My garden in April
It’s around this time of year that one of TS Elliot ‘s most famous lines gets an airing: ‘April can be the cruellest month of all’. It may be true for football teams plunging towards relegation but I beg to differ when it comes to the garden. I prefer Chaucer’s gentle optimism: ‘When in April, sweet showers fall’. For me April is a time full of plants bursting into flower and the promise of the coming months. Although we do get showers the weather is warmer, there is much to do in the garden and – above all – there is hope. Especially given that March has been such a very cold, rainy, sleety, snowy month this year.
In the greenhouse
The greenhouse is still a nice cosy place to work in until the weather warms up and you can listen to those ‘sweet showers’ pattering on the glass roof.
Pot up hanging baskets and pots ready for putting out in May. With hanging baskets make sure that you plant 3 large showy plants such as Fuchsia or Pelargoniums and then surround with smaller plants such as Bizzie Lizzies or Petunias. Then add loads of trailing plants. Always stuff as much as you can into baskets and pots, adding slow release fertiliser and water granules to the compost. You will need to water every day, maybe twice a day if it’s really hot. When I was at college we were taught never to put any frost tender plants out until after 15th May in the southeast. I always remember this although as the years have passed and the weather has changed I do put plants out much earlier now.
Summer bedding can be sown in a propagator now. If you have bought plugs of summer bedding they will need to be potted on or as I mentioned above planted into the baskets and pots.
Pinch out Fuchsia and Sweet Peas to make bushy plants.
Sow tender vegetable seeds that can be planted out once the frosts have finished in a heated greenhouse or on a windowsill indoors. The temperature needs to be 18c for the seeds to germinate. Vegetables that have a small seed such as tomatoes should ideally be sown in late March/ early April. Put several seeds into a pot and just cover with compost. Once the seedling can be handled they should be pricked out into larger pots. Large vegetable seeds such as Courgettes, Melons and Aubergine can be sown from mid April. Sow one seed to a small pot. Give citrus fruits a feed now.
Established pots and tubs will benefit from 50cm of fresh compost being added to the top of the pots. Do check that vine weevil larvae haven’t had a go at any roots, especially Fuchsia which they seem to be especially partial to. If you listen carefully you might be able to hear them munching away, or maybe it just seems that way as they get through so much. Apply biological or chemical control for those pesky weevils. Any really pot bound plants ought to be potted into a larger pot.
If possible protect fruit blossom from late frosts.
Continue to weed and hoe flowerbeds, adding a general purpose fertiliser such as chicken manure and mulch.
Dead head Daffodils and tulips letting the foliage die back naturally. The goodness in the leaves will now go back into the bulb for flowering next year. If you cut the leaves off to make the plant look tidy all the goodness will be lost. I’m always surprised by how many folks make that mistake.
If you haven’t yet done it, tie in climbing and rambler roses, remembering that laying the stems horizontally will mean that you’ll get shoots all along the tied-in stem which will flower. Give them a feed with a slow release fertiliser and add manure. Roses will show their appreciation of being fed with even more flowers.
Sow hardy annuals where you want them to flower outside in drifts. Autumn sown Sweet peas can be planted out and seeds can be sown outside.
Plant summer flowering bulbs such as Lilies and Gladiolus.
Divide Bamboo now. Evergreen shrubs and trees can also be moved safely.
Feed water plants, putting in a slow release fertiliser into their baskets.
Our pond was full of frogs mating in March. The water on the pond was frothing madly. We now have a lot of frogs spawn, like a particularly rich form of tapioca. Unfortunately our cat Isis likes nothing more than gobbling it up so we have to push it to the middle of the pond out of her reach. It’s one of the big pleasures in having a garden pond to see the tadpoles emerging and slowly transforming into tiny little froglets.
Pruning & Propagating
Salix and Cornus can still be cut back hard. You will then get the new coloured stems to give interest in the winter.
Remove frost damaged branches from Evergreens.
As I mentioned last month, delay pruning Forsythia until after flowering. I always think that once the Forsythia flowers in March then spring is truly here. The bright yellow flowers are so fresh and joyful.
Remove green shoots from variegated shrubs. The green shoots are stronger and will eventually take over the whole plant.
Divide Hostas before they come into leaf. Slugs and snails love Hostas. Put down some used coffee grinds or eggshell to get them off the plants. Divide Primroses once they have flowered.
Marginal and bog plants can be divided now and so can Water lilies once they have shown some growth.
Gently give Lavender and Santolina a haircut making sure that you don’t cut into the old wood.
Trim winter flowering Heathers once they have finished flowering.
Prune Penstemons back to ground level ready for them to spurt into growth. I quite often take cuttings from the old stems.
Take cuttings of Conifers and last years hardwood cuttings may need potting on.
Check that pots are getting enough water. They can dry out at this time of the year. Have a look at compost bins to see if any is ready to spread as mulch.
Set up a water butt by drainpipes if you don’t have one. You can get pumps that you put into the butt to help pump the water out.
Build raised beds from new railway sleepers. Sleepers are very useful to define a vegetable patch or to retain flowerbeds.
Potatoes can now be planted outside either in the ground or in pots or black dustbin bags. As the ground is warming up many vegetables can be sown outdoors now. Such as Parsnips, Cabbages
I always think of April as the month to pressure wash the paving and decking all ready for the summer.
Lawns will now need regular mowing. I’d suggest raking any dead thatch off the lawn and spiking it with a fork. Give the lawn a feed of spring/summer lawn feed, which will have a weed killer in with it.
From mid April the soil should be warm enough to sow new lawns with seed. Wait until the lawn is 5 – 7cm before walking on it. Make sure that you give it a first cut on high. Spring feed high in Nitrogen. Nitrogen gets all plants growing.
Plants for colour in April
There are so many different plants flowering now. When thinking of colour and plants do think about the needs of Bees and wild life. It does make such a difference to creatures of all kinds and to keep a rich diversity of plants and flowers, especially in urban and suburban areas.
Ceanothus will mix with many plants the wonderful blue contrasts well with the yellow of (Broom) Cytisus Moonlight or Cytisus x Praecox and Euphorbia Robbiae. Cytisus species will look good with Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’ as the Philadelphus leaves are bright yellow in early spring changing to green yellow later on. Later in the year the Philadelphus have double white scented flowers.
Other good bedfellows are (Quince) Chaenomeles japonica and Spiraea Goldflame. In the autumn when the quince fruit are ripe you can make quince jelly.
Amelanchier will be flowering now pair it with Pieris Forest Flame and Camellia x Williamsii Donation.
Plant Clematis armandii evergreen clematis against a west facing fence or wall. The flowers are delicately scented and it will give you a mass of flowers.
Mahonia’s yellow flowers will contrast well with Euonymus Emerald n’ Gold.
One of my favourite shrubs that I’ve mentioned before, Daphne Odora Aureomarginata , is now in flower. I always feel that it should be planted in the front of the house to give you a lift as you arrive home. The scent is so strong.
Happy gardening hopefully in a more clement climate than we’ve had so far this year.