Roots & Shoots: Making a To-Don’t List

By Pamela Doan

I have an idea. Let’s make April “Be Kind to Your Yard” month. Our plants are enjoying the warming weather and longer days just like we are. They want to stretch up to the sun and begin another cycle of growth without being disturbed or poisoned. They look forward to reuniting with their friends, the pollinators, and making plans to do something different, like show up in the other bed or flower more prolifically this year.

With that in mind, here’s what not to do in your yard this April:

Don’t waste all the good dead stuff. Leaves are your friends. Trees make them, so how could they be bad? Retire the leaf blower. It contributes to poor air quality, the noise is awful, and your neighbors will like you more. Turn it into an art project of the Anthropocene era. Instead, add those leaves to your compost to feed your plants, mulch them into the grass, and make piles in an out-of-the-way place to be home for insects and amphibians. (For more ideas, see

Don’t till your soil. Here are five reasons:

  1. Microbes in the soil like fungi and bacteria are broken up. These are important for minerals.
  2. CO2 that is stored in the soil is released. While not tilling your garden won’t save us from the worst effects of climate change, it helps.
  3. It’s hard work.
  4. Adding a 2-inch layer of compost on top of the soil is much easier.
  5. There’s enough compost because you used your leaves.

While we’re in the garden, don’t sow or transplant tender vegetables and plants yet. The last frost date in our area is May 15. Since tomatoes are heat-lovers, depending on the weather, waiting until the end of May to transplant them may be best. They thrive at 65 degrees to 85 degrees.

Be kind to your yard this month and be rewarded with profuse blooms like this golden alexander (Zizia aurea).
(Photo by P. Doan)

Don’t let weeds get out of control. Weeds have a growth cycle like all plants, and timing is key. Make your summer more relaxing by removing weeds before they set seed. Need to kill weeds or grass in preparation for a new planting area? Block it from getting sunlight using cardboard or layers of newspaper. For aggressive plants, add woodchips on top. Many cardboard boxes used for shipping have a water-resistant coating so use a roll of corrugated cardboard if it’s staying in place.

Don’t seed your lawn — it’s too early for most turf grass (I’m sure there are exceptions) but successful germination needs daytime temperatures of at least 65 degrees. If there are bare spots or thinning in the lawn, consider overseeding with clover. It stays green, has flowers that pollinators appreciate, fixes nitrogen and doesn’t need mowing. In shady areas, sedges like Carex pennsylvania make a lovely groundcover.

Don’t prune your spring blooming shrubs — cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum), lilac, forsythia — until after they’ve bloomed or risk having no flowers.

Don’t assume chemicals are the solution. Studies show that more fertilizers are used on residential lawns and gardens than in commercial farming, and we’re seeing the impact in harmful algal blooms, as one example. Most problems in the landscape have natural solutions. Seek advice and information from academic sites on the internet such as the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Putnam ( or Dutchess (

Don’t forget to keep a log of what you’re planting. It’s a useful resource when you’re trying to remember what worked well, such as the name of that plant with the yellow flowers or when you planted the carrots.

Don’t add amendments unless you’ve tested your soil and know what it needs. A simple pH test reveals how acidic or alkaline it is, the basic barometer of how well plants can get nutrients from the soil and what kind of plants will thrive in those conditions. For a more detailed analysis of nutrients and minerals, send a soil sample to the Cornell University lab (

Finally, don’t let your yard become all work and no joy. While it’s pleasurable to have a beautiful vista from the windows, make space to be in the garden without toiling away. Hang out with family or friends, read a book, watch the birds.

Pamela Doan, a garden coach with One Nature, has grown ferns in Seattle, corn on a Brooklyn rooftop and is now trying to cultivate shitake mushrooms on logs. Email her at [email protected]

Comments are closed.