Sauk County Gardener: April showers truly bring out the flowers

Jeannie Manis

“You can cut all the flowers but cannot keep spring from coming.” ~Pablo NerudaAs I write this article, I look out my window into my side yard and I still see snow. I am longing for some spring blooms! My tulips and daffodils have started to peek out and are about one- to two-inches tall. My hellebores, also known as the Lenten rose, are still under some snow in the side yard, but what is showing is very green. I expect to see flowers on them soon as they are a very early bloomer. I don’t have any crocus for some odd reason, but my sister who lives in Rock Springs says hers are blooming. Spring has sprung and it can’t come fast enough for this gardener!

If you’re like me and are still waiting for spring blooms to arrive, you can bring in a few branches from your spring-flowering trees and shrubs to force them to bloom. Some great ones are forsythia, witch hazel, eastern red bud, cherry, pussy willow and even lilacs. We have pussy willows that grow nearby that have already started to “bloom” so they won’t even need to be forced. If you decided to cut some branches, choose a day with above freezing temps and select one- to two-foot branches that won’t be missed (especially if you’re cutting a branch or two from your neighbor’s shrub) using proper pruning techniques. Once you bring the branches indoors, cut a cross in the bottom of the branch and place them in a container or vase filled with room temperature water. Place your bouquet in bright indirect light away from drafts. Re-cut the ends every day and change the water every few days. I do have four planted containers in my garage that I planted last fall with daffodils, tulips and hyacinths that I will bring out this spring. Two have sprouted so it is definitely time. Between the forced branches and those potted plants, I should have some spring blooms.

While you’re waiting for your forced branches and planted spring bulb containers to bloom, it’s time to hop to your April gardening tasks. If you haven’t done a soil test in a couple years, you should contact the Extension office for a kit and instructions. I can’t stress how important to test your soil before adding nutrients. More fertilizer is not always a good thing. As soon as the soil can be worked, add fertilizer per the recommendations you receive from your soil test to flower and vegetable gardens. Pansies can be set out at this time as well. If you use rose cones, remove them was the soil thaws. Gradually remove mounded dirt or mulch from around them just in case we get a late snow. (I know, I said a bad word.) If need be, prune any old canes that you didn’t get to last fall.

In the vegetable garden, start checking your soil temps and as soon as they are 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the air temps is greater than 45 degrees Fahrenheit, you can plant your cool-weather crops such as lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, parsnip, onion sets, beets, carrots, kohlrabi, radishes and peas. I don’t currently have a soil temperature gauge so I did a little checking, and you can use a regular meat thermometer as long as it can go about four inches deep and test temps 40 degrees Fahrenheit and lower. Just don’t forget to wash it before you use it test your Easter ham.

Typically, you can plan to plant these cool-weather crops the second week in April but just in case it’s nice and warm, you can be ready to go. As long as you can work the soil, you can plant rhubarb and

asparagus though. I planted a transplant from my daughter last year and the deer ate it! Now I have to find another person to donate a rhubarb plant to me.

Take the opportunity to stretch those muscles and rake the lawn. If you didn’t get your oak trees pruned, wait until next fall/winter. It’s too late now unless you have damage. You can prune your non-flowering shrubs. It’s a good time to plant any bare-root trees or shrubs. If you do, they should be mulched (no mulch volcanoes) and watered regularly for a couple years. If you have fruit trees and need to fertilize them, do so once the ground is thawed but before the trees blossom. Once you’re all done with those tasks, sit back and enjoy the Easter holiday. Happy Easter!

Remember to contact Extension Sauk County if you have any gardening questions. Please send an email to or call the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension Sauk County office at 608-355-3250.

Jeannie Manis is president of the Sauk County Master Gardeners Association (SCMGA).