University City

April is a time to get busy in the garden

Decades ago, in front of an old farmhouse in the northeast Charlotte neighborhood of Newell, somebody planted an azalea hedge – a white one, then a red one, a white one and so on. Every April, that candy-cane hedge makes me laugh out loud.

It’s like Santa Claus encroaching on the Easter Bunny.

The moral of this story is to buy and plant spring flowering shrubs in April, when you can see colors of the blooms, before installing them permanently in your yard.

For food gardeners, April is the best of both worlds. During the first half of the month, you can still get in a last round of cool-season crops. Lettuce, radishes, beets, chard, napa (Chinese cabbage), and potatoes all work. Because we are in a race against summer heat, select broccoli and cabbage varieties that are heat-tolerant and quick to mature (green comet and Packman broccoli and early Jersey Wakefield cabbage are tried-and-true.)

After mid-month, plant heat-lovers such as green beans, summer squash and tomatoes. I’m not sure why our last frost date is Tax Day, April 15, but good news in the garden helps balance bad news on the 1040 form.

Wait until late April or early May when the weather is warmer, before planting melons, cucumbers, okra, peppers and eggplant. An enjoyable gamble is to start summer squash and cucumbers indoors about three weeks before you want to transplant. They grow quickly but aren’t crazy about being transplanted. I use peat pots that allow me to plant the whole pot without disturbing the roots.

Lack of space is a common April dilemma. Even experienced gardeners are caught looking for room for tomatoes and beans in gardens full of lettuce, carrots and broccoli. One option, obviously, is a bigger garden; another is pioneering unused territory.

“Hellstrip Gardening,” an entertaining new book by Evelyn Hadden, shares ways to turn the ugly wasteland between sidewalk or driveway and the curb into lovely floral borders. These neglected spots in full sun work great for edibles, too.

April is time to use pruners and clippers. After spring bloomers bloom, trim spent blossoms, remove dead growth and generally encourage the kind of growth you prefer, always respecting the natural shape of the plant.

Fescue lawns should be in full flush of growth now. This is not a good time to fertilize them. The challenge is simply to keep up. Mowing once a week may not be enough, and even good mulching mowers may clog and leave clumps.

Collect excess clippings; they make excellent mulch in the vegetable garden. Leave your fescue tall, 3 inches or more – the highest setting on many mowers. This allows the grass to shade out weeds Reminder: Clover is not a weed, it is a living fertilizer that is a natural part of meadows and healthy lawns.

If you have not done so already, take down the cankerworm bands you put up last winter. I caught a lot of moths but have not seen a major hatch of worms, yet. If there is an outbreak, spraying home pesticides is largely futile. Just remember to band next year, with your neighbors.

The city of Charlotte will grant neighborhoods up to $3,000 for banding supplies. The application deadline is Sept. 1. Put it on your calendar now. For information, email

Friends of trees will also want to know about TreesCharlotte’s free tree giveaway from 9 to 11 a.m. April 11 at 701 Tuckaseegee Road in Charlotte. Each household is eligible to receive two free tree saplings, 6- to 10-feet tall, of diverse species. Recipients are limited to those who live inside Charlotte’s city limits – and ID is necessary – you need to be able to transport your trees, and it is first-come, first-served, according to TreesCharlotte Program Director Tammy Seigal.

TreesCharlotte is a nonprofit dedicated to increasing, diversifying and maintaining Charlotte’s urban forest. For information, visit, or email Seigal at


April varies from frosty, though usually without a hard freeze, early in the month to summer-like at the end. Sunrise at the beginning of the month is about 7:10 a.m., with sundown at about 7:45 p.m., about 12 1/2 hours of day length; at the end of the month, sunrise is about 6:35 a.m., and sundown about 8:10 p.m., about 13 1/2 hours of day length.

The average high is about 72 degrees, with average lows at 47 degrees, though there is a significant chance of frost before April 15. Normally, we get about 3 inches of rain. The moon will be full on April 4 and new on April 18. Based on El Nino patterns, temperatures are projected to be average and precipitation above average in the southeastern United States this spring.

Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Don? Email him at