lime run off from the foundation of the house, so it would be best to move it, which you can still do now if the bush is not too large or the extra peat could counteract the lime effect. Good luck Maureen

  30. Denise says:

    Half of my butterfly bush is growing well but the other half has brown tipped foliage. This is happening to three out of the four butterfly bushes I have in a row. What could be happening? ( This occurred last summer as well) Thank you-

  31. admin says:

    Rose, If you work outside the home and do not have time to water your containers in the morning before you leave, you can empty your ice trays in the container which will give slow release watering to the plants until you can water them later in the day. Make sure that once a week you give the containers a dilute application of organic fertilizer. Good luck Maureen

  32. Rose says:

    I heard the end of a question on the radio but did not get it all something about ice cubes in your plant. Can you tell me what that means?


  33. admin says:

    Beverly, On the website go to “what to use in the garden” and click on the site and I feel you will find a remedy there or in the eco shoppe. Also all animals usually stay away from anything fragrant like lavender or honeysuckle. Good luck Maureen

  34. Beverly says:

    I have stray cats in my area. What can I use to deterred them from using
    both my flower and vegetable gardens as a toilet and spraying spot. A fence
    doesn’t work. Is there any type of flower they don’t like the smell? Anything
    thing organic that can be used? Thank you.

  35. Keith says:

    I am starting to discover gardening and have a question on Tiger Lilly plants. I have some that have just grown over the years. Is there a good time to dig them up and break them up, replanting them?


  36. Jillian says:

    I love lavender and have been trying to grow it for years potted indoors (I am in an apartment). They always die on me so quickly! I am finally moving to a house, and would love to plant (and keep alive) some lavender plants. What are your suggestions? I have visited other websites that gave “helpful hints” but they were confusing.

    Thank you,

  37. Joan M. says:

    How & when should hydrangers be pruned?

  38. The English Lady says:

    Cut it back now to about 18″ from the ground and add aged manure. Happy gardening. Maureen

  39. The English Lady says:

    Dear Marge, Root prune the vine by taking a spade and digging straight down into the root system about two feet from the main trunk; this should shock the plant into blooming, also add aged manure around the base. Maureen

  40. Betsy says:

    I am new to gardening. When and how should I cut back my Russian Sage

  41. Marge says:

    My trumpet flower vine (I sent this message and listed this vine as a hummingbird vine) refuses to flower. It fully covers our trellis but I would enjoy it more if it flowered. Please give me some suggestions. It is about 4 yrs. old.

  42. The English Lady says:

    Louisa, Cut the butterfly bush down to about two feet from the ground now and move it when the ground warms up in Mid May. You cannot make two plants out of one. Enjoy your garden. Maureen

  43. louisa w******* says:

    when can i move my butterfly bushes? and can i make 2 plants out one?

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