Spring Gardening: April Garden Checklist Zones 1-3

Spring has finally sprung – at least on the calendar!  It’s almost time for all of your winter planning and dreaming to become a reality in your April garden. You are likely eager to see the soil in some cases and do some planting, but it’s not quite time for most outdoor planting for those in Zones 1-3 just yet. Not to worry though, there is plenty to be done in the garden through prep and planning, and we will share some fun indoor growing opportunities to help you keep your eye on the gardening prize!

Before you know it planting season will be underway. As thoughts of harvests and blooms fill your head, peruse our April Garden Checklist Zones 1-3 for tips on all you can do in your garden this month to ensure a robust and healthy garden this year.

tree branches full of snow.

Visit Your Local Extension Office

The month of April is the perfect time to visit your local extension office before planting season gets fully underway. Each State Department of Agriculture has offices set up within local counties to help gardeners and farmers access local garden resources.

These dedicated agencies are staffed by experts on agricultural and landscaping topics who are knowledgeable, equipped, and eager to answer your April garden questions, troubleshoot problems, and provide local guidelines, guidance, and support to all who seek some help in the garden.

  • Soil Test: Obtain a sample of your soil and bring it to your local garden extension office or nursery for a soil test before planting time arrives. Experts can help you identify the quality of your native soil and provide recommendations for amending your garden soil.
  • Before going to your local extension office or nursery, brainstorm some questions ahead of time. Bring along your garden journal and as you ask gardening questions, jot down suggestions and expert advice.
  • Find out about native plants and landscapes and what grows best in your region.
  • Gain valuable planting information detailing when you can start thinking about getting new plants and seedlings in the ground.

Spring Garden Planning

There are still many cold, rainy, and blustery days ahead where you can keep working on your garden planning in Zones 1-3.

  • Keep your garden journal close at hand and dream of warmer days and abundant gardens.
  • Grab some new gardening books and magazines. Scour your favorite gardening websites for ideas and tips.
  • Use your sketched-out garden design plans and dream boards to figure out where your future plants and seedlings will go.
  • Chart seed and plant varieties. Note their planting specifications, days to germination and maturity, and keep notes about what worked well and what was not entirely successful. This chart will help you plan from year to year by knowing when to sow seeds, plant with optimal spacing, when you can expect blooms, and when to harvest your plantings.
  • If garden pests or diseases were a problem for you last season, it is a great time to research companion plants and spacing provisions to protect and boost your plants’ productivity.
  • Decide what you still need to fill unoccupied spaces in your garden beds.
  • Use your vegetable garden planting charts to guide you on what to plant and when, so you will be ready for planting when warmer temperatures roll in.
  • Construct your new trellises, raised beds, and other garden structures indoors for later placement.

April Garden Tools and Supplies Assessment

Milder temperatures of spring will be here before you know it, so it is worth reiterating on our April Garden Checklist Zones 1-3 that your garden tools should be at the forefront of your mind. If you haven’t done so already, be sure that you assess your tools for sharpening and cleaning needs.

The lawnmower should receive a fluid change as well. It’s best to get all of your gardening materials in tip-top shape so that when warmer spring and summer weather rolls in, you are fully prepared for yard and garden work, so you do not have any setbacks.

Check your tools for disrepair signs, tune-up and thoroughly clean and sanitize, sharpen blades, and oil up moving parts. These steps will assure you of a solid start for the garden season. It is also essential to keep your garden free from diseases that may have plagued your garden last season.

  1. Start by using steel wool or a metal grill brush to clean any debris off your garden tools.
  2. Wipe surfaces with a damp rag.
  3. Use coarse sandpaper to scuff away any signs of rust on metal surfaces.
  4. Dab vegetable oil onto a rag and wipe metal surfaces.
  5. Use a piece of sandpaper to slough away any rough or splintering spots on wooden handles.
  6. Wipe wooden handles down with a rag wet with linseed oil.
Purple Crocuses in Spring

Spring Garden Maintenance

If you live in Zones 1-3, early spring still brings quite a chill, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot start prepping your garden. Once the ground is exposed and free of snow, you can begin some of these prep and maintenance tasks.

Mulching and Amending the Garden

If your backyard is free from snow during April, wake up your garden beds and stomp out weeds in early spring by adding necessary soil amendments and adding a couple of inches of mulch to your garden beds. These actions will bolster your soil and prevent propagating spring weeds from overtaking your garden before your gardens are in full swing.

Pruning Trees and Shrubs

Again, if snow is no longer on the ground, you can start some April garden pruning.

  • Evergreen trees and shrubs can succumb to the weight of heavy snow. Prune away winter damage before the new shoots of spring emerge.
  • Remove any damaged branches from your plants, or you can tie the stems with twine to get them back in shape.
  • It’s time to do a hard pruning of dormant woody perennials and dormant ornamental grasses. You can be aggressive about your pruning with these dormant plants and only leave the first bud at the plant’s base. This applies only to plants that produce blooms on new stems.
  • Many perennial shrubs have already formed buds for next season’s blooms. It is not the time to prune these shrubs unless you are only growing them for greenery or hedge; otherwise, you risk cutting away their blooming potential. If your plantings are purely for greenery and privacy, you may trim the bushes’ tips to shape them. Boxwoods are an example of these green shrubs. Some of the flowering shrubs to leave intact at this time include Forsythia, Rhododendron, Azalea, Viburnum, Daphne, and Weigela.

Pruning considerations can get confusing at times. If you have any doubt on whether or not to prune back a perennial dramatically, let it be and prune it after it flowers. Do some more research on your plant variety and gain more insight for the next time around.

Keep an Eye Out for Signs of Spring

Take some time to assess what things look like outdoors. Take a walk around the yard and breathe in the earthy scent of spring as you dream of the planting season.

  1. If it has been a milder winter and some rain has washed away the snow from the soil, you may see some hopeful perennials popping up, or there may even be bulbs peeking through the snow!
  1. Look up and see the tiny buds emerging on treetops and branches. It’s a hopeful sign of things to come!
  2. Assess how the sun hits your yard and garden space. This will help you plan what to plant and where to grow it.  It can also help you with plotting out a new garden space.
  3. Don’t forget about the wildlife throughout the month of April. Fill up some bird feeders or hang some suet and watch the array of birds that flock to the feast. Attracting these colorful friends to the feeders will provide entertainment and joy as you await the milder days to come. Inviting birds to your backyard significantly helps control the insect population, which can protect your plants.
  4. Avoid walking on your garden when the soil is saturated. Compressing the soil with weight will result in soil compaction, leading to many problems in the garden bed.
Tray of small indoor plants.

Indoor Garden Planting

Indoor garden planting can revive gardeners after a long winter.  Getting hands in the soils and watching things grow can be a real pick-me-up for gardeners when the weather is unpredictable and frosty days still loom. Planting indoors can be done in some unexpected ways. Here are some things to try:

Growing Plants Under Grow Lights

While you won’t be able to plant outside quite yet, it is possible to bring your growing indoors by growing vegetables under grow lights and implementing warming mats.

Some easy growers to get started with are lettuces, mixed greens, spinach, and herbs. When you gain some confidence, try out more high-yielding plants. Planting fewer plants with higher yields allows you to reap a plentiful harvest without taking up too much space indoors.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Before we discuss starting seeds indoors on our April Garden Checklist Zones 1-3, it is crucial to identify your growth zone’s last frost date. This date varies with each zone and is just an estimation. The last frost date is essential because this is how you will calculate what you can start planting indoors by counting the seed maturation days backward from the last estimated frost date so transplants will be ready for outdoor planting.

  • Zone 3 – The last frost date ranges from May 22 – June 4
  • Zone 2 – The last frost date ranges from May 15-22
  • Zone 1 – The last frost date ranges from May 1-1

Force Bulbs Indoors

You can force any bulb indoors. If you simply cannot wait until spring to see blooms, these flowers will make quite a show either planted in a pot of soil or a low dish of water and gravel or marbles.

  • Daffodils
  • Tulips
  • Hyacinths
  • Paperwhites

Force Branches Indoors

Consider pruning a few branches from some flowering shrubs and trees. Make a clean cut and arrange the stems in a vase of clean water to force an early bloom. The following make great branch sources:

  • Forsythia
  • Dogwood
  • Ornamental Cherry Trees
  • Ornamental Pear Tree
  • Magnolia
  • Pussy Willow
  • Flowering Fruit Trees

Outdoor Planting in the April Garden

The last frost date for your area is still weeks away, the ground is possibly still frozen, and temperatures are not conducive to outdoor planting in Zones 1-3. So, there’s not much on the April Garden Checklist Zones 1-3 for outdoor planting. If you are lucky enough to have access to a greenhouse or some cold frames, you may be able to try direct sowing certain cool-season crop seeds outdoors before the temperatures begin to rise in your grow zone.

By the end of the month, you may be able to perk up the outdoor landscape with some potted pansies but always check with your local extension office for ideal planting dates.

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close up of yellow flowers with snow
indoor herbs in small containers.

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