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April Garden Checklist

Learn what to plant, get maintenance advice and troubleshoot gardening woes with an expert.

By Kelly Young

What to Plant

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PEANUTS–Scan grocery stores now for raw peanuts to plant, eat or feed to the crows. Plant seeds, which have been removed from the shell, about 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart. Protect new plantings with floating row covers, available at garden supply stores, to keep birds and rabbits from eating the seeds and newly emerged seedlings. Remove the covers once plants reach 8 to 10 inches in height. Peanuts will develop underground after the plants bloom in early summer and will be ready for harvest in September.

WARM-SEASON VEGETABLES–Transplant peppers and sow seeds of okra, watermelon, cantaloupe, yardlong beans and sweet potatoes. Give yardlong beans vertical support, such as a trellis, to preserve space in the garden.

FLOWERS–Sow seeds of cosmos, zinnia, sunflower, blanket flower and coreopsis, all of which are members of the sunflower family. Study seed packets to understand the

Spring is the best time to plant peanuts, which thrive in Arizona’s alkaline-rich soil.

height of each type at maturity, and plan your planting so that taller varieties don’t shade shorter ones or block your view of them.

BASIL–Sow basil seeds in a container or bed that receives at least eight hours of sunlight each day to encourage vigorous, bushy growth.

CACTI AND SUCCULENTS–Most cacti and succulents grow in the partial shade of neighboring plants in their natural habitats, so avoid putting them into full sun without some protection. Plant agaves, yuccas, hesperaloes, aloes and cacti in well-drained soil that gets some shade from a nearby tree or fence. To check for drainage, dig a hole, fill it with water and let it drain. Fill the hole again; if it drains the second time in less than eight hours, the soil is well-drained. If it doesn’t, keep trying other locations in the yard.

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SUMMER-BLOOMING BULBS–Plant bulbs of dahlia, begonia, gladiolus, cannas and caladium (which don’t bloom but are loved for their striking foliage) for summer color. Dig the holes 2 to 2.5 times the length of the bulb and sprinkle some bone meal in the bottom to add a boost of phosphorus, which supports and promotes blooming.

TREES–Arizona’s middle elevations are the best places in the state to grow magnolia trees. The southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) can reach a height of nearly 50 feet. Place the tree in a location where it will not interfere with structures, such as roofs or driveways, and is protected from afternoon sun. The trunks of magnolia trees are prone to damage if exposed to intense sun rays for extended periods of time. To encourage healthy roots, avoid planting magnolias any deeper than the top of the root ball, and don’t let them dry out.

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POTATOES–Plant seed potatoes, which aren’t actually seeds but instead chunks of the tuber that contain the “eye,” or node from which new shoots will grow. ‘Magic Molly’ has purple flesh and skin that maintains its color throughout the cooking process. For an excellent baking potato, try traditional russet variety ‘Gold Rush.’ And if you are looking for a red-skinned potato, search for ‘Dark Red Norland,’ a variety good for boiling and roasting. Cover new plantings with floating row covers to keep pests, such as Colorado potato beetles and aphids, away.

FLOWERS–Transplant cold-tolerant pansies and violas into garden beds or containers. Use the blossoms in salads to add a colorful promise of warmer weather. Transplant cold-tolerant pansies and violas into garden beds or containers. Use the blossoms in salads to add a colorful promise of warmer weather.

Edible pansies add  a colorful note to fresh salads.

Garden Maintenance

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SCOUT FOR PESTS–Warm weather brings pests into our gardens and landscapes. Keep your eye out for feeding damage on leaves and flowers, which may look like ragged holes. Scan new shoots for clusters of tiny yellow or gray aphids feeding near the tips. Use insecticidal soap on the plant to treat infestations, and always follow label directions.

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PROTECT AGAINST SUNBURN–Longer, brighter days can lead to sunburned trunks on citrus and other thin-barked fruit trees. Loosely wrap tender trunks with burlap, or whitewash with a white water-based house paint; specialty paints labeled for this purpose can also be found at most garden centers. If wrapping trunks, check to be sure the wrap isn’t too tight against the stem and constricting growth.

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FERTILIZE–Feed roses with a complete fertilizer that includes nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron and zinc to support new leaf growth and blooms. The amount of fertilizer to apply depends on the product, so follow label instructions. Activate the fertilizer with irrigation that penetrates
2 feet into the soil to ensure the plant food dissolves and is available to the roots for uptake. A soil probe can be used to gauge the level of water absorption.

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PREPARE GARDEN SOIL–Remove any weeds or other debris from garden beds and amend the soil with compost in preparation for May planting. Apply 3 to 4 inches of compost to the surface and mix it into the upper 6 to 8 inches of soil.

Garden Solutions

We have an enormous century plant in our natural desert landscape. The tips of the leaves have very long spines that I consider hazardous. We are hosting an outdoor party later this month and would like to eliminate the possibility of someone getting stabbed. What can we do to keep our guests safe, other than cordoning off that part of the yard?

I saw a solution to this problem at a Maricopa County Master Gardener home tour a few years ago. Instead of cutting off the lower leaves entirely, which would make the plants look like pineapples and compromise their overall health, the clever homeowner only snipped off the spine tips. This technique maintained the form and integrity of the agaves while protecting the hundreds of strangers who would be wandering through her landscape from being punctured.  To make a clean cut without damaging the rest of the leaf, use sharp bypass shears, which have two cutting surfaces, similar to scissors. Be careful not to cut into the fleshy part of the leaf, as this will create a point of entry for bacteria that may damage the plant. Remove all of the spines from leaves that face areas where there will be foot traffic.

We recently bought an older home in Paradise Valley. The front yard was blanketed in African daisies a few weeks ago, and now there are a bunch of dead, dry plants. Are these a fire hazard? What should we do about them?

Dry African daisy plants can potentially carry fire from one location to another, and some homeowners associations require that dead wildflowers be removed, both due to the fire hazard and the general unsightliness of the spent plants. If you enjoy the African daisies and want them to come back next year, use a string trimmer to chop them down and leave them to decompose in place. If you’re not too thrilled about the daisies, it’s best to pull them up by the roots, put them in a trash bag and send them to the landfill. This will decrease the amount of seed available for sprouting next winter.

I am aware that it’s good to add coffee grounds to a compost pile, but what about the paper filters? Should they be disposed of separately?

As you already know, coffee is an excellent ingredient for compost. Because coffee is acidic, it helps to neutralize alkaline desert soil. Although paper coffee filters also can be composted, they take longer to break down than the grounds. Paper may act as a wick, pulling water to the outside of the compost heap and causing it to dry out rapidly. If possible, shred the filters into small pieces, which will speed up their decomposition. Keep the pile moist, similar in feel to a wrung-out wet sponge. Stir it up with a garden fork about once a week, and stop adding new matter once your initial pile is about 3 feet high and wide to ensure that all materials have a chance to completely break down before use.


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