April showers bring may flowers

The Daily Ardmoreite
Pat Neasbitt
Master Gardener

Spring has officially arrived, and our last frost date in southern Oklahoma is officially April 15. The best thing to do is watch the weather. Since gardening is always a gamble, I go ahead and start planting instead of waiting until after April 15. There will still be time to replant even if a freak freeze occurs, a tornado blows through, or it rains so much it drowns everything – all things that have happened in recent years in Oklahoma.

If you couldn't wait and already planted tender plants such as tomatoes, keep a few old blankets handy to throw over the cages or on top of an empty five-gallon bucket turned up over the plants in case of light frosts. Gallon milk jugs filled with water and surrounding the plants absorb heat during a sunny day and provide some protection from cold at night. Wrapping a tomato cage with heavy clear plastic makes a mini greenhouse - it's still a good idea to throw something over it if the temperature is going to get down into the 40's or below.

Flowers: Leave the Leaves on daffodils. Deadhead daffodils so energy will go into bulbs for next year instead of making seeds - just pinch off the dead flowers and seed pods right under them - not the leaves. Do not cut, mow, braid, or wad up the foliage until it starts to turn brown – usually the end of May. The leaves must have sun for photosynthesis. Plant daffodils to the back of the flowerbed where they can remain undisturbed and their foliage can be hidden behind other flowers. Peonies and daylilies are good to plant in front of daffodils because the daffodils will finish blooming before the peonies and daylilies really start growing. You can plant daffodils under trees and shrubs because they bloom before most leaves are out.

Vegetables: Harden off tomato and pepper transplants by setting them outside a few hours a day protected from sun and wind before planting into the garden. Wait until the end of April to plant okra, cantaloupes, watermelons, and cucumbers until the soil warms enough for them to germinate and grow. You can check all weather conditions, including soil temperatures at different depths, on the Oklahoma Mesonet site.

Landscape: Clean hummingbird feeders with mild soap and water and fill with one-part sugar to four parts water. Dissolve sugar in a little boiling water first, just like making sweet tea. I just pour it over ice cubes to cool before adding to hummingbird feeders. If you’re buying new feeders this year, look for glass ones instead of plastic and make sure they have landing places for the little birds. Do not use red food coloring, and never use honey because it can cause a bacterial infection that is lethal to hummers.

Walk around your yard daily to enjoy it and keep on top of problems. Always use IPM (Integrated Pest Management) to control insects and weeds. That means you don’t immediately spray poison on everything if you see a few insects. You may be seeing the good bugs that are there to take care of the bad bugs. Give nature a chance to take care of the problem first. If the birds and beneficial insects don’t work fast enough for you, at least try environmentally friendly controls such as hand-picking insects, spraying with water from the hose, or spraying with insecticidal soap or Neem oil. As far as controlling weeds, hand pulling, hoeing, and mulching are the best methods for you, the wildlife, and your yard.

Nurseries are filling up with plants to entice gardeners now. Here are a few tips to remember when shopping for annuals and perennials.

• Good soil is the key to growing good plants, and compost is the best thing to improve your soil.

• MULCH, MULCH, MULCH! It makes the soil cooler, keeps down weeds, conserves moisture, breaks down to improve the soil, feeds the plants and beneficial soil organisms, keeps soil from splashing on plants and spreading disease when it rains, and looks good in beds and borders.

• Don’t buy wilted plants – they never fully recover and live up to their potential.

• You can buy smaller plants - they grow and catch up quickly and cost less.

• Buy plants in full bud, not full bloom – you want them to bloom in your yard, not just at the nursery.

• DO NOT use insecticides – they kill butterflies, birds, and beneficial insects. Don't use Bug Zappers - they lure the good guys and kill them.

• Don’t sprinkle. Water deeply and less often so roots can go deep and survive the heat, drought, and hot winds of Oklahoma summers.

• Deadhead to keep plants blooming. Their goal in life is to reproduce by going to seed. If you keep the seed heads cut off, especially on annuals, they will keep on blooming. Happy Spring Gardening!