There’s lots to do in April, but don’t let that stop you taking a moment to enjoy the many beautiful things emerging in the garden, from carpets of forget-me-nots and bluebells to the soaring splendour of blossoming trees like magnolias and flowering cherries. Early clematis are beautiful to see and daphnes beautiful to smell.
So, April is a busy month full of promise but do watch out for late frosts.
Sweet pea seeds can now be sown outdoors or plant out your autumn sown plants once they have hardened off. Pinching out the tip of your sweet peas once they are 10cm tall encourages them to branch out. Dig a good, deep hole and fill the base with farmyard manure or good quality compost; they like rich soil. Tie to the support and water in well.
Sow directly your hardy annuals e.g. marigolds, poppies. They will need thinning out in a few weeks’ time; pot up spares for friends and the plant sale. Half-hardy annuals e.g. cosmos can be planted out at the end of the month in sheltered spots, but if frost is forecast be patient.
If you have started seedlings indoors or in a greenhouse, harden them off by placing them outside during the day, but take them in again late afternoon. I do this for about a week.
Sow perennials e.g. hollyhocks and delphiniums in individual pots or segregated trays, fill the seed tray with good compost and scatter a small amount of compost over the seeds. Gently water and leave in a light spot as they need warmth to germinate.
If you took cuttings of tender perennials in the autumn they will now be well rooted. Pot on into larger pots and prepare your borders with well-rotted manure before planting out in a sunny position in a couple of months.
Create new plants from last year’s pelargoniums (tender geraniums). Take cuttings now and they’ll be ready to be replanted in early June.
Keep up with the deadheading of your spring bulbs and split up snowdrops before you forget where they are in the border. I also plant out potted bulbs that I may have received as gifts. Hyacinths like shady areas and look best in a group.
I love dahlias. Now is the time to get them potted up. Gladiolus also need planting; both will be happy in pots as long as they are supported and protected from the wind. Lilies need to go straight into the ground. They need plenty of space and good drainage.
Prune your winter stems now e.g. salix and cornus these need to be cut to just 5-10 cm above the previous year’s growth, while forsythia, once it has finished flowering should be cut back to strong new leafy side shoots and take out a few of the oldest stems from the base.
While we are talking pruning, if you did not prune your lavender last year now is a good time. Give the plant a short back and sides with secateurs to snip off old flower stems and shoot tips. Pruning into hard old wood prevents new growth.
Tussock-forming grasses also love a shaping haircut in the spring.
I have learnt over the years how important it is to keep my secateurs clean; a drop of oil helps and prevents rust. That leads on to:
Apply mulch to your borders, this helps retain moisture and supresses weeds.
Give the plants a weekly liquid feed during the summer, to encourage growth.
When cutting the lawn for the first time, make sure the blades are set quite high. You can smarten everything up by cutting your lawn edges too. Feed lawns and treat for moss.
Continue to sow or lay new lawns. Ensure that they do not dry out during dry spells.
Keep on top of the tiny annual weeds emerging with a hoe. Only hoe on dry days – this way any weeds that you hoe will die off and wilt quickly.
If necessary, ventilate glasshouses on warm days.
Look out for pests, especially early aphids, which can be brushed off or washed off with soapy water..
Stake delphiniums and other tall plants to prevent wind damage.
Plant up hanging baskets and containers.
Vegetables, herbs, salads and fruit
I sow a small amount of salad crops and herbs from now on every three weeks to ensure a continual supply. This can easily be done in pots and large containers or straight into the ground. Vegetables can, towards the end of the month be sown into prepared seed beds e.g. beetroot, leeks, spinach, and spring onions. Plant your potatoes after chitting; I use egg boxes for this as they protect the sprouting shoots. Once sprouted, plant into deep beds full of compost and cover. Onions and shallots can also be planted now. Remember to rotate these around the garden each year to prevent disease build-up. Courgettes and beans need to be planted in a greenhouse or wait until all chance of frost has gone. An old friend once said: “Never plant beans out before 10th May”. I always remember that as it was my father’s birthday.
Tomatoes, if grown from seed, need to be potted on once their first pair of true leaves have grown, prick them out and plant individually into small pots of multipurpose compost. They need a warm sunny position, tomatoes like to feel contained so pot them on deeply a couple of times as they grow.
All strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and gooseberries, will benefit from a mulch. Garden compost, leaf mould, organic manure, straw, hay and spent mushroom compost can all be used.
If you have a pond, split your marginal plants to prevent overcrowding and allow room for nature. If you do not have a pond don't forget to leave water dishes and bird baths for the bees and the birds. They all need lots of water. Snails and slugs love the warmer, wet weather and before you know it you'll be overrun so encourage hedgehogs, frogs, toads and thrushes who love to prey on these pests, try not to use chemical deterrents. Sow wildflowers to encourage pollinators.
Enjoy the fruits of your hard labour and don’t forget to make time for a cup of tea, perusing the Sutton’s Catalogue with your membership discount code at hand.