The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Spring “To do” list

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

The seasons wax and wane. We experience rakes and rain. Spring is finally here, but we can always count on daily temperatures to throw us on to a roller coaster ride. One day we are thinking, "Is it too early to use the air conditioner?" and the next day we are digging in the closet for our winter coats. Warm spring temperatures fuel our sense of omnipotence in our gardens. Then a cold wave slaps us back into the reality of spring weather.

Boomerang temperatures bring questions about when to do what. So get out your red pen and start checking.


  • Average last frost date is approximately April 21. For tender plants such as impatiens, coleus, canna, basil, and tomatoes, wait until after May 10 before planting. (You will probably plant them the first nice day in April but, hey, I tried to warn you).


  • Begin planting and dividing most perennials except bearded iris and peony. Iris are divided in August. Peonies are divided in September.
  • Plant pansies and hardy annuals.
  • Finish pulling back mulch from perennials and roses.
  • Prune summer and fall blooming clematis.
  • Spray emerging peonies with fungicide if diseases such as botrytis have been a problem.
  • Plant bare root plants while dormant. Soak plants in warm water for at least 2 hours before planting.
  • Ornamental grasses should be cut down within a few inches of the ground before growth starts.
  • Houseplants and overwintering tropicals can be trimmed, repotted and fertilized. Wait until after May 10 to place outside.
  • Prune sage, butterfly bush, Russian sage and Caryopteris down to about 8 inches to stimulate growth. Wait until lavender shows new growth before pruning.


  • Establish or renovate turf by seed or sod. Prepare soil properly and get good seed to soil contact. Select turf mixes and blends appropriate to site and maintenance practices.
  • If appropriate, apply preemergent crabgrass control to problem areas when the soil temperatures reach 50 degrees F for at least three consecutive days (generally mid-late April). Do not reseed turf at the same time.
  • Use postemergence herbicides for actively growing broadleaf weeds if necessary. Consider spot treatment rather than complete lawn application. Read and follow all label directions.
  • Reduce thatch if more then .5 inch by using core aerifiers or vertical mowers.


  • Continue planting trees and shrubs.
  • Finish pruning trees and summer flowering shrubs. Wait to prune spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia soon after bloom. Use renewal pruning by removing oldest stems at soil level.
  • In April scout for spider mite damage on spruce by shaking leaves over white paper. Mites will look like periods with legs.
  • Begin fungicide treatments for apple scab on crabapples as leaves emerge if scab has been a problem. Multiple sprays are required. Consider replacing trees with disease resistant cultivars.
  • Apply systemic imidacloprid insecticide to susceptible, high profile plants such as linden trees or roses for Japanese beetle control. Read and follow all label directions.


  • Add compost to garden. Landscape Recycling Center in Urbana offers compost. PH: 217-344-5323.
  • If needed, till garden. Do not work wet soil. Squeeze a handful of soil. It should crumble apart easily.
  • Plant seeds of frost tolerant plants such as spinach, lettuce, carrot, beet, greens, chard, parsnip and radish.
  • Plant rhubarb and asparagus crowns.


  • Remove straw from strawberry patches.
  • Plant strawberries. Pinch off first year flowers to encourage strong root systems.
  • Plant fruit trees, grapes, raspberries, and blackberries.

WCIA Home and Garden Show

Saturday March 24, 9a.m.-6p.m. and Sunday, March 25, 11a.m.-5p.m. at Assembly Hall. Join me at 2:00 pm on Saturday for Contain your Enthusiasm - Tips for Successful Container Gardening.

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