Wherever you are in the West, this is your essential to-do list for planting and maintaining your spring garden

Your Essential Gardening To-Do List for April
Thomas J. Story



Plant blackberries, grapes, hardy kiwis, raspberries, strawberries, and tree fruits. Bare-root stock is often gone, so purchase plants in containers.

Set out seedlings of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chives, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, parsley, spinach, and Swiss chard. Also plant seed potatoes and rhubarb. Sow arugula, beets, carrots, cilantro, peas, and radishes.

Plant permanent landscape favorites, including cherries, crabapples, dogwoods, lilacs, rhododendrons, and roses. Among climbers, check out fiveleaf akebia, clematis, climbing hydrangea, honeysuckle, passion vine, and wisteria.


Dig slow-release organic fertilizer into the backfill of everything you plant this month.

Northern California


When plotting your vegetable bed, group plants with similar irrigation needs; you’ll save water and keep crops healthy. Basil, cucumbers, and tomatoes all need consistent water. Herbs such as rosemary, sage, and thyme need only occasional water once they’re established.


Early in the month, sow seeds of quick-to-harvest cool-season vegetables such as carrots, mesclun lettuces, radishes, and spinach. Late in the month, sow seeds of summer crops such as beans, corn, and squash. Hold off on planting tomato starts until nighttime temperatures stay above 55˚.

Plant dahlia tubers. A few weeks before planting, prepare the bed by digging an area to 1 foot deep and adding lots of compost. In areas with a snail-and-slug problem, start tubers inside and transplant outside when they reach 8 inches; elsewhere, lay tubers on their side in a hole 4 to 6 inches deep and water sparingly until leaves sprout. Watering too much before they sprout can cause rot.


Divide crowded clumps of summer-flowering perennials such as aster and daylily. Dig up the plants, cut them into sections with a spade, then replant.

Care for citrus by pruning out frost-damaged branches and fertilizing. For varieties that ripen in winter such as navel oranges, do a final harvest to remove lingering fruit from the tree; for varieties that ripen year-round, such as Meyer lemons, clear out the oldest fruit to allow for new growth.


Spend an afternoon at Annie’s Annuals & Perennials in Richmond, California. The nursery is a playground for plant lovers and its expertise is unmatched. Alternatively, get their catalog or order online.

Southern California


Plant summer-blooming bulbs, corms, and tubers, including acidanthera, agapanthus, tuberous begonias, caladiums, calla lilies, dahlias, daylilies, gladiolus, iris, ixia, montbretias, tiger flowers, tuberoses, and watsonias. Feed with a tablespoon of balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) an inch below each bulb.

Plant tender avocados, citrus, kiwis, kumquats, and pomegranates now through June. In frost-free areas, also try cherimoya, guava, mango, and passion fruit. Choose dwarf varieties for containers.

Lure bees to pollinate your fruits and veggies. These bee magnets need only moderate water: agastache, ‘Mönch’ aster, catmint, lavender, rudbeckia, and Salvia chamaedryoides.


Feed trees, shrubs, groundcover, perennials, and other permanent plants. Try using a fertilizer containing iron on all plants, not just the chlorotic ones. Use Best Super Iron (9-9-9 with 11 percent iron) to lower pH and brighten flower colors. Apply at half strength and water well after applying.


If you want to refresh or expand the fruit trees in your garden, check out Four Winds Growers. This California nursery specializes in dwarf trees that are perfect for a garden or containers. Trees can be ordered online (fourwindsgrowers.com).



To make an impact, cluster together barrel cactus—including red-spined Ferocactus pringlei and yellow-spined Echinocactus grusonii. Plant in full sun.

Western gardeners don’t often get to enjoy the thirsty redbud tree, but the Mexican variety (Cercis canadensis mexicana) is ideal for shady northern exposures in the desert southwest. Tough, with blue-green, heart-shaped leaves and magenta flowers, it’s compact enough to fit into courtyard spaces.


Adjust irrigation timers. As temperatures increase, so do the water needs of your garden. To give plants just the right amount, adjust the timer by increasing the number of days per week it operates, but not the number of minutes per cycle.



Are critters causing trouble in your garden? Try deer- and rabbit-resistant perennial flowers, including agastache, artemisia, lavender, monarda, ornamental oregano, Russian sage, salvia, and yarrow.

Get help with pests by interspersing chervil, cilantro, and fennel among your vegetables. These herbs attract beneficial parasitic and predatory wasps that kill bad bugs and larvae.


Prune winter-blooming shrubs once they stop flowering. These include forsythias, silver sagebrush (Artemisia cana), white forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum), winter daphnes, winter jasmine, and witch hazels.

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