April 15 means more than taxes in Charlotte area
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Friday, Apr. 04, 2014

April 15 means more than taxes in Charlotte area

Charlotte gardeners have a love-hate relationship with April 15.

It is time to pay Uncle Sam and spend hours fretting over paperwork or a computer keyboard (usually both), or to find someone trustworthy to do it for you.

I’m not sure if hiring people to cavort around in Statue of Liberty costumes builds that kind of trust, but it certainly adds a novel element to Tryon Street.

On the other hand, April 15 means more than Tax Day. It is also our official “frost free” date, signaling that we can safely set out tomatoes and plant green beans, sweet corn and squash. Gardening is just the outdoor tonic we need to deal with this truly taxing month.

To be precise, April 15 is our 90 percent frost-free date. In other words, in nine years out of 10, the temperature will not dip below freezing after that date. It’s still a bit of a gamble, but manageable.

David Goforth of the Cabarrus County Cooperative Extension speculates that cool conditions may persist this year, for climatological reasons. But in case of late frosts, it’s easy to cover plants with row covers or a sheet for protection.

Your tall fescue lawn may take off and grow like crazy this month. Don’t even think about fertilizing it now. Tall fescue means just that. Keep it 3 inches or taller so it can shade out weeds. This month and next, you may need to mow more than once a week.

Pick up extra clippings so they don't clump on the grass. You can use them for mulch after they dry, or mix clippings and leaves together to make a spring compost pile. They will be “black gold” for your garden as early as October.

There is a potential problem lurking in lovely April. Cankerworms, which were noticed in high numbers last year, can spoil the springtime party. Let’s hope the cold weather sets them back.

Once the worms start dropping, there is little you can do besides make a note to band your trees in a timely fashion this coming fall. You can try using BT, a soil bacteria that provides a natural control, but it is most effective when worms are small.

Most plants, including trees, can survive even a heavy cankerworm attack for a single season, so your plants will live. You, however, may suffer lasting psychological damage from the webs in your face and creepy crawlies getting down your collar.

On a more hopeful note, April is the month of spring garden sales. Our local “big three” sales are all on different weekends this year, and each has a different specialty.

• Wing Haven, in Myers Park, modestly calls its event the “best plant sale in Charlotte.” Certainly it is a good one, with a wide variety of shrubs, herbs, perennials and more.

The sale is open to the public 9 a.m.-5 p.m. April 9-12. A special members sale takes place on April 8. (Yes, you can join.)

• Two weeks later, the UNC Charlotte Botanical Garden’s sale near the greenhouses on the UNCC campus will be 9 a.m.-3 p.m. April 18-19 (Easter weekend). A members’ preview will be noon-5 p.m. April 18.

The sale will offer hard-to-find native plants and carnivorous plants, along with choice water plants and summer tropical flowers.

• Rounding out the sales is Central Piedmont Community College’s Horticulture Technology plant sale April 25-26. Hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. April 25 and 9 a.m.-noon April 26.

Led by CPCC’s new horticulture professor Jeff Gillman, this year’s sale offers reliable, tried-and-true landscape shrubs, perennials, herbs and vegetables.

This sale is well worth watching in the future: Gillman, who did his doctoral degree work with the legendary Michael Dirr, may have some very interesting plants coming in future sales.

Walk in the woods

When you aren’t planting, treat yourself to an April walk in the woods to enjoy spring displays of native flowers.

My personal favorite is the Piedmont azalea, or pinxterflower, bursting into blazing color along creeks and on moist hillsides. Dogwoods, redbuds, crabapples, halesia and viburnums all join in.

Keep an eye out for bloodroot, bleeding heart, Jack-in-the-pulpit and, if you are lucky, trillium.

Cultivated gardens are equally colorful, led by colorful billows of azaleas. You may even get a laugh or two, like the house not far from us where somebody planted azaleas along the front, one red, one white, and so on, creating a botanical take on Candy Cane Lane. Only in the South.

Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer and a national test gardener for Organic Gardening Magazine. Have a story idea for Don? Email him at unicity3@gmail.com.

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