Not get

overconfident - a freeze is still possible. If you've already planted tender annuals and vegetables and the forecast is for frost, protect them (with an upside-down bucket, for example) or be ready to lose them. Pay attention to rain accumulation; vigorous growth requires ample water.

Plant new roses. Get them into the ground promptly, to allow them time to settle and bloom this summer. A minimum of six hours of sun is needed. Fertilize new and old roses with slow-release fertilizer.

Begin planting shrubs, trees and perennials. Plant on cloudy days or later in the afternoon, to avoid heat stress.

Be firm with pot-bound perennials. Their roots must be disturbed and loosened so that they will grow into your soil. If the roots are tightly coiled at the bottom perimeter of the pot, pinch through them in three or four places. Tease other roots loose of the soil and spread when planting.

Make an honest assessment of existing plantings. Rip out lousy performers and give yourself room for something new and intriguing. (Suggestions: Spigelia marilandica, Indian pinks, for light shade; Platycodon grandiflorus, balloon flower, for sun, good drainage and a permanent location; asters, of so many varieties, for fall bloom; Muhlenbergia capillaris, an ornamental grass that produces a light 3-foot pink cloud in fall.)

Get ready for rampant lawn growth. If the grass gets too long, then is closely mowed, the lawn can be scorched.

Start tuberous begonias. Place concave side up in wet peat moss, but do not cover. After four to six weeks indoors, transplant to pots with standard potting soil, again surrounding but not covering. Remove all but one or two shoots - only very large tubers can support multiple stems.

Repot tomatoes you started from seed when roots get crowded. They'll be more robust for planting in May.

Thin indoor seedlings (clipping with nail scissors may work better than pulling) and build up their sturdiness by brushing your hand over the tops once a day. When they're ready, harden them off. A week to 10 days before planting out, place watered seedlings outdoors in a semi-shaded spot for an hour or so, then bring back inside. Increase time and sunniness each day.

Plant seeds of beets, carrots, corn and spinach in the vegetable plot. Sow more lettuce.

Avoid panic. Everywhere you turn there are garden tasks. Yes, those three crummy weeks delayed cleanup and the like. You may be a bit behind, but take plenty of time to enjoy the beauty now unfolding.

- Michael Martin Mills

Next week, answers to gardening questions. Write to Michael Martin Mills, The Inquirer, Box 41705, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101 or gardenqanda@earthlink.net. Please include locale. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/michaelmartin
mills.