"April showers bring May flowers" is perhaps the most memorable of all the historical mottoes about the Month of April.
Actually, April's weather has received mention throughout history, probably because the sun seems brighter and warmer, little shoots emerge from cold ground, bare branches begin to bud and all sorts of plants begin their blooming cycle. April is charming and fickle; warm one day, cool the next, sometimes windy, and frequently bringing late snow and killer frost.
A good month to prepare for the growing season ahead, the weather is usually cool enough for physically demanding jobs, but warm enough to encourage us to get out of doors. Remove winter mulch and protective covers from perennials, trim back last year's growth and divide, if necessary. Work some all-purpose fertilizer or compost into the area around the base of the plant, and replace surface mulch. It is thought that using raw wood chips as surface mulch may rob the soil of nitrogen, but this problem can be avoided easily by the addition of nitrogen-rich fertilizers. The benefits of mulch so out-weigh the disadvantages, it is worthwhile to go to the extra trouble of adding nutrients.
Spring pruning of woody shrubs will encourage a spurt of new growth now.
Plants are beginning to arrive at nurseries, the largest selection available to those who shop early and often. Be sure to ask for plants that are low-water use, and find out about the growing condition the plant prefers. For instance, plants that need full sun and gravelly soil will not do well in the shade in rich loam. Growers supply what nurseries ask for, nurseries stock what will sell. Gardeners can increase the availability of low-water use plants by continuously asking for them. Nursery folks will become more familiar with water conserving plants by helping customers obtain them and seeing them used in a broader application.
New wildflower and native grass seeds are available now and should be sown in the next couple of weeks. Mow the area, rake up debris, broadcast seed and cover with a thin layer of mulch. Keep area damp until seedlings emerge or rain showers come, and then water regularly until plants seem to be established.
Service drip irrigation systems or install them this month, to get ready for dry days ahead. Root zone emitters are far more efficient than sprinklers, which are prohibited by the new town of Payson water resolution. Drip systems can be inexpensive to install, and will return the cost in water savings in a short time, while making the watering process easier and far more efficient.
Native shrubs and trees will withstand the rigors of coming hot, dry weather by providing them with a little water harvesting help. Dig a shallow well around each tree, which extends about one third of the way beyond the drip line. Make a crescent shaped berm on the edge of the well on the downhill side. When rain comes, the well will catch water, but if overflow is needed it can escape around the sides of the crescent, without cutting a gully through the berm.
Remove dead or damaged branches from trees, trim up native shrubs, and clear out overgrowth. Plants can survive better without the stress of dead branches and fire danger will be reduced. Adequate spacing between trees and shrubs provides less competition for water and nutrients. The less a large tree needs to compete for water, the better it can withstand drought or beetle infestation.
Barb Bourscheidt is a longtime resident of Payson, a member of the Rim Area Gardeners and a participant in the Gila County Master Gardener program. She serves on the board of directors of the High Country Xeriscape Council of Arizona, and she researches and writes articles on the subject of water conservation through creative landscaping and climate-appropriate gardening techniques.