April is a wake-up call in the garden, as plants are producing shoots, buds are opening and blossom is creating a haze of frothy beauty and attracting bees.
It is the beginning of a transformation from winter, as days become longer, and there’s no better time to get to work with these jobs:
What to do with your flowers
- Summer bedding will be on sale now, but only buy it if you have somewhere to shelter it until all danger of frost has passed.
- Make a head start with hanging baskets if you can keep them under the shelter of a porch or in a greenhouse overnight. Smaller plants will fit more easily into wire baskets with liners with holes in them for planting at the side of the container as well as out of the top.
- Prick out seedlings of flower seeds sown in the last few weeks and transfer them to larger pots with fresh compost.
- Pinch out the tips of March-sown sweet peas to encourage more branching and flowers later on.
- Plant hardy perennials while the soil is still moist
- Begin to harden off young plants raised from early sowings as well as plants overwintered as cuttings, ready for planting out in their final position
- While there may be plenty of rain in April, there may also be plenty of sunshine and windy weather which will quickly dry out newly-planted specimens. Make sure all your plants have enough water.
- Recently planted trees will need plenty of water in dry weather, so give them a good soak to allow their roots to establish before the really dry weather of summer is upon us.
- After watering, mulch beds, borders and even containers with an inch of compost or other organic matter to retain water. With permanent containers, remove the top few inches of compost, replace with fresh organic matter and water in well, adding a layer of coloured stones or horticultural grit to keep the moisture in.
- Deadhead daffodils and other spring bulbs as soon as the flowers fade, but leave the foliage to die down naturally, which will redirect energy back to the bulb for next year. Once the bulbs have finished flowering, apply a general feed around the area to give them a boost for next year.
- Prune spring-flowering shrubs including forsythia, Japanese quince and flowering currants once the display has faded, cutting back the flowered stems to strong, young shoots lower down. Lavenders can be lightly trimmed to stop them becoming leggy but never cut back into old wood or they won’t recover.
- Plants grown for their foliage, such as smoke bush and elder should be cut back hard, to within a few buds from ground level, to encourage vigorous, young growth. Feed and mulch the plants after pruning.
- Cut back lavatera hard and remove suckers from roses, found below the lumpy area of the main stem, near the base.
Pest and problem control
- Start weeding now before they take over and focus on particularly vigorous culprits including bindweed, dandelions, ground elder and creeping yellow cress. After your initial removal blitz by digging them out, hoe regularly to gradually eliminate the worst of them.
- Prune out frost-damaged shoots and stems using sharp secateurs, as leaving frost damage on plants can lead to botrytis (grey mould) later on.
- If the weather is warm you may see the first signs of aphids – greenfly and blackfly – appearing on your plants, feeding on sap and hindering soft tender growth. Squash them, pick them off or spray them with a mild detergent solution when you see them.
- Watch out for slugs and snails when it’s wet as they can do huge damage to young, tender plants. Go out after a downpour and pick off as many as you can find, or make beer traps to lure them away. Hinder their path by spreading a layer of sharp grit or eggshells around vulnerable plants.
- Protect brassicas such as cabbages and cauliflowers with brassica collars to protect against cabbage root fly, and erect plastic screens in the vegetable garden to deter carrot fly.
Plan you vegetables
- Sow maincrop carrots, beetroot, parsnip and turnip for winter, and early carrots, peas, spinach, radish, salad leaf and beetroot to use as catch crops.
- Indoors, sow French and runner beans, tomatoes, courgettes, sweetcorn, aubergines and tender herbs including basil and coriander.
- Sow broad beans directly into the ground and plant out those started off in pots last month.
- Plant new asparagus crowns, digging a trench wide enough to take the crowns with their roots spread out and 20-25cm deep. Cover the roots with around 5cm of soil then fill in the trench as the plants grow. You’ll need patience as the first spears should be taken from beds at least two years old.
- Protect the blossom of small fruit trees including pears, plums, cherries and early apples from frost by covering them with horticultural fleece. Make sure newly planted fruit trees have plenty of water.
- Make sure strawberries under cloches or in the greenhouse are given plenty of ventilation to keep them cool and allow bees to get on to the flowers.
- Give blackcurrants and hybrid berries a high nitrogen feed and start feeding citrus plants once a week with a citrus food.