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April Gardening Projects
by Jerry Filipski
by Jerry Filipski


Gerald (Jerry) Filipski is the gardening columnist for the Edmonton Journal, a position he has enjoyed as a freelance writer for the past 12 years. Jerry also writes for Canadian Gardening, the new Alberta Gardener as well as for the lifestyle magazine of P&O ferries. Jerry also does numerous public speaking engagements including some major gardening conferences and workshops as well as question and answer sessions for Wal-Mart and Rona.

April 5, 2009

April is a month that can cause some consternation for the gardener. The month can be chilly and yet has bursts of true spring days that get the gardening sense tingling. The ground is not thawed sufficiently to do much soil work but there are many other chores the gardener can perform in anticipation of the real spring.

Now is an excellent time to take a walk around the yard surveying any winter damage you can observe. Prune off any broken branches. Stop and take the time to look carefully at your shrubs and trees. Are they growing into the shapes and forms you wanted? Are they getting too large? Are they infringing on fences or power lines? Are they overgrown with weak crotch joints? Now is the time to complete that pruning with the exception of maples and birches which are best left for pruning in the summer or fall.

While surveying your yard, take a moment to consider your beds and any changes you have been considering. April is a good time to get out with a measuring tape and a garden hose and lay out any new borders you are planning or amending any existing ones. Lay the hose in the shape of the border to help you visualize the changes or cut lines.

Check any hedges you may have. Are they looking ragged and in need of attention? Now is the time to cutback and trim and hedges that are ragged before they begin growth for the new year. If you have been putting off painting that fence because of infringing growth from shrubs. Now is the time to do it since the plants are dormant.

If you can access perennial borders that are dry, now is also a good time to clean up the perennial border. Cut the tops off herbaceous perennials but leave any winter mulch in place. As we all know, April can be unpredictable and you don't want to lose a delicate perennial by exposing it to the freeze and thaw cycles. The warming of the soil will encourage new growth if the mulch is removed and this tender growth is very prone to frost damage.

If the lawn is dry enough to allow you to walk on it without compacting it you can rake off any debris that has accumulated as well as allowing all important air to penetrate to the lower reaches of the grass. Rake the lawn slowly and carefully if still damp as to avoid pulling out roots.

If you are considering getting more involved in container gardening you may be interested in the following project that details building hypertufa troughs and containers.

Hypertufa simulates a 'natural plant pot'. It is aesthetically appealing and very functional. Moss grows readily on the hypertufa adding to the natural appeal.

Hypertufa consists of 1-2 parts of sifted peat moss, 1 part coarse sand or fine grit and 1 part cement. Add sufficient water to form a thick but workable paste. You can use this mixture to cover an old sink or tub as long as 4-5 drainage holes are made. You can also construct your own hypertufa troughs by building 2 simple wooden boxes in the dimensions you need for your garden. Make one box slightly larger by 6 cm (2.5 in) than the other box. Coat the inside of the large box and the outside of the smaller box with oil to keep the hypertufa from sticking. You may need to apply a few coats of oil as it may be absorbed by the wood of the box. Try using a kitchen baking spray. Fill the bottom of the larger box to a depth of 2.5 cm ( 1 in) with hypertufa mix. Press in place several wooden dowels in the hypertufa to allow you to make drainage holes later. Center the smaller box inside the larger box. Fill the cavity between the 2 boxes with hypertufa. Make sure you tamp the mixture down as you add more to eliminate air pockets.

Cover the boxes and hypertufa with plastic and allow to set for approximately one week. Do not allow the hypertufa to freeze. Once the hypertufa has set dismantle the outside box carefully. If you notice the hypertufa has attached itself to the box carefully separate it with a hammer and sharp chisel. Knock down the inside box in the same manner. You should be left with a square box of hypertufa. To make the hypertufa look even more natural try scrubbing the exterior with a wire brush to roughen up the surface. To encourage the growth of moss on the exterior of the box try painting it with liquid manure.

You can use these hypertufa boxes for a variety of plantings. They look especially nice with groupings of alpine rockery plants in them. They can also be used as container gardens for flowers or vegetables. The material is more lightweight than concrete planters and can be moved to any location. Try a grouping of hypertufa planters around a patio or deck. The natural appearance allows them to blend into many landscape schemes. Once the moss takes hold the exterior will be covered in a lovely green color making it even more natural in appearance.

Try this easy and economical project on those boring April weekends when the soil is still frozen and you have no gardening to do. You can create some areas of interest with these planters and as we all know, interest is what makes the garden work. The more little pockets of interest we can create, the more appealing the garden.

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