Fabulous April

The perennial borders in January and in April. Photos by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

Everyone who has a garden should be puffed up with pride during the month of April. The plants have returned from their annual slumber with a bang, the temperatures are still mild, and chances are that your garden has received some rain. Contrast this month with July, when the heat and humidity are overpowering, leaving plants with a seemingly unquenchable thirst.

For the first two weeks of April, white is the preeminent color. Viburnums, dogwoods and various fruit trees have replaced the vibrant redbuds and sasanquas camellias. Following the white phrase is what I call the colorful one with roses and peonies leading the way. My last camellia to bloom, C. sasanqua ‘Jacks’ holds on to its long-lasting blooms until the last week of this month.

The roses are breathtaking and happy. Fertilized in March, they are at their most profuse and relaxed stage. Their foliage is clean, their demands are few, and I cluck around like a mother hen admiring her chicks. We do not prune back the roses in a heavy manner as I have learned that different roses grow to different heights.

An example of this is ‘Dark Desire’, a Kordes grandiflora rose that theoretically should be a mere four feet in height yet mine seems happiest ranging over six feet and now rests against a handsome trellis. The canes kept on growing to massive lengths in a short period of time so we decided to follow her wishes. Since one is not supposed to prune more than one-third of the rose growth, it’s impossible to get her back to a three-foot size without endangering her existence – and I am far too fond of her to take that chance.

Euscaphis japonica, the Korean sweetheart tree, now sports massive tiny flowers that will eventually become heart-shaped red seed pods, assuming good pollination. This is the first year that the flowers have appeared in such large clumps, leaving me almost giddy in anticipation.

Peonies, Alaska’s only horticultural export, grab the stage during the second half of April. The first to bloom is my species tree peony, Paeonia ostii, followed by the four Itoh (intersectional) peonies that inhabit the garden.

With its genetic mixture of tree and herbaceous peonies in its background, the Itoh peony doesn’t reach the height of the tree peony, nor does it look as though it is exhausted from having just given birth as so many of the herbaceous peonies do after flowering. My one complaint about peonies in general, is that their bloom period is quite short, somewhere between two to three weeks. However, the Itoh peonies remain handsome green plants throughout most of the summer. Just remember that some varieties might disappear as early as August, whereas others will stick around.

It always surprises me how quickly the perennial borders fill in during April. In January, they are rather sparse (understatement), leaving me to imagine that I might have some extra room to fill in with new plants. By the end of the first week in April, the returning plants reminded me that there wasn’t an inch of free space, as the right photo at the top attests.

Hostas are always the sleepyheads who are slow to decide whether it’s worth their while to return. They typically grow a bit wider during their first three or four years of age so I’m always surprised at their size. When planting hostas, try to remember that while they are sold as shade plants, they really want light, preferably morning light. What they don’t relish is access to the harsh afternoon summer sun. It won’t kill them but it will ruin their appearance – and after all, we grow hostas for their appearance.

Opium poppies are non-existent in the garden this year, alas. These annuals are spectacular; the key to having them return is to allow the seedpods to burst open on their own towards the end of April or the beginning of May. Unfortunately, last year the seedpods were cut off by mistake before any had spewed their seeds, leaving me without any poppies this year. Consequently, I will try to buy some seeds to spread around, hoping that they will grab hold for the following April. Poppies and mulch do not mix well so find a sunny area that is relatively free of mulch.

My advice is to enjoy and savor April and May as July is quickly approaching.

A request came in asking about the impending death of some crapemyrtles. I had not heard about this – and neither had Google, so I did the only thing a gardener in need of an answer does: I sent an e-mail query to Tony Avent.

His reply was quick and to the point: “I think there seems to be some confusion since crape myrtles are not dying from any diseases.  Crape myrtle bark scale is the latest pest, which is moving into the area from Texas.  It should only effect stressed plants, which include those butchered by crape murderers.  You can find many articles on-line about it.

Hope this helps.” As always, my thanks to his quick response and his willingness to answer imponderable questions.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at howyourgardengrows@icloud.com.

This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocalReporter.press

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