April is action time for experienced gardeners and if you're new, it is wise to follow suit. Nurseries are packed with flowering annuals, vegetables and every kind of tree, shrub and vine adapted to desert conditions. Before shopping, know what's needed -- size, space available, color desired -- so you know what to buy. And there are plenty of chores to tackle -- watering and fertilizing, weeding, fighting bugs and diseases -- during the spring flush. Mark those that apply on your to-do list.
Summer color: Surefire flowers this summer include zinnia, marigold, portulaca (moss rose), Madagascar periwinkle, celosia (cockscomb), red and blue salvia, dusty miller and cosmos gaillardia, ornamental pepper and gloriosa daisy. Some other choices for morning sun only include: geranium, gomphrena, verbena and red salvia. Prior to planting, mix in lots of organic matter from a nursery. Mulch afterward to conserve moisture and discourage weeds.
Spring bulbs: Enjoy the blooms of spring-flowering bulbs but avoid cutting off the foliage; the leaves make food to replenish the bulbs. For summer blooms, plant agapanthus, callas, dahlias, day lilies and gloxinia.
Perennials: Look at perennials you can plant so you don't have to replant next season. Consider verbena, lantana, desert milkweed, saliva, Russian sage and red justicia, globe mallow, mums penstemon, dusty Miller, gazania, lisianthus and marguerite daisy. These plants are tough.
Easter plants: Easter lily, gloxinia, kalanchoe and Rieger begonia bloom longer if kept in bright, indirect light with cool temperatures, no drafts and moist soil. After lilies fade, plant them outside where they receive protection from afternoon sun. Cut foliage back after they die this fall. Next year bulbs will bloom again, but don't expect blooms at Easter.
Cactuses and succulents: It's an ideal time to transplant these desert beauties. If your prickly pears are too large, use barbecue tongs to help cut them back to joints. Plan to give away the pads.
Roses: It'll soon be showtime. Enjoy them because summer roses will be smaller. You'll get more roses next cycle if you remove about 15 inches of stem each time you harvest a bloom. The bud above the leaflet will produce prettier flowers until it gets too hot. Fertilize after bloom with a balanced rose food and iron if needed. Control aphids and spider mites. Plan to attend the rose show from noon to 4 p.m. April 21 at the West Charleston Library, 6301 W. Charleston Blvd.
Mums: To propagate new plants, dig up the old ones and separate into new starts. Discard the old mums and plant new starts in a highly organic soil.
Houseplants: Put your houseplants out for a breath of fresh air. Feed them with a soluble houseplant fertilizer and water thoroughly to prevent sunburn. Between feedings, water carefully each time to flush away excess salts. Spruce up your plants by removing old leaves and trimming off the dead tissue from functioning (still green) leaves.
Container plants: Consider placing your indoor plants outside on the morning side of the house. Plan on watering when it's windy. To reduce feeding frequency, use a slow-release fertilizer.
Vegetables: Transplant tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and okra before April 15. Think about planting melons, sweet corn, cantaloupes, pumpkins, zucchini, squash and cucumber seeds directly in your garden. Later, thin to recommended spacings for proper development. Prepare the seedbed by mixing in lots of organic matter. Rake the seedbed smooth and plant according to label directions. Keep seedbeds moist while seeds germinate or they will perish.
An old wives' tale says that mixing cucumbers, squash, watermelons and cantaloupes causes off-flavor and affects the shape of the fruit. Ignore that. Such things do not happen. Plant side by side, because you're probably limited on space anyway.
Fruit: Expect fruit to drop to lighten a tree's load. In some cases, fruit drop will be excessive. Thin apples, peaches, plums and apricots by removing the smallest fruits first, so the remaining fruit can expand. Give special attention to soil moisture for a higher quality harvest. Lightly prune pomegranates through summer to keep them within their appropriate size.
Grapes: Remove one-third to one-half the total number of grape clusters. Then use a comb to brush through the remaining clusters to thin grapes to encourage larger sizing.
Hot line: Are you stumped about what's ailing your plants? Call a trained master gardener at 257-5555 to answer your gardening questions. Most of these gardeners are hobbyists who have taken many hours of university gardening training under local conditions.
Lawns: Now, just before the heat sets in, aerate your lawn for deeper root development and water penetration. Plant hybrid Bermuda grasses as a way of conserving water. If crabgrass has been a problem, apply a recommended herbicide and then irrigate to stop its germination.
Trees: Expect a lot of suckering around the base of African sumacs and fruit trees. They are easy to remove if done early by pulling them down and outward. If you don't remove them early, you'll be pruning them out and that leaves behind stumps that perpetuate new suckers.
Ground covers: Here are two ways to keep ground covers such as ivy, star jasmine (after bloom), trailing indigo bush and verbena attractive: Raise the rotary mower as high as it will go and shear off their tops or selectively prune with shears. The new growth soon will hide the cuts.
Plant the plant right the first time: At 2 p.m. Saturday at the Gardens at the Springs Preserve, 3701 Alta Drive, join me as we cover a step-by-step approach to proper planting, staking and caring for plants. We'll also identify some of the most common plant health and insect problems.
A day in the park: That's the theme of the Sunset Garden Club's Annual Flower Show. The flower show is from noon to 4 p.m. April 14 at the Paseo Verde Library, 280 S. Green Valley Parkway, Henderson. For more information, call 451-0854.
Celebrate cactuses: It is the theme of the annual Cactus and Succulent Society show and sale. See more than two acres of cactuses and succulents. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 14-15 at 4455 Quadrel St. (one block west of Craig Road and Buffalo Drive). This festive occasion will feature thousands of cactuses and succulents, along with pottery, art and craft displays, and drawings. Experts also will be on hand. For more information, call 645-2032.
Linn Mills writes a gardening column each Thursday. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the Gardens at the Springs Preserve at 822-8325.