April Gardening Advice
This is the month we take our foot off the brake, and dive headlong into sowing and planting. However, an overnight frost can undo all our hard work, so proceed with caution. The days may feel balmier, but Jack Frost is still waiting in the wings and will take great delight in scuppering your plans.
In The Flower Garden
At the first sign of warmth, weeds will make their presence felt. Young plants need all the nutrients they can get, so don’t let them lose out to weeds. Remove all weeds from beds, making sure you pull them out by the roots.
As climbing and rambling roses start to flourish, you may need to tie in the new growth. As it’s April, there’s still potential for a late frost and high winds, so secure them safely, and you will be rewarded with a display of stunning blooms later in the season.
You may notice perennials starting to sway under their new growth. To prevent damage, stake them. Do it sooner rather than later, as the root ball is keen to grow, and you run the risk of damaging it if you leave it too late in the season.
It’s time to get those newly bought summer bulbs and corms into the ground, or into pots. If you’re planting in pots, ensure the compost has plenty of grit, so water can drain off easily and not cause the bulbs to rot. It’s also a good idea to place crocks at the base of the pot to improve drainage.
If you’re planting bulbs into beds, think about how the final display might look, and provide sufficient plant space and a good supply of sunlight. If you haven’t planted bulbs before, then
the rule of thumb is to plant the bulb at a depth of three times its height. If your soil is heavy, add grit to the base of the hole, and then fill with a gritted-compost mixture.
Your yellow and white floral trumpets are probably now past their best. Before they go to seed, deadhead them. That way, the energy will go into the bulb in readiness for next year’s display. Let the foliage die back naturally to harness the sun’s energy.
Flowers, such as winter pansies, will be keen to set seed, so regularly remove faded flowers to encourage new displays.
At this stage, they have probably finished flowering. Now’s the time to lift and divide. Whether it’s with your hands, or a trowel, prise the plants apart. Don’t worry about damaging them as they’re quite tough. Re-plant where you would like to see them appear next year.
If you ordered annuals for your hanging baskets earlier this year, they could now be turning up on your doorstop. Get them into their baskets, with a good compost and slow-release fertiliser, and also consider water retention gel to help them through those long hot summer days. Once potted up, keep them in the greenhouse until the last frost has passed, giving a chance for your plug plants to grow on. Then either place them in a cold frame, or outside during the day, for a week or two. Then place them in their final hanging positions and create a regular watering regime. Bear in mind, they will require extra watering during the summer months.
PLANT OUT SWEET PEAS
If you pinched out your sweet peas last month, then they should now be starting to bush up. Towards the end of the month, you should think about planting them out. Whether it’s directly into the ground, or into a container, make sure you use a support so the tendrils have something to latch onto. Keep an eye on their growth, as they will quickly need to be tied in.
LAVENDER, SAGE AND ROSEMARY
April is the time to prune these herbs. Try to do it on a dry, sunny day. Remove any dead and diseased foliage but avoid cutting into the woody parts of the plant.
Depending on where you are in the country, towards the end of the month you may want to start hardening off certain plants to get them ready for planting out in May. By hardening off, you’re simply getting plants that you’ve sown indoors, acclimatised to cooler, outdoor temperatures. For example, if you’ve been growing sweet peas, they will grow all the better for a few weeks in a cold frame before planting out into their final position. If you don’t have a cold frame, then place your plants outside on a bright day for a few hours, then bring them in before the temperature drops, or the weather takes a turn for the worse.
SLUGS AND SNAILS
At the first sign of warmer weather and fresh growth, slugs and snails are quick to appear on the scene. If the use of chemicals doesn’t appeal, then think about setting beer traps. Or, patrol your garden early in the morning, dusk or just after rainfall, remove by hand, and dispose.
On The Veg Patch
You can finally think about stepping up your sowing regime. Consider crops such as salads, radishes, beetroot, chard, kohl rabi, carrots and parsnips. If the ground is still too cold, sow into modules, trays or pots, then keep them somewhere warm, with plenty of sunlight, such as a greenhouse or polytunnel.
Any seeds sown back in March, may now need thinning out, or even re-potting. Remember, as you carry out this task, it’s important to hold the seedling by their ‘true leaves’, not their stems. While a damaged leaf won’t hamper the plant’s growth, a damaged stem will leave the young plant helpless.
If your ground is prepped and ready to go, think about sowing peas, leeks, carrots, broad beans or cabbage. Remember to sow little and often, otherwise, in a few months’ time you could end up with a glut.
Towards the end of the month, you could consider sowing members of the cucurbit family; pumpkins, squashes, marrows, cucumbers and courgettes can all be sown indoors. You can also sow runner beans and sweet corn.
This is the month to finish planting the last of your chitted tubers, but it’s a good idea to keep your horticultural fleece handy. With one eye on the weather report, you may have to cover exposed foliage if there’s any sign of frost. If your potato plants have substantial growth, consider earthing them up. This will not only protect the plant, but will encourage it to produce more potatoes, stop them turning a poisonous green, and can even prevent blight.
If you don’t have the space for a herb garden, then grow them in pots and containers. Give them plenty of sunshine, and plant them into some well-gritted soil. As herbs often originate from hot Mediterranean climates, it’s advisable to try and replicate these conditions, so don’t overwater.
If you’re growing beans and peas, then think about setting up your runner bean poles. Peas will also need a support structure, such as netting, poles or twiggy hazel sticks. Prep the beds and get your structures ready.
FRUIT TREES AND SOFT FRUIT
A warmer climate will encourage hungry pests to seek out buds and blossom. Rid your plants either by chemical means or diluted soapy water. Failing that, a pair of hands can do the job equally well. Keep an eye-out for the eggs as well as the pests themselves, as once hatched, the damage can be devastating. It might be an idea to net your fruit to reduce pests such as aphids, and to also deter birds.
Longer days and warmer temperatures will encourage your indoor plants to grow, so you may need to step up your watering regime. Larger plants will require extra watering and possibly a liquid feed.
Thanks to Ade Sellars from Agents of Field for kindly producing all of these tips for April.