“April is the cruelest month,” or so says T. S. Eliot. But even he goes on to mention lilacs and “stirring dull roots with spring rain.” April may be wet—some Northeasterners call this “mud season”—but even though snowstorms are still possible/inevitable, there’s no holding back spring or a gardener now. Daffodils and crocus trumpet the season, migratory birds start making their way back, and gardeners can’t help but respond to the crack of the starting gun. Just remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself. There’s plenty of time to do it all.
Start tidying up. Cut back last year’s stems and seed heads, and either mulch in place around the crowns of your perennials and shrubs, or add the debris to the compost pile. If you left a cover of leaf mulch on your garden over the winter, gently lighten the load to give new growth some light and air.
Give your plants a nutritional boost. Top-dress the beds with compost if you didn’t do it last fall. There’s no need to dig it in—it will work in as you …
Divide and transplant perennials that bloom after Father’s Day. Hold off on dividing spring bloomers until fall, but make a to-do list now.
Go shopping for perennials, shrubs, and trees if you have gaps to fill. Just don’t forget to leave some vacancies for annuals and tender perennials.
Try to get ahead of the weeds. Use the leverage of moist soil to evict the unwelcome, roots and all.
Make a spring bulb wish list. Visit public gardens, drop in on friends, and peer through garden gates to get ideas. Identify the spots in your garden that need a jolt of color, and aim for a succession of blooms from March into June.
Kristin Green is author of Plantiful: Start Small, Grow Big with 150 Plants that Spread, Self-sow, and Overwinter, and gardens in Bristol, Rhode Island.