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story.lead_photo.caption Seedlings started indoors fare better when moved outdoors in stages Place them outside in shade for a few hours each day for a week or two, gradually increasing their time outside. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/JANET B. CARSON)

APRIL

Our gardens are coming alive, and color is popping out all over. March was wetter than we are used to (and at times a bit cooler), which delayed some gardening activities, but there is still time to get everything done.

April is one of the best times to garden. We can plant cool season vegetables for a couple of weeks and then start on the warm-season vegetables and flowers. The weather is mild, which makes it a joy to be outside.

• Many gardeners either didn't have time, or the weather was not conducive to gardening when they did have time, and now their rose, butterfly bush and rose of Sharon plants are leafing out and haven't been pruned. There is still time to get some pruning done. Pruning after growth begins on summer-blooming shrubs will not hurt the shrub, but can delay the first flowers. In the case of butterfly bush, rose and summer blooming spirea, if you don't prune, you will have floppy, gangly plants that will not have many blooms.

• Crape myrtles are just beginning to leaf out, so again, there is still time to prune — if they need to be pruned. Don't murder them with improper pruning. Read about that here: arkansasonline.com/330crape.

• Do not prune any spring-blooming plants — they are beginning to bloom and you would cut off potential flowers. Prune the spring-bloomers after they flower.

• Pansies and violas are putting on quite a show right now, so enjoy them for another few weeks before putting in summer color.

• If you don't have winter annuals in your garden, you can start planting summer color, but choose plants wisely. Some summer annuals will tolerate lower temperatures (which we are still having at night) better than others. Petunias, begonias and marigolds will take cool weather and give you plenty of color, while lantanas, coleus and sweet potato vines would like higher temperatures.

• All summer color can start going into the garden from mid- to late April. You don't have to rush to plant. Summer annuals are sold all summer, so enjoy what winter color you have.

• Tropical flowering plants are beginning to arrive at garden centers all over the state. Tropical plants like tropical weather, warm and humid. They will not kick in and grow until temperatures rise, so again, don't be too quick to plant them outside. Those who live in the northern tier of the counties especially need to wait. Think back to last year — the first week of April showered us with snow and sleet, even in central Arkansas. Let's hope we don't have a repeat.

• If you have overwintered your tropical plants inside, gradually expose them to sunlight as you move them out at the end of the month. Cut them back at least by half, since you want to encourage new growth, which is where the flowers will be produced.

• We still have a few tulips and daffodils lingering in the garden, but spring bulbs are ending their show, making way for summer color. Unless you plan to toss your tulips and plant new ones next year, don't trim the foliage on your returning spring bulbs for 6-8 weeks: Give them time to set flowers for next spring. Then you can cut the foliage off. Mark where they are planted so you don't disturb them when you add plants this summer.

• Vegetable gardens are coming on nicely. If you planted in the fall, harvest has been underway for a while now. If you haven't planted yet, there is time. Late planting of cool vegetables means late harvesting, so it can also delay summer vegetable planting, and so plan accordingly, especially if space is limited. Lettuce is a quick return, and you can buy lettuce transplants now which speeds up the time until harvest. Now is a great time to plant green beans, greens and even some onions. As tempting as it looks with the availability of tomato and pepper plants, delay planting them until it warms up.

• Lawns are beginning to green up but it is winter weeds that are really thriving. Some gardeners want a pristine lawn without a weed in sight, while others like the early blooms of spring beauty, henbit and clover. Decide on your preference. You are getting a bit late to spray to kill the winter weeds, since blooms usually signal seeds and their season ending. Mowing to prevent as much seed set as possible will help.

HARDENING OFF

Plants or seedlings that have been grown in a greenhouse environment that is warm, humid and sunny will find the process of moving outdoors to lower temperatures and windy conditions a bit of a struggle. Hardening them off can help.

Hardening off is a process where a plant is gradually introduced to outdoor conditions. With seedlings, hardening off encourages a change from soft, tender growth to firmer and hardier stems.

While typically we think of doing this only for seedlings we have grown indoors, the same process would help with houseplants or overwintered tropical plants that we move outside. If you take them directly from a protected environment inside and move them into full sun, you may find the plants wilting or turning white from too much exposure too quickly.

For seedlings, move them outside under shade for a few hours each day for a week or two, gradually increasing their time outside and the amount of sunlight they get.

For houseplants or tropical plants, when you move them outside, first place them in a spot with morning sun or filtered sun, and gradually expose them to more light.

Hardening off also happens naturally in the fall as our outdoor plants prepare for cold winter. As day length shortens and temperatures drop, the plants begin to go into dormancy.

Read Janet Carson's blog at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet.

HomeStyle on 03/30/2019

Print Headline: Breaking ground

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