April, as they say, is the cruelest month with sun one minute and frosty mornings and bitter winds the next. Tender young leaves are prone to frostburn and judging what to do when is tricky. Even if it is warm enough to start sowing always keep to hand some horticultural fleece or bubblewrap to cover vulnerable young crops.
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Seed sowing tips
When is the right time to start sowing seeds? It’s all too easy to listen to the experts or blithely follow to the letter what it says on seed packets and in magazines but given the variations in temperature in this country the only true way to tell whether the soil and conditions in your garden are ready for sowing is to look at the weeds. If the weeds are producing healthy happy seedlings then it’s going to be about the right time for you to sow seeds.
Why bother with creating a fine tilth? Seed sowing instructions always stipulate that you need to first rake the soil until you have created a fine tilth. Why? If there are large lumps left in the soil when you drop in your seeds the emerging roots and stems are going to have to battle their way around these.
Each seed has only so much start up energy and the roots are going to need water and stems will need to find light very soon. If the underground air pockets are too big the plant may struggle to find water and without it they will shrivel and die.
An old and woody buddleia I inherited shown after a hard prune. By July the flowering stems will be six foot high.
In the flower garden
Sow seeds of sweet peas into deep pots or roottrainers as they dislike disturbance to their roots. Or, instead, look out for young plants in nurseries and garden centres. Check whether they are grown for scent or for cutting. Some longer stemmed varieties may smell less strongly.
Cut off any frost damaged leaves or tips from flowering shrubs to prevent further die back.
Start hardening off greenhouse grown plants to give them a chance to toughen up and make them better able to withstand pests and weather. Choose a clement day to begin and start by putting them outside, out of cold winds, strong rain or sun and somewhere out of reach of marauding slugs. Allow a week or two before planting out, once all chance of frost has passed.
Prune buddleia down to a woody framework about a foot high above ground. Watch out not to hurt your hands with the tough repetitive work. I find loppers are often easier to use than secateurs.
Start mowing lawns and, especially if the grass is long, make sure to mow on dry days and start with the blades high, reducing the height by stages as the grass becomes stronger and more maneagable.
This is the perfect time to give your lawn a bit of TLC. First rake off loose thatch and moss. This enables the grass to grow healthily during the season. Or, if you have one, avoid straining your upper body by using a mower with a special thatch removing cartridge attachment.
Next, either using a proprietary aerator attachment, or a garden fork (which can be very tiring work), make holes across the lawn to help aerate the soil and prevent compaction. If you’re using a fork dig to a depth of about three to four inches and wiggle the tines to remove. Sprinkling sand into the holes also helps.
How much you want to remove weeds will depend on you and your lawn. Some people like to use a weedkiller, others prefer to pull individual weeds by hand.
Once you have removed the weeds and moss to your liking topdress the lawn with a feed and conditioner.
If there are any bald patches you can resow these now. Small patches can be targeted with special feed and seed mixtures. Check in your garden centre for the treatment that you need. You can buy mixes designed for high use areas and for shaded areas. Some mixes even contain neutralisers to prevent pet urine marks.
Tidy the edges of the lawn where they meet flower borders. First mark a straight line using string held taught between two posts. Using a half moon lawn edger, follow the string, cutting away ragged edges and throw these away. This isn’t just a job for houseproud gardeners. Cutting the grass away prevents weeds and grasses growing into flowerbeds.
Find out more about spring lawn care
Cobra dwarf beans
In the vegetable plot
Check to see if any previously planted onion sets have been pulled out by birds and tuck them back in again or replace with spare sets if you still have some.
Hand pull emerging weeds before they get bigger. Avoid letting them flower and setting seed which will only continue the cycle. Or, if there are already many, you may need to pick up the hoe and work it between the crops rows.
Start sowing spinach, beetroot and chard. These can go direct into the soil and will need to be watered well until they get going. Avoid letting them dry out or they might bolt.
Potatoes need to be planted this month. As a rule new potatoes go in early to mid April. Maincrops follow in the second half of the month but exactly when you plant your potatoes will depend on the conditions in your area. If in doubt ask a local gardener or garden centre. You want to avoid the emerging foliage being burned by frost. Plant somewhere sunny into a six inch deep trench lined with garden compost. New potatoes (also known as First and Second Earlies) should be spaced a foot apart. Leave 15 inches between maincrop tubers.
Find out how to grow potatoes
Plant herbs like rosemary, thyme and oregano. Any that have become leggy can be trimmed to suit the space. You can cut rosemary into the wood if it has become wild and straggly. If you grow on clay or badly draining soil it’s a good idea to put some grit in the base of the planting hole to help with drainage.
Look out for emerging asparagus stems and remember to harvest them before they become woody.
If strawberries are coming in to flower keep an eye out for frosts and cover plants with fleece or you will lose the crop.
Look out for dwarf fruit trees or varieties that can be grown in large pots. There are many to choose from and this is a good time to buy and plant.
Fruit trees will benefit from having weeds cleared from their base and apply a layer of mulch to conserve moisture. You can use composted garden waste, grit or bark but if the mulch is nutrient free (eg bark, grit) give a feed first.
Sow broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts for winter. Sow individual seeds into modules and leave to germinate either in the green house or a window sill. They should appear within a couple of weeks. Once they have reached about four inches they can be hardened off and then planted outside.
Sow runner and french beans two to a small pot indoors or under glass. Keep the soil moist and they should soon germinate.
Browse the Saga Garden Centre for great offers on fruit and vegetables now.
Last chance to…
- Deadhead daffodils but let the leaves remain
- Boost pre spring growth in pots and borders with blood, fish and bone or other fertiliser
- Clear diseased rose leaves that have fallen to the ground or remain on the bush and remove from the garden
- Prune buddleia before they fully start into growth (see above)
- Plant potatoes (see above)
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