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Northeast: March/April Gardening

A Rhode Island Master Gardener shares tips and gardening news for early spring

The March/April to-do list

  1. Start your winter cleanup of the lawn and planting beds.
  2. If you let your compost rest over the winter you may want to get it started again. Remember not to add any yard waste from previously diseased plants to the compost pile.
  3. Remove burlap wraps and other winter protection by the second half of the month.
  4. Pruning can begin in earnest but only for perennials that are not early spring bloomers. You can remove broken or diseased branches from any plant now.
  5. Resist the urge to start digging in your flower beds too early. You can damage the soil's structure. If you pick up a handful of soil, it should fall apart, not stick together like glue. When it's dry enough, you can start to dig beds and add compost or manure in preparation for planting.
  6. As soon as the ground thaws you can begin edging your beds.
  7. Fertilize trees and shrubs in late March or early April.
  8. Wake up your roses around the middle of the month. Remove winter protection, fertilize, prune, and water.
  9.  Now that the ground has thawed it is a good time to get a soil test.
  10. All spring bulbs should be up and growing now. When you see the flower stalk emerging from the foliage, it’s time to fertilize. Use a complete fertilizer such as 20-20-20 or a special bulb formulation. Fertilize all perennials.
  11. Crabgrass will begin to germinate when the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees F. So, watch the forsythias and when they bloom apply a crabgrass preemergent to your lawn. Hold the fertilizer until after the first mowing.
  12. Transplant shrubs, trees, and divided plants before they leaf out.

Favorite volunteer activities

URI Master Gardeners are busy year round and always look for new opportunities. Our mission is education and outreach following sustainable gardening practices. We

  • have 11 Community Projects around the state – the newest, which will launch in the spring of 2009, is Harvest from the Heart, featuring gardens in local communities where youth and adults will learn good vegetable gardening practices and donate their harvest to the RI Food Bank and local food kitchens;
  • staff the Gardening and Environmental Hotline at the URI CELS Outreach Center and also send volunteers to various agricultural and community events from spring through to answer gardening questions from the general public;
  • have launched a new public speaking program, offering lectures to libraries, rotaries, and other community groups in Rhode Island;
  • have a Website that is a rich source of gardening information and a portal to other gardening information sites;
  • volunteer for programs that are offered and supported by the URI CELS Outreach Center, such as youth programs and composting;
  • are planning our fourth annual Garden Tour which is scheduled for July 2009 – each garden is owned and maintained by a URI Master Gardener and each site is focused on an educational theme.

Rhode Island gardeners’ biggest challenge

Climate change. We’re experiencing below-average rainfall, an extended fall season (or, a delayed winter season) and milder winter temperatures. Plants are behaving differently, doing unexpected and unpredictable things. For example, the bloom period may be extended or new growth may develop after plants are cut back for winter (as my hostas did last year). Our best advice is to watch and learn. Let the garden, not the calendar, decide your gardening chores.

About Sybil

I’ve been a URI Master Gardener since 2003 and over the past five years my gardening life has had many incarnations…but that is typical for any dedicated gardener. My garden grows and changes every year as I learn more about sustainability, as I fall in love with new plants, and as I get older and need some short cuts. I don’t have a single favorite plant…my favorites change with the seasons. But I do LOVE roses!

As for the “rest of my life,” well, as a very passionate gardener, and with my commitments to the URI Master Gardener Association, there isn’t much time left, but I do love to read, I dabble in photography and painting, and I am a writer and editor (yes, at this time in my life, of gardening information).

Rhode Island Master Gardeners