Complete acquisitions

for flower and vegetable beds and get them in the ground promptly - in less than three weeks, the nights start getting longer, shortening veggie-growing time.

Plant bean and cucumber seed

in succession - several hills every 10 days through mid-June - so the crop doesn't come in all at once.

Plant tender summer bulbs

(caladiums, dahlias, etc.). Don't leave annuals to self-strangle in market packs. If you can't get them into their permanent spots right away, separate and plant in either a holding spot or pots. The roots need room now.

Be prepared

for some rampant grass growth, the result of heavy rain followed by sun. Mow, mow, mow. Often is better; set the mower on the high level.

Pinch or prune certain perennials

to achieve bushier growth and delay blooming till after others have conked out. Some candidates: daisies, hollyhocks, monarda (beebalm), summer phlox, sedum Autumn Joy, asters, yarrow. Chrysanthemums and asters need to be pinched three or more times by the Fourth of July.

Control cabbage loopers

and certain other caterpillars by spraying ornamentals and vegetables with

Bacillus thuringiensis

(ask for Bt in the garden center). It's natural and completely safe on vegetables.

Ready your slug defenses.

Three low-tech tactics: beer in shallow containers sunk in the soil - toss corpses daily; small planks laid on soil - in late morning, scrape live slugs into a plastic bag and seal; if pets and tots are absent, commercial slug bait - it really works.

Prevent injury to houseplants

when taking them outside - do not set in sun. Put them in a shaded corner and gradually introduce them to more light.

Thin older lilacs.

Remove a third of the oldest, thickest stems, cutting as close to the ground as possible.

Prune azaleas and rhododendrons

that have finished blooming to reduce size as desired. If you have vast plants, you can be radical. There is some risk in cutting an old plant to stubs, but most will sprout - the roots desperately want some leaves doing the photosynthesis thing. As a compromise, cut out a third of the plant each year. Beware: They may look like Addams Family oddities for a year or two. Do this in the next two or three weeks or not at all.

Consider radical downsizing

for "small" ornamental trees that have outgrown their situation. With redbud, magnolias, witchhazel, corylopsis (winterhazel), you can cut close to the ground (a solo trunk or the largest of a multi-trunk specimen). They will resprout with vigor, and for the next several years you'll again have a small-scale tree (usually with multiple trunks). Do this soon or wait till March.

Stake lilies.

The stake should be as tall as the lily stalk will eventually become; tie stem loosely to the stake as close to the top as possible. Staking only to the midpoint is an invitation to a broken stalk.

- Michael Martin Mills