What to do in the garden in April

As we wave goodbye to March and welcome in April we can finally start to see the growing year unfold rapidly ahead of us after patiently waiting for the busiest time of the year in the garden.  So without further ado, here is what you must do!

 

Jobs in the flower garden in April

Zinnias from Mr Fothergill'sIf you have not already done so, make sowings of seed of annual bedding and container plants.  We covered the subject last month, but there is still time for flowers such as French and African marigolds, dahlias, zinnias and petunias.  Sow these now and you will have a riot of colour in your borders and patio pots from June right through to the autumn.

Petunias from Mr Fothergill'sAs the soil warms up (well, we hope it will!) and begins to dry out a little, direct sowings of seed of hardy annuals can be made in their flowering positions.  This is just about the easiest way to have some splashes of colour this summer, as most will start to bloom just a few weeks after sowing.  Virginian and night scented stock are about the fastest of all hardy annuals to burst into flower, so are great subjects to sow with children, who will not want to wait long to see the results of their work.
There are plenty of easy-to-grow hardy annuals in our range, including cornflower, godetia, nasturtium, linaria, candytuft and nigella (love-in-a-mist).  If you are unsure of which to grow, sow our Mixed Annuals or Mixed Californian Wildflowers.  Remember sweet peas are also hardy annuals, so they too can be sown direct this month, requiring only the same support as you would use for runner beans.  When they start blooming, keep cutting the flowers to encourage more to be produced.

mixed annuals

Towards the end of the month summer-flowering bulbs, tubers and corms can also be planted in borders where you want them to flower.  Dahlias and gladioli are some of our favourites, but cannas also look stunning and bring a really tropical touch to any garden.

As spring-flowering bulbs’ flowers fade, remove the dead heads, but let the foliage die back and turn yellow to allow energy to pass back into the bulbs underground.

Roses will benefit from feeding with a good quality general fertiliser or one formulated specially for them to give them a boost ahead of flowering.  The same goes for perennials in your borders.  The winter rains will have depleted nutrients in the soil, particularly on light, free-draining land.

Prune spring-flowering shrubs such as Ribes (flowering currant) and Forsythia when they have finished  flowering.  If you have Cornus (dogwood) it usually needs cutting back, as the colourful winter stems are produced only on young growth.  Cornus alba and sericea can both be cut back hard to within a few inches of the ground, while Cornus sanguinea is not as vigorous as those, so only needs to be cut back by a half to two thirds of its present growth.

Now is a good time to divide and replant hostas.  Lift plants carefully with a spade and divide up the clump with an old serrated knife, making sure each section has both fibrous and fleshy roots.  Replant, taking care not to do so too deeply.  The crown of the plant should be just at ground level.  Water the new plants in well and remember to watch out for slugs, which are particularly fond of hostas.

 

Jobs in the vegetable garden in April

April is the best month to plant maincrop potatoes.  Where space permits, they should be planted 16-18in apart with about 24in between rows.  Earth up the foliage as it develops to prevent damage from late frosts, which will cut back their development.  Many of our customers now grow potatoes in pots, and good crops can be achieved with this method.  Use a 12-15 litre pot for each tuber.  Add compost to a quarter the depth of the pot, plant one tuber, cover it to  about half way with more compost.  Keep the port watered and keep adding more compost as the foliage shows through until the compost is almost to the top of the pot.  The potatoes you produce in pots will usually be of the highest quality and blemish-free.

Savoy cabbage from Mr FothergillsThis is perhaps the busiest month of the year for sowing vegetable seed direct in the garden or on the allotment.  There is a huge range which can be sown during April, but do be guided by the prevailing weather and soil conditions.  If your soil remains cold and very wet, delay sowing until conditions become more favourable  Seed sown in cold, wet soil will often rot before it has a chance to germinate, while a delayed sowing will produce young plants which soon make up for lost time.  If you really cannot wait to sow, try broad beans as they can withstand poor conditions better than most other vegetable seeds.

Herb seed such as coriander, chervil, parsley and dill can also be sown direct in the garden.  If you grow coriander specially for adding to Asian dishes, do try Cilantro, which produces masses of large leaves and is slow to run to seed, which can sometimes be a problem with coriander.  While most of us grow the curly-leaved parsley, the Italian flat-leaf type, such as our organically-grown Giant of Italy, has a stronger flavour and is great added to soups and to many other dishes.  Basil is hugely popular in the UK, but it is tender, so best to sow indoors in pots at present before transplanting outdoors in a few weeks time.

CorianderAutumn- and winter-cropping brassicas such as savoy cabbage, Brussels sprouts and curly kale can be sown either in a seed bed in the garden or in trays of compost in the greenhouse or cold frame.  This should produce plenty of young plants for setting out in summer.

Later in the month you may wish to make an indoor sowing of French and runner beans, although it is far too early to sow these direct because they too are frost-tender.  Sow the seed individually in small pots of compost and leave them in an unheated greenhouse.  When frosts are forecast, cover the seedlings with horticultural fleece or a layer or two of newspaper.  Harden the young plants off gradually before planting out to their cropping positions at the end of May.

Monte cristo beanIf you have never grown climbing (as opposed to runner) beans before, please take a look at Climbing Bean Monte Cristo.  As easy to grow as ‘runners’, it is a very heavy cropper, producing stringless, pencil-podded beans, which are fleshy and full of flavour.  The plants have the advantage of resistance to most common diseases, so remain healthy.  Well worth growing, in our opinion!

There is still time to plant onion sets, but it is best done sooner rather than later.  Most varieties can be planted about 4in apart, allowing about 9-12in between rows.  Just leave the very tip of each set visible above the soil and keep a look-out for birds pulling them out before have a chance to grow.

 

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