Grafting technique

Sue Jeffco, a Galveston County Master Gardener, demonstrates a grafting technique on a pecan tree.

Herman Auer/Courtesy

April is a wonderful time to enjoy the outdoor garden. Many citrus trees are in full bloom and azaleas are nearing the end of their spring bloom season. Trees are putting out their new foliage that is such a delicate green.

Hopefully, you have already planted the trees and shrubs that you want to plant for the year and are ready to concentrate on annuals, perennials, vegetables, and lawns. Here’s a checklist for keeping up with the chores while enjoying the pleasures of April.

Azaleas: As flowering finishes, evaluate your azaleas for needed pruning. April and May are good months to trim your bushes, but only do it if it is necessary. Generally, a little shaping is all that is required. Controlling size is a common reason for pruning, especially if large-growing cultivars were planted where smaller ones should have been used.

You should begin to manage the size of your azaleas when they reach the maximum desirable size. Unless you are trying to create a formal clipped hedge, avoid shearing azaleas with hedge clippers because this destroys their attractive natural shape. It is better to use hand pruners to selectively remove or shorten selected branches to achieve the desired shape and size.

First, identify the tallest or widest shoots or branches on a bush that are too large then prune the branch back a few inches inside the interior of shrub growth. When the shortened branch sprouts, the new growth will be inside the shrub creating a thicker, fuller plant. And the new growth will not immediately stick out above the rest of the bush — something that commonly happens if pruning cuts are made just back to the edge of the bush or when azaleas are sheared.

Keep pruning back the tallest and widest shoots until the shrub is the proper size. You may continue to prune occasionally as needed using this technique into the summer up until late June (early July at the very latest). After that, the chances increase that you will remove flower buds when you prune. Alternate-season-blooming azaleas, such as the Encores, have a shorter window of opportunity, and pruning on them should be done as soon as the major spring blooming period is over.

Lawns: Mid-March to mid-April is the recommended time period to fertilize lawns. A good way to determine when to fertilize is to wait until you have mowed the predominant lawn grass twice.

If you fertilize too early, you will be fertilizing the winter weeds! This allows time for the grass to green up naturally without pushing it into growth. Use a 3-1-2 ratio fertilizer (such as 15-5-10) and distribute with a broadcast (cyclone) spreader. Uniform distribution is essential to prevent light and dark streaks in the lawn.

Storing leftover seed: Many flower or vegetable seeds left over after planting the garden can be saved for the next season by closing the packets with tape or paper clips and storing in a tightly sealed glass jar in your refrigerator until needed. Adding 1 or 2 tablespoons of powdered milk in a cloth bag to reduce the humidity within the jar can also be very beneficial to maintaining long-term seed viability.

Summer annuals: One tendency shoppers have is to buy transplants of summer annuals only with open flowers. Young transplants that have few or no flowers may be a smarter purchase since these plants will grow larger before flowering. The result will be a more impressive floral display in your home garden.

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