Now that April is here, your garden is growing in leaps and bounds. But so are the weeds! And the bugs! The warm breezes and sunny days that are helping your lovelies to flourish are doing the very same thing for your garden “enemies”. Nature makes no distinction between a wilderness and a garden. People are the only ones that do that.
This is one more excellent reason to make sure you take a few minutes everyday (or at least 3-4 times a week) to walk through the garden. Along the way you can enjoy fragrance, the colors, the growth and changes. You can make observations, notice what’s doing well, and what needs a helping hand. In this way you catch any problems while they’re small, before they get out of hand. As you are strolling around, take special note of the following:
Weeds. You’ll notice that weeds are cropping up everywhere right now– in the garden beds, in your lawn, in the cracks in your driveway. Get rid of them while they’re young, before they set seed. The best way to cope with annual leafy weeds (like purslane, spurge, knotweed, and clover), while causing the least amount of damage to the surrounding “good” plants, is to pull them out by hand, one at a time. It’s really not that hard, nor that time-consuming. In fact, I find weeding to be kind of mindlessly relaxing and therapeutic. If you do it frequently, you’ll never have to handle too much at one time. Try to devote about 5 minutes a day; that way you won’t strain your back or get a sunburn. Be careful to remove as much of the root system as possible, since anything you leave behind will quickly re-sprout and you will simply end up with stronger, thicker weeds as a result. Don’t leave the pulled-out weeds lying around on the damp ground, or they’ll take hold again. And don’t put them in your compost pile; throw them in the trash. Use a screwdriver or a dandelion weeder to dig out the deeper tap roots of perennial weeds like dandelion. Be especially diligent and careful with weeds that grow from rhizomes or bulbs, like quack grass, oxalis, and nutsedge. Try not to break the little bulbs, or leave bits of them behind; they’ll be sure to survive underground and come up again. Use a sharp-edged hoe or scuffle hoe to deal with a larger area, like between rows of vegetables, or a patch of annual bluegrass or bindweed growing in a sunny corner of the yard. Hoeing also helps with loosening the top couple of inches of soil and improving water retention. Just be gentle around the roots of large trees.
Keep an eye out for snails and slugs. This is the time of year when they can do significant damage to strap-leafed plants like fortnight lily and agapanthus. Look for them in the early morning or in the evening when they’re most active, and hand-pick them (use gardening gloves if you’re squeamish). Dispose of them by dropping in a pail of water, or tying them up inside of a plastic garbage bag.
Finally, watch for aphids. Aphids, like snails, are most prevalent in early spring; they will be less of an issue as soon as the temperatures warm up, but in the meantime they can do a lot of damage if they’re aren’t kept under control. You can strip them off the leaves and stems by hand. (Wear a pair of thin disposable latex gloves if you don’t want to touch them.) Or dislodge them with a strong spray of water from the hose, making sure to spray the undersides of the leaves. This is only a temporary solution, but your goal is simply to knock them back for a while. Aphids are always going to be there, but you can keep them in check.