Pay attention to your lawn in the spring and Nathan James Dodd reckons you will receive dividends later in the year.
April is the time when we all want to get into the garden, clearing up after winter and making preparations for the summer. Nathan James Dodd looks at the gardening jobs that can be done this month.
There's plenty of jobs to be done in the April garden, making sure that we prepare for summer as well as helping the garden to recover from any cold weather during the winter.
Dead head spring bulbs, removing the stem at the base, and cut back perennials that have provided food and shelter for wildlife over winter. Liquid feed the dead headed bulbs, but leave the foliage alone for about six weeks to die down. Clumps can be split up to achieve a wider spread.
Particularly if you have a large expanse of lawn, perhaps with a few trees, naturalizing bulbs in swathes and clumps might be particularly attractive. So instead of dead heading them, leave them so that they seed and develop bulbs naturally. Also, to extend the display, choose different varieties to plant next autumn so flowering times overlap.
Sow biennials such as Wallflowers, Sweet William and Canterbury Bells, Spread the seeds onto moist seed compost and lightly cover. Place away from direct sun in a warm position (17°–19°C). After potting on, the seedlings will be ready to plant out in the autumn, or you can plant seedlings directly and move them to a final position later on in the year.
After chitting, early and main crop seed potatoes should go into the ground with well rotted manure or other organic matter by the end of the month. Dig a trench 9ins deep and plant earlies about1ft apart (the rows should be 2ft apart) and main crop potatoes about 15ins apart with 2½ ft inbetween the rows.
Gooseberrie, red and white currants can all be cut back by about a quarter and any crossing branches removed to form an open structure. Cut brambles back to the ground before they become too invasive.
The temperature needs to be at least 7°C when hardy annuals such as californian poppies, cornflowers, love-in-a-mist, marigolds can been sown directly into the soil in shallow seed drills or patches that will benefit from an infusion of colour. Thin out when they are large enough to handle. Alternatively grow in a seed tray and then plant out.
Continue to divide perennials, particularly late flowering varieties such as asters, montbetia and sedums, replanting the new growth. You get free plants and the border is invigorated with fresh young growth.
Prune mophead hydrangeas, cutting off last year's flowers and cutting about a third of the shoots back to two buds, remove any crossing or damaged stems.
Strawberries thrive in sunny, well drained soil with a pH of 6 – 6.5. Bare root runners can be planted in April but shouldn't be allowed to fruit until the following year. For existing strawberry plants, open up cloches to ventilate and also to allow in pollinating insects.
If the soil has warmed up and it hasn't been too wet, Sweet Peas can now be planted out after hardening in a cold frame. Place 2-3 seedlings next to a support about 10ins apart in soil that has had lots of organic matter incorporated. To encourage bushy growth with lots of flower producing side shoots pinch out the growing shoot when 4 sets of leaves have formed.
Continue to plant herbs. For Italian gourmets, Basil likes a warm position in a well drained soil. Keep pinching out to get bushy growth. Coriander is another annual that should be on hand if you are cooking a curry, it grows easily in similar warm soil but will bolt if it is too dry. If you like parsley sauce, the eponymous herb can be grown in pots or a warm, moist earth in partial shade.
Once the vine tomato plants that you sowed last month have thee pairs of leaves, transfer to 3 inch pots and harden off when the first flowers appear. Then move outside, grow bags in full sun are a preferred location. Water regularly and use a high potash feed fortnightly. Remove all the leaf joint side shoots and the growing tip when there are five trusses.
Tall perennials such as delphiniums and peonies need propping up, the most naturalistic way of doing this is to use long fairly sturdy twigs. Positioned early in the season the plants will soon cover them and they largely disappear from view.
Cucumbers can successfully grow outdoors even during an English summer. Pop two seeds into a 3in pot, the temperature needs to be roughly 18°C. Select the healthiest seedlings, which should have two – three leaves, and plant in rich, fertile rich soil (about 6 pH) 18-24ins apart or in a grow bag. Cover with fleece if the nights are still cold. Grow up a bamboo cane wigwam of trellis, pinching out when they reach the top. Keep watering well and every 14 days apply a tomato fertilizer.
For a wide range of Grow Your Own products, visit Gardensite.co.uk.
With the unpredictability of the seasons it is worth investing in water butts that can be fitted to drainpipes, collecting rainwater that would normally go down the drain.
Plant out half hardy annuals that have been hardened off in the cold frame when the last chance of frost has passed. Visit the garden centre or nursery for the greatest range of summer bedding plants - snapdragons, cornflowers, cosmos, verbena, phlox, petunia etc etc
If the weather is unseasonably hot, don't forget to shade the greenhouse and increase ventilation. Blinds or shading paint that can be applied and easily rubbed off will combat direct sun. If you are buying a greenhouse, ensure that louvre windows are fitted at ground level to achieve the best air circulation. Automatic mechanised vents that are temperature controlled are useful particulalrly if you spend time away from home.
Read our blog on April pond maintenance.
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