April showers bring May flowers to Oklahoma

Master Gardener Pat Neasbitt Guest columnist

I certainly hope we get some rain this month. It has been a very dry winter, and our plants are going to suffer this growing season if we don’t get quite a bit of rain. We had so much rain it was more like floods the last few years in June. Who knows what this spring will bring.

Our last frost date in Oklahoma is officially April 15. The best thing to do is watch the weather. If you couldn’t wait and already planted tender plants such as tomatoes, keep a few old blankets handy to throw over the cages or on top of an empty five-gallon bucket turned up over the plants in case of light frosts. Gallon milk jugs filled with water and surrounding the plants absorb heat during a sunny day and protect from cold at night. Wrapping a tomato cage with heavy clear plastic makes a mini greenhouse – it’s still a good idea to throw something over it if the temperature is going to get down into the 40s or below.

Flowers: Deadhead daffodils so energy will go into bulbs for next year instead of making seeds – just pinch off the dead flowers and seed pods right under them – not the leaves. Do not cut, mow, braid, or wad up the foliage until it starts to turn brown – usually at the end of May. The leaves must have sun for photosynthesis. Plant daffodils at the back of the flowerbed where they can remain undisturbed and their foliage can be hidden behind other flowers. Peonies and daylilies are good to plant in front of daffodils because the daffodils will finish blooming before the peonies and daylilies start growing. You can plant daffodils under trees and shrubs because they bloom before most leaves are out and when the leaves do come out, they help hide the yellowing foliage.

Vegetables: Harden off tomato and pepper transplants by setting them outside a few hours a day protected from sun and wind before planting them into the garden. Wait until the end of April to plant okra, cantaloupes, watermelons, and cucumbers until the soil warms a little more. You can check all weather conditions including soil temperatures at different depths on the Oklahoma Mesonet site, download their free app to your phone, and sign up for their informative and entertaining emails from Gary McManus.

Lawns: The Bermuda grass is greening up now, so mow to get rid of weeds and let sun and air to the plants. The best height to mow Bermuda is about 1 1 ⁄2” to 2” tall. Do not scalp the lawn because it sets back growth and allows weeds to grow even better than weeds do normally. Do not bag grass clippings – they add nutrients to the soil. If you fertilize, the first of May is the best time to do so with a 10-20-10 analysis if you haven’t gotten a soil sample and recommendation. Unless you want a golfcourse lawn that needs to be mowed and watered three times a week, you don’t need to fertilize again until the first of September, and then only if needed. OSU Factsheet HLA 6420 “Lawn Management in Oklahoma” will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about lawn care.

Landscape: Hummingbirds have started arriving in southern Oklahoma. Clean hummingbird feeders with mild soap and water and fill with one part sugar to four parts water. Dissolve sugar in a little boiling water first, just like making sweet tea. I just pour it over ice cubes to cool before adding it to hummingbird feeders. If you’re buying new feeders this year, look for glass ones instead of plastic and make sure they have landing places for the little birds. Do not use red food coloring, and never use honey because it can be lethal to hummingbirds.

Walk around your yard daily to enjoy it and keep on top of problems. Always use IPM (Integrated Pest Management) to control insects and weeds. That means you don’t immediately spray poison on everything if you see a few insects. You may be seeing the good bugs that are there to take care of the bad bugs. Give nature a chance to take care of the problem first. If the birds and beneficial insects don’t work fast enough for you, at least try environmentally-friendly controls such as hand-picking insects, spraying with water from the hose, or spraying with insecticidal soap or Neem oil. As far as controlling weeds, hand pulling, hoeing, and mulching are the best methods for you, the wildlife, and your yard.

Here are a few tips to remember when shopping for annuals and perennials.

• Good soil is the key to growing good plants, and compost is the best thing to improve your soil.

• MULCH, MULCH, MULCH! It makes the soil cooler, keeps down weeds, conserves moisture, breaks down to improve the soil, feeds the plants and beneficial soil organisms, keeps soil from splashing on plants when it rains, and looks good in beds and borders.

• Don’t buy wilted plants – they never fully recover and live up to their potential.

• Buy smaller plants – they grow and catch up quickly and cost less.

• Buy plants with lots of buds if possible and not in full bloom – you want them to bloom in your yard not just at the nursery.

DO NOT use insecticides – they kill butterflies, birds, and beneficial insects. Don’t use Bug Zappers – they lure the good guys and kill them.

• Don’t sprinkle. Water deeply and less often so roots can go deep and survive the heat, drought, and hot winds of Oklahoma summers.

• Deadhead to keep plants blooming. Their goal in life is to reproduce by going to seed. If you keep the seed heads cut off, they will keep on blooming. Happy Spring Gardening!

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