April Garden Sustainable Maintenance Practices for the Southeast

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October November DecemberBee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest will be launching our first on-line mini course Earth Day, April 22nd. We are very excited about our new offerings. Our first course is entitled, How You Can Help The Monarch Butterfly. Specifically, the course will teach and encourage you to grow more milkweed and how to raise eggs to adult Monarchs!

APRIL After a winter with multiple personalities, the birds are scratching, singing, and suggesting I pay attention. I am. There’s a feeling of joy. The birds feel spring; as do I. The temperatures may not say spring, but their songs do.

The entire month of April is wrapped in spring. With March madness behind us and the merriment of May ahead, many feel the need to stop and appreciate our gardens in April (or at least I do). The month of April is full of tulips, daffodils, bluebells, Yoshino cherry and crabapple blossoms, flowering dogwood, candy tuff, azaleas, creeping phlox, and more.

To paraphrase Elizabeth Lawerence, Everyone is a gardener in springtime.

The chickens in  Tiny Tara are believing it’s spring, as well. Each day there are gifts left to me in the form of white eggs from our four leghorns and a baby blue egg from our one and only Easter-egger. I don’t take this for granted, nor do I ignore spring and all the ways she sings to me each day. Seeing April for another year brings me joy, and I hope by my sharing this joy, I bring a little to you, too.

In The BEE BETTER NATURALLY Teaching Garden, along the path in the Red Bed, the daffs are fading,  Veronica peduncularis ‘Georgia Blue’ is still bright blue, typically both will welcome me on my birthday in early March. The creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) are now coloring up the path in the Red Bed. This year, I’ve added a lavender blue colored creeping phlox as well, ‘Sherwood Purple’.

The peonies have cleared the ground. Each year, I’m amazed how quickly peonies go from breaking ground to blooming. It’s a feat that often seems impossible, but the pattern has taken place for so long now, I’m beginning to believe it.

The Ipheion uniflorum ‘Wisley-Blue’ are still looking fresh, as are the Japanese anemones.

Deadhead We still have another month of the pansies looking good. Although it seems tiresome, deadheading the pansies do tidy up the plant nicely, and allows the plant to continue putting out new blooms before the heat gets them.

Enjoy southern magnolias. It is normal to see a large amount of southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) leaves shedding beginning this month. Some find this messy, but if you leave the magnolia to grow naturally, and not cut the limbs, the leaves will fall within the drip line and hide under the tree’s skirt. In the old days, encouraging southern magnolias to have a ground-touching skirt was helped along by weighing the lower branches down with rope and bricks. A skirt on the tree hides the leaves and makes the tree very stately from the ground up. Once the limbs are cut, there is no going back and you will forever be cursed with these leaves that stick around longer than an orange peel! This is not to say you won’t have many escapees but they will be minimal compared to the mother lode.

Now and into May is the best time to divide daffodils. While the foliage is “in the green” dig up a clump and spread to other areas of the garden. Say yes to free plants!

Prune azaleas. The time to prune your azaleas is just after they bloom. If you wait too long, you’ll cut off next year’s bloom. Same with your forsythia. Prune soon after flowering to shape or manage the size.

Roses can be propagated by layering as late as mid-August. Long, flexible canes are the easiest to propagate because they bend freely into place. Use a clean knife to remove two thorns near the top of the stem and bend it toward the ground. Make a couple of small cuts into the bark between where the thorns were. This is called wounding the cane. Hold the wounded area in good contact with the soil with landscape pins and cover with soil, leaving the growing tip of the stem uncovered. It’s also a good idea to put a brick or stone over the covered and wounded cane to give it extra hold.

Next spring, you should see new growth emerge. Once you see new leaves on the rooted stem, carefully remove the entire stem from the parent plant, and recut the stem just beneath the new root mass. Now you are ready to plant your new rose bush.

Plant annual herbs such as basil after the season’s final frost, but it’s really best to wait until May unless the April soil is at least 60 ºF. Biennials such as parsley and perennial herbs, including rosemary, chives, thyme and mint can all be planted now.

Plant tomatoes. If you are planning to preserve tomatoes, plant determinate bush types. Determinate tomatoes will fruit and ripen all at once (within a week or so.) If you want to enjoy vine-ripened tomatoes all summer through frost, plant indeterminate tomatoes.

Plant annuals after the frost. Wait until after the last frost before planting tender annuals such as impatiens and petunias. The National Climatic Data Center can help you determine your region’s last frost date.Don’t be in a rush to plant; garden centers often stock summer annuals and tender perennials well before planting time. Know when it’s safe to plant tender annuals.

 It’s still a great time to plant perennials!!!  Just remember, if you only shop for plants in spring, you will forever have a spring garden. Plan to shop ever other month or so. If it gets too hot to plant, nurse them until the fall.

Select and pre-order your spring-blooming bulbs now while supplies are plentiful. Don’t put off today what will be gone tomorrow. The most unusual bulbs sell out fast. I can say this now because I’ve already put my in order. ;) Try something fun such as the species tulip, Tulipa clusiana.

Transplant bulbs. If you forced paper white narcissus indoors over the holidays using a soil-based medium, you can plant it outdoors now for years of enjoyment. If you forced it in the absence of soil, it’s spent — compost it.

I know fading daffodil foliage can drive you crazy. Instead, take a deep breath and put those clippers away. Yes, it really is necessary to keep the yellowing foliage as long as possible; the leaves are needed to collect food for next year’s nourishment.

VEGETABLES Harvest vegetables as needed. Most of what’s growing in your vegetable garden are annuals–tomatoes, beens, peppers, etc.  By August, they are looking a little wrung out. As plants end their production cycle, remove them from the garden; otherwise, they may attract insects and disease to the plants that are still productive.

I only every want to speak from experience; these are the fruits I grow in the Bee Better Teaching Garden. The blueberries are in bloom, the ‘Bonfire’ peach blooms are fading, still waiting for the ‘Stella’ cherry and ‘Autumn Brilliance’ serviceberry to bud up.

By April, I take down the supplemental feeders. The BEE BETTER NATURALLY Teaching Garden has enough for the birds to eat naturally. However, I like putting them out so I can see the birds from the inside my warm comfy sofa during inclement weather.

Waterwise:  With a waterwise design, watering in the absence of rain is a breeze.  My garden at home, the BEE BETTER NATURALLY Teaching Garden was designed with waterwise principles. I have very little watering to do, and what I do have, is a choice. My boxwood collection is contained. But the watering is smart. These containers are near a watering source, so moving around a hose isn’t a big deal.

Even after all these years of gardening with waterwise principles, there are always room for improvements. I moved a few pots and plants around to be better suited for their zones.

Mulch. Do you have your mulch down for protection of the summer ahead? Remember, an annual application of mulch helps retain moisture, moderate soil temperature, retard weeks, and makes the garden look tidy and healthy!

Pests. See these on your pines? They’re the Pine Sawfly larvae. Pick them off and drop them in a bucket of soapy water, or do as I do, I feed them to my chickens.

Walk around your garden in preparation for mosquito season. Be diligent about this.

Water wisely. Being water-wise doesn’t mean never watering. It means watering wisely. Plants need water on a regular basis the first weeks after planting or transplanting, and during development — even those that are drought tolerant. I have my garden beds divided into watering zones: oasis, transitional and xeric.

  • The oasis zone is for thirstier plants; it’s located near a water source.

  • The transitional zone is for plants that need occasional watering, particularly during times of drought, and is located a hose-draggable distance from the water source.

  • The xeric zone is for plants that need no supplemental water. These plants are never watered once they are established.

Watch for mildew. Problems with your impatiens last year? Impatiens downy mildew (Plasmopara abducens) has become a problem for East Coast gardeners. There have been reports of entire beds dying in weeks. Here’s what to look for:

  • The foliage turns pale green or yellow, and a whitish growth appears on the underside of the leaves.

  • The edges of the leaves will also curl downward.

Sadly, there isn’t much that can be done. The best defense is to stay aware; if you suspect your impatiens are infected, remove them along with all debris in the area. Don’t plant impatiens in that bed again for several years.


Cut flowers. Remember those zinnias you seeded in July? Seed more in August, and be sure to cut some to enjoy inside!



  1. Karen Carpenter says

    April 8, 2018 at 10:43 pm

    Tell us about the advantages of growing Dutch White Clover. Our city (Durham, NC) recommends clover or a ground cover but the general population think like their Dads did and think clover is a weed.. How do we change proples views?

    • Helen Yoest says

      April 9, 2018 at 7:05 pm

      Great question!!! Besides clover being a GREAT pollinator for the honey bee and other pollinators, it looks great. However, as you mention, our Dads think clover is a weed. What we have to remember is our granddads had clover added to their grass seed! I wonder if it is a more of a sign of prosperity that grass seed is without clover? In any event, these things take a generation. I remember when we started recycling in Raleigh. There was so much hemming and hawling (not by me); now my kids wouldn’t think of not recycling an aluminum can!