It always amazes me how quickly nature responds to a few warm sunny days. Everything in my garden is waking up and I love that expectation of colour and scent and the promise of warm summer evenings. However, this has to be a busy month otherwise we can all face a summer of backbreaking maintenance. My advice is to try and get out there during the week in the evenings to keep on top of things and avoid leaving everything to the weekend when you’re meant to be relaxing in your garden. The main culprits of course are the weeds which if left to flower, will strengthen and disperse seed everywhere. Time spent now digging them out and if in leaf, applying systemic killers, will drastically reduce your weeding once the soil has warmed up. I also suggest you don’t all go mad with the moss killer – like many of the garden centre chemicals, this is just treating the symptoms and not the cause. I find that moss abounds where the soil is compacted, has poor drainage and gets little direct sunlight and you will reduce moss more effectively by aerating and scarifying the lawn. At my last house I had much more turf to deal with and qualified for an aerator that towed behind the sit-on mower. These days, as my lawn is the size of a postage stamp, I go up and down with a fork opening up those areas of turf that have been compacted over the cold months. The neighbour of course thinks I’m completely barking.
Garden Centres are stacked high to tempt us into buying at least 4 things that weren’t on our list so be a bit careful not to buy tender plants too early otherwise a surprise frost will nobble them. Unless you have a greenhouse, don’t rush out and buy the bedding on offer quite yet and before you stock up with bags of compost, be sure to check the condition of the bags – old compost will do very little for your plants and will result in poor root development and nitrogen deficiency.
If you didn’t give your plants organic fertilizer in March, give them a sprinkling of chemical fertilizer now by clearing back the mulch but avoid directly touching the roots.
April also signals a huge increase in the slug and snail population so break out the pellets or beer traps now! My colleague Rick suggests having a few large flat stones near to where the slugs and snails party. These serve as useful anvils for the thrushes to thrash the hell out of the shells.
Here is a list of my favourite plants to consider for April interest.
PLANTS OF THE MONTH
Trees: Amelanchier lamarkii,
Ornamental flowering cherries: Prunus avium, Prunus ‘Kanzan’, P. ‘Spire’
Crab apples: M. x moerlandsii ‘Liset’ and M. ‘Royalty’
Shrubs: Spiraea ‘Arguta’, Pieris japonica. Magnolia stellata,Aubretia ‘J.S.Baker’, Euphorbia, Viburnum x juddii and x carlesii ‘Aurora’, Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’. Chaenomeles.
Evergreens: Camellia, Viburnam x burkwoodii
Climbers: Clematis alpina and Clematis macropetala
Perennials: Aquilegia, Pulmonaria, Brunnera macrophylla
Bedding: Myosotis, winter-flowering pansies
Bulbs: Convallaria majalis, Fritillaria imperialis
SOFTSCAPE PROJECTS FOR APRIL:
- Weeding (as described above)
- Feed all your borders
- Dust over bare soil patches between shrubs, trees, roses and lightly fork in
- Add fertilizer to areas you intend to use for bedding plants
- Pruning and renovation
- Deadhead daffodils after flowering –leave in ground for 6 weeks before cutting stems down
- Hard prune evergreen shrubs and hedges – Photinia, Griselinia,, Prunus lusitanica (Laurel)
- Prune well established colourful shrubs Sambucus and Cotinus to encourage bolder leaves. Afterwards, remember to add fertilizer and water in well.
- Prune Penstemon, Gaura and Verbena bonariensis down to the new shoots on last years growth
- Cut back Hebe’s, Fatsia and Mahonia to encourage lower growth
- Tip prune (2”) Lavender, Helichrysum serotinum (the curry plant) and Santolina to avoid centres being left sparse
- Prune Forsythias and Chaenomeles
- Prune winter jasmine
- This is your last chance to prune bush, groundcover and patio roses
- Tying back
- Tie in climbing and rambling roses as close to horizontal as possible to restrict sap flow and force plant to produce sideshoots along laterals
- Lawn treatment
- Cut grass (high blade setting) once a fortnight
- Level bumps to avoid scalping
- Continue lawn repairs – overseed bare patches
- Aerate compacted areas
- Apply slow-release lawn feed, more expensive but feeds the lawn over the whole summer
- Plant summer flowering plants – Lilies, Nerines
- Plant summer bulbs – Dahlias, Cannas, Gladioli – successional over 3 weeks
- Plant evergreens now – Ilex, Buxus, Garrya, Escallonia. Be sure to soak all plants before planting
- Plant sweet peas – soak overnight, plant up a bamboo cane wigwam
- Vegetable garden – Plant leeks, fennel, lettuce, radish, beetroot, peas, beans, sweetcorn, courgettes – sow little and often in shallow drills – thin seedlings out even if you do think you’re wasting! The others need space to grow Plant tomatoes (on windowsill or greenhouse) and Maincrop potatoes – make sure to mound up!
- Plant container grown fruit trees and give them 0.60-1 metre planting space (i.e.with tree in the middle). Clear all turf and weeds in circle and make sure to mulch after planting. Common causes for fruit tree failure include not soaking rootball, not firming down, not teasing out roots before planting and poor staking (note where your prevailing wind is!).
- Have some fun with annuals: Sunflowers, Californian poppies, pot marigolds. Direct sow where you want them.
- Blueberries in Pots – I’ve just read about this in The Garden (RHS) and it is definitely something I need to try. Ericaceous compost, water with rainwater if possible. Feed monthly with ericaceous liquid fertilizer. Varieties: “Sunshine Blue’, ‘Duke’, ‘Northland’. Please let me know how you get on.
- Continue to Divide Hosta, Astrantia, Hemerocallis and now Agapanthus if you are lucky enough to have them in quantity.
- Slugs and snails. As discussed earlier.
- Protect fruit tree blossom with fleece if necessary
- Spray new rose foliage against mildew (SB Plant invigorator)
- Aquatic: Clear out ponds, divide plants, retain fish in pond water until oxygenators and
EVENTS CALENDAR – my selection
- 18th/19th April RHS Garden Harlow Carr – Spring Gardening and Wildlife Weekend
- All April: Wyken Hall, Suffolk – Wildflower Meadow – snakes head fritillaries and Leucojum peppers
- Mondays and Tuesdays in April 10am-2.30pm
For a real treat:
- Belmon Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Oxford OX44 7PD
– tour of the garden, a glass of champagne and a five course lunch for 105 a head (RHS members) and 130 (not!).
Borde Hill Garden, Haywards Heath, West Sussex RH16 1XP
23RD April 1.30 – 5pm. Tour, talk and tea
Garden writer Stephen Lacey talks about how to plant a scented garden and reveals secrets of how to have scent in your garden throughout the year – I’ll be there.
- 13th-19th April – National Gardening Week