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April has arrived and the outdoor gardening season is officially underway. Warm days in April are tempting for gardeners and property owners who wish to get outside and begin working in the yard and garden. Depending upon what you're trying to grow, planting season is here. Many cool weather crops can be sown now in the garden.

First, however, a word of caution. As tempting as warm days may be for us to get outside and complete yardwork and other activities, it's best to stay off the lawn and garden for a few weeks. Wait until your lawn is beginning to dry and show lush, fresh green growth before doing heavy raking and other activities.

Many gardeners and property owners rush to break their gardens and beds on the first warm day. However, this is a big mistake. Heavy raking and activity in the yard and garden this time of year results in compacted soil and excessive weed growth later in the season.

Millions of weed seeds in the lawn wait for spring sunshine to shower them with warmth, which results in explosive growth. By breaking away shading vegetation now, you are allowing all of those weed seeds to burst into growth. Simply waiting a few weeks until the lawn is fresh and green will prevent this from happening.

Heavy garden activity and lawn traffic this time of year also results in compacted soils, which weeds thrive upon. Wait until the yard is sufficiently dried it before completing heavy traffic activities.

In the meantime, there are plenty of fun gardening activities to keep you busy.

Seed starting

Starting seeds indoors is an activity many gardeners enjoy, allowing them to save money by purchasing plants in seed form rather than potted starters or transplants later in the season. Many annuals, herbs and garden crops can be started from seed indoors several weeks before planting in the garden. Pay attention to the information on the seed packet that outlines when to start seeds inside.

Crabgrass preventer

As temperatures warm during early April, it's time to think about applying a crabgrass preventer or if you've had problems in the past. Crabgrass preventer should be applied about the time that forsythias begin to bloom in our area. This is usually about the middle of April. Crabgrass preventer is designed to prevent crabgrass annual seeds from germinating. If you wait any longer than that, the seeds will already have germinated and the preventer is useless.

Let perennials sleep

As hard as it is to stay out of the garden in early April, it's best to let perennials sleep for at least a few more weeks, keeping them protected from unexpected frost and freezes. During mid and late April, you can begin to rake perennial beds and uncover your precious perennials.

Plant cold season crops

Garden crops that thrive during cool weather can be planted now in the garden. This includes lettuce, spinach, broccoli, carrots, radishes and potatoes. Depending upon where are you plant them, be prepared to cover in case temperatures drop too sharply during the remaining weeks of spring. Most of these can be direct sown in the garden bed.

Plant hardy annuals

Hardy annuals include beloved flowers such as pansies and violas and these can be planted now outdoors for a quick burst of spring color before bulbs and other spring bloomers begin to appear. Plant them in containers or directly in the garden bed. Again, be prepared to cover if nights become exceptionally cold or move containers inside for protection.

Hellebores, primroses

Many perennials are already blooming in our area, as well, and you can plant additional varieties out for early spring beauty in the garden. A few of the most popular April blooming perennials are hellebores, primroses, pasqueflower and native wildflowers such as hepaticas, bloodroot, prairie smoke and marsh marigold.

Compost your beds

If you didn't last fall, add a generous layer of compost to your garden beds and let it sit for a month or so before planting in May. Organic compost is one of the best materials you can add it to your garden, improving moisture retention, soil structure and aeration in the garden bed.

Enjoy your spring blooming shrubs

Many of our beautiful spring shrubs begin to bloom in April. Enjoy the beauty of forsythia, serviceberry, Magnolia and others. Add a few new spring blooming shrubs for an increasing display every spring.

Put out hummingbird and oriole feeders

Last, but not least, it's time to set out hummingbird and oriole feeders as these beloved migrant song birds are on their way and will be here soon.

The time we've been waiting for for six months is here. Take advantage of these beautiful days and enjoy the beauty of April gardening.

Find Rob Zimmer online at www.robzimmeroutdoors.com. On Facebook at www.facebook.com/RobZimmerOutdoors. Listen to Outdoors with Rob Zimmer every Saturday, 7 to 8 AM, on WHBY.

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