April Gardening To-Do List

The month of April is so encouraging with the emerging Spring bulbs But, even if the calendar tells us it is Spring, Mother Nature can be fickle with weather events in this Chicago-land area – always stay tuned into a good weather channel to keep you informed. Regardless of the contrasting weather conditions, here is a list of “chores” to do when you can get out into the garden:   

Continue with Spring Clean Up - gently raking loose debris off of the lawn and out of the garden beds where the early bulbs are emerging.

  • Why? In the lawn, anything covering the awakening grass plants will damage them. In the beds, removing leaves and debris around the bulbs allows you to enjoy the display. Do not get too vigorous and remove all of the natural mulch as it protects the later perennials from late frost damage. 
  • How? Use a flexible leaf rake in order to avoid damage of emerging plant shoots 
  • When? It is best when temperatures are above freezing, for the plants sake (and the humans!)

Spring Flowering Bulbs 

  • Rake off any wind-blown debris. 
  • Apply fertilizer to the bed as foliage peeks out. Dr. Earth Bulb Food (3-14-2) is the best analysis for spring flowering bulbs. 
  • Consider repellents (Plantskydd or Repels-All) if you fear deer or rabbits- tulips and crocus can be targets.  

Cool Season Plants to Plant Now 

  • Hellebores  
  • Pansies 
  • Violas 
  • Primrose

It is not too late to start warm season crops inside.

Count back from Frost Free Date – May 15 – to start seeds (8 weeks) 

Warm season crops  
  • Tomatoes 
  • Peppers 
  • Squash
  • Beans
  • Corn

Selecting varieties of vegetables 

Base on days until harvest, plant height, what you like to eat and the size of your gardening space    

“Tools” to use:              

  • Peat Moss or Coir based seed starting products (pots, seed trays)  
  • Seed Starting Potting Mix  
  • Seed tray heating mat for quicker germination  Watering can  
  • Liquid plant fertilizer – Dyna-Gro GROW 7-9-5 N-P-K plus 11 micros.
Bed Prep for Annual and Vegetable Beds      
  • Apply 1-2” of organic matter (Chalet leaf mulch or organic compost, cotton burr compost, dehydrated manure, your own compost) over the surface of beds. Till or dig in to incorporate.       
  • Apply an organic fertilizer like Dr. Earth Tomato, Vegetable & Herb (5-7-3), Dr. Earth Bud & Bloom (4-10-7), Espoma Plant-Tone (5-3-3) or Holly-Tone (4-3-4).        

To consider planting as soon as soil thaws, target April 15: Frost hardy veggies include: lettuce, cabbage, kale, spinach, onions, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and root crops.

Frost hardy annuals include: pansies, violas, snapdragons, stocks, ranunculus, sweet peas, alyssum, nemesia, diascia, dianthus, bacopa, lobelia and osteospermum.     

Mulch – be prepared to apply mulch, but wait until the soil warms up –if applied too soon, the plants will not “wake up”/ emerge until later.

  • Leaf Mulch 
  • Cotton Burr 
  • Compost 
  • Shredded Pine Mulch 
  • Shredded Hardwood Mulch 
  • One Step Mulch (new) – 2 composted barks, gypsum, iron sulfate and low ratio fertilizer


  • Finish cutting back anything you left up for winter interest. Do as early as possible to avoid damaging emerging perennials.       
  • Some evergreen perennials may need to be neatened up and winter-tattered leaves removed. Ex: Bergenia, ferns, Hellebores, Heucheras.       
  • Don’t do anything to: Creeping phlox, Oriental poppy, Iberis 
  • Put hoops, rings, peony cages, and support structures that plants have to grow through in place now.     
  • Apply organic fertilizers like Dr. Earth Bud & Bloom Booster (4-10-7) or Espoma Flower-tone (3-4-5) per label directions. 
  • Apply 1-2” layer of growing season mulch. Ex: Chalet leaf mulch, cotton burr compost.     
  • Consider preventative applications of fungicides to disease-susceptible perennials as stems emerge from dormancy.
As soon as planting beds are cleared, apply pre-emergent control products before weed seedlings start to germinate with the warming soil temperature 
  • Preen or Corn Gluten Meal    

Consider repellents (Plantskyyd or Repels-All) if you’ve had deer or rabbit issues. High profile spring targets are newly emerging: Tulips, Crocus, roses and early perennials   

Public Enemy #1 – Rabbits  - Animal Damage

Cut down ornamental grasses 

Cut down peonies and irises 

Apply plant supports early, so plants can grow into them and not flop   

  • Plan to protect plants susceptible to fungal problems:
  • Apple Scab – Crabapple, Apple, Cotoneaster      
  • Black Spot - Roses 
  • Rust - Roses 
  • Botrytis Bud Blight - Peonies 
  • Volutella Stem Blight – Boxwood and Pachysandra 
  • Powdery Mildew – Lilac, Monarda, Roses, Phlox and more 
  • Patch Diseases – Lawns/turf    

 Products to the rescue (the key is prevention) ·      

  • Apply while plants are healthy to prevent inoculation 
  • Systemic products stay in the leaves for 30 days even with rainfall 
  • Start at bud break 
  • Repeat if weather stays cold and rainy    
Best products:       
  • Systemic Fungicides (foliar sprays)       
  • Systemic Combos (soil drenches) 
  • Earth Friendly Natural Fungicides 
  • Copper sulfate 
  • Copper octanoate (Copper Soap) 
  • Sulfur (elemental)

  • Summer flowering bulbs to “pot up” now for a “head start”              
  • Dahlias             
  • Begonias, tuberous             
  • Iris                   
  • Caladiums              
  • Alocasia & Calocasia (Elephant ears)              

Most common question – “How can I fix my lawn?” 

What to use & when? 

  1. Scotts Triple Action for seeding (or Scott’s Step One for Seeding) – April 15 
  2. Wait 2 weeks for grass plants to wake up 
  3. Overseed bare areas 
  4. Espoma Lawn Fertilizer – May 31 to June 15    


  • Check for vole damage       
  • Check for salt damage on turf & evergreens. 
  • Apply gypsum to soil to try and counteract harmful effect of sodium-based deicing products, water in well  
  • Raking- Remove leaves and winter litter as needed (Rake up the excess dry grass, leaves, and twigs and help your lawn breath without damaging your lawn)   
  • Fertilizing- First application can go down as turf is coming out of dormancy. Examples: Espoma Lawn Fertilizer (18-0-3), Nature Safe (18-0-4), Espoma Organic Lawn Food (9-0-0), Milorganite (5-2-0).  Consider including a crabgrass pre-emergent.  Best combo product is Scotts Step One for Seeding  ·      
  • Seeding- Whether overseeding thin lawns or seeding bare areas create shallow furrows to catch the seed. Don’t bury the seed and don’t cover with peat moss! 
  • Prevent fungal lawn diseases early before they inoculate the roots, crowns and blades   
Early Fertilizer & Weed PreventativeScotts Step One for Seeding 

  • A.I. - Mesotrione 
  • Prevents creeping bent grass 
  • Prevents nimblewill 
  • Kills nutsedge 
  • Prevents seed germination of most weeds 
  • Does not prevent grass seed germination
  • Excellent nutrient levels

Burnt out chlorophyll April 14 

Burnt out chlorophyll April 30

How thick to spread the grass seed: Hot Dog Bun example of Correct Grass Seed Coverage


  • As daytime temperatures stabilize in the 40s and the overwintering mulch thaws, start deconstructing the mound. Spread to use as summer mulch. 
  • Prune when reddish-pink buds start swelling enough to give you a sense of what’s alive and what isn’t. Look for the junction where dead (brown) tips become green stems. 
  • The harder you prune, the more stems you will get. Prune to an outward facing, swelling bud on green stems to direct growth. 
  • Dispose of any leaf debris from the previous year to reduce potential disease start-up. 
  • Make first fertilizer application (see Perennial fertilizer recommendations or Bayer All-in-One Rose & Flower Care- a fertilizer, insect and disease control) when you have fully opened leaves. 
  • If your rose bed is unmulched apply 1-2” Chalet leaf mulch, cotton burr compost or shredded pine mulch.  
  • Prune to promote “new wood” 
  • Prune canes to 8 to 12 inches long
  • Leave only 3-5 to encourage new canes to emerge from the roots 
  • Many more flowers will be produced as a result ·      Systemic Combos (soil drenches)
  • Dr. Earth - 60 days - Fish waste sourced so naturally high in Calcium - Slow released, long term nutrients

Ground Cover 

  • If you covered with evergreen boughs for winter remove now. 
  • Cut out/back any winter burn to English ivy. Thin, if necessary, to improve air circulation. 
  • Remove as much leaf accumulation as possible in all ground covers to reduce the likelihood of future disease problems.   
  • Check: Euonymus for scale and Pachysandra for stem blight. Respond accordingly.
  • Pachysandra with Volutella Stem Blight and Leaf Blight 
  • Pachysandra with Euonymus scale 
  • Bio Advanced 3-in-1 Insect, Disease & Mite Control 
  • Best fertilizer for most groundcover plantings – Holly-Tone (1#/20sq ft)
  •  Systemic Fungicides (foliar sprays)
  • Apply a pre-emergent weed control – Preen

Trees & Shrubs 

  • Remove tree wrap, protective trunk cylinders, burlap screens. 
  • Check for broken branches, dead plants. Any time there is dead wood it needs to be removed. Use proper pruning techniques.
  • Maintenance pruning rule- If it blooms before July 1 it’s blooming on last summer’s growth and shouldn’t be pruned unless you’re willing to sacrifice flowers. 
  • If it blooms after July 1 it’s blooming on spring and early summer growth and can be pruned late winter or early spring with no loss of flowers
  • Know your plants, learn their susceptibilities. Ex: Older crabapples tend to be scab-prone (disease). It can be controlled with preventative fungicide applications as the leaves start emerging. 
  • Apply sulfur to acid-loving plants: azaleas, blueberries, hollies, rhododendrons and hydrangeas (if you want pink varieties to be blue) to acidify our alkaline soils. Must be applied directly to bare soil, not over mulch, to affect a change in pH. 
  • Fertilize as desired with Espoma Tree-tone (6-3-2) or Holly-tone (4-3-4).
  • After winter debris has been cleared it’s time to beef up mulch. Apply a 2” layer of shredded hardwood or pine, chunk bark, leaf mulch or cotton burr compost. Leave a donut-sized opening around the trunks of trees or the stems of shrubs. 
  • Apply pre-emergent weed control to beds before weeds show up.     

Always know that you can send samples or photos to a diagnostician - I love my Microscope!    

Or schedule a consult at the Plant Clinic.

Jennifer Brennan 

Jennifer Brennan is the Horticulture Information Specialist, advising and coaching gardeners at Chalet for over 30 years.