What To Do In The Garden In April

March did not bring much spring-like weather with it, being generally overcast and dreary. The gales at the end of the month did little to lift the gloom. Easter may have been early this year, but spring feels very late in coming! Surely we are in for some better weather in the garden in April? Let’s hope so. A little sunshine and accompanying warmth makes us all feel much more like getting out into the garden.

Sweet peas in Guildford

As early in the month as possible, plant out autumn-sown sweet pea plants to their flowering position. Make sure their support system is in place before you set them out. Water them in well and they will soon be climbing those poles, although they sometimes need a little help to begin with. Alternatively, there is still time to make a direct sowing of sweet pea seeds in the garden. These will flower rather later than those grown from autumn-sown seed, but will go on flowering later into the summer and, perhaps, into early autumn.

 Sweet Pea Emilia FoxWe urge you to try our new exclusive variety Emilia Fox, which we named for the actress and star of television’s Silent Witness. This rich bicolor was bred in New Zealand by the world’s foremost breeder of the species Dr Keith Hammett. It is sweetly scented (as all good sweet peas should be!), has large blooms and long, strong stems. Those of you wishing to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday this year should grow the strongly scented Lizbeth, which has large, ruffled, orange-pink flowers.

Sweet peas may have exotic-looking flowers, but they are hardy annuals – just like many other easy-to-grow flowers which flower just a few weeks after seed has been sown direct in the garden in their flowering position. The simplest of all flowers to grow, and ideal for encouraging children who may have taken a interest in gardening, subjects such as calendula, nigella, candytuft, sunflower and godetia can be sown now in fine, crumbly soil anywhere in the garden. They are perfect for plugging gaps in borders and many of them are attractive to butterflies and bees.

Cheshire GodetiaIf you prefer to grow on young plants rather than sowing from seed, bear in mind these will need to be ordered sooner rather than later.  For example, most of our large plug plants can only be ordered until mid May, while many subjects such as fuchsias, geraniums, chrysanthemums, petunias and carnations need to be ordered by the end of April.

As summer-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinths fade, carefully remove the flowers, but leave the foliage to die back naturally, as this will help ensure the bulbs receive the nourishment they need if they are to flower again next year. Please do not tie up the foliage either. To provide these bulbs with an added boost, give them a liquid feed as they start dying back.

If you have perennials which have made large clumps through the years, there is still time to divide them to give more plants for elsewhere in the garden or to give to friends. Most are fairly tough customers and can be split carefully with a spade. Always ensure the sections you re-plant have both roots and shoots.

As roses, shrubs, hedges and perennials spring back into life, they would all benefit from a feed with a good quality, general purpose fertiliser, administered according to manufacturer’s instructions – or even at a rate a little less.


Potatoes chittingThere is certainly plenty to be getting on with in the vegetable garden in April. As a general rule of thumb, second-early potato tubers are planted in the first half of the month, while maincrop varieties can be planted during the second half. Conditions do, however, vary from one part of the UK to another. Plant them about 6in deep, 18in apart in rows around 30in apart. As the plants grow, keep earthing them up to form a ridge, drawing soil up and over the stems. The young shoots are tender, so if frost threatens protect them with horticultural fleece or newspaper.

A wide range of brassica seed, such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale can be sown in April. Make these sowings either in a seed bed in the garden or in trays of modules; the latter method is more reliable and the young plants produced by this method usually suffer a much smaller check to their growth when planted out to their cropping positions.

cabbage cabice from Mr Fothergill'sWe are particularly keen on our new cabbage Cabice F1 – and we are not the only ones! “This is amazing – let’s get it on the menu tonight!” was Jamie Oliver’s reaction when he tasted it, according to a report in The Sun TV Magazine by Peter Seabrook, who took two heads of Cabice to Jamie’s Fifteen restaurant. Cabbage Cabice F1 has a super-sweet flavour, halfway between that of a crisp lettuce and a conventional cabbage, making it versatile enough to be eaten raw shredded in salads or steamed and served hot. The ballhead variety produces firm, dense, crisp heads, which can weigh up to 2kg (4.4lb) each, and stand in good condition in the ground for several weeks without loss of condition or flavour. Cabice F1 is a short-stemmed, compact grower with small outer leaves, making it a good choice for smaller gardens and raised beds. We offer both seed and plants of this great new variety.

Growing saladsAs the soil warms up through the month, there is a whole host of vegetables which can be sown in their cropping positions. These include lettuce, radish, beetroot, carrot, parsnip, peas, turnip and spring onion. Herbs such as coriander, chervil, dill and rocket can also be sown similarly. If you enjoy making curries, a row of coriander is a ‘must’, and sow every three weeks for a regularly supply of this wonderful herb.

Sow seed thinly to reduce the need for thinning as seedlings develop, and keep the young plants well watered in dry spells. Most importantly of all, weed rows regularly to minimise competition from unwanted plants. Take great care if using a hoe or alternatively hand-weed. The vegetable plants will really appreciate it and reward you accordingly later in the season.

If you have a greenhouse, why not make an early sowing of runner beans so you have young plants ready to set out once the danger of frost has passed? Seed can be sown individually 2in deep in Rootrainers or 3in pots. Harden off the young plants from early May onwards, protecting them from any late frosts, before planting out to their cropping positions later in May. Remember to have their support system erected before you plant out. Do all this and you will probably be harvesting those young, tender pods before anyone else – and think how good that will make you feel!

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