April Garden Tips
By the time you read this it should be properly spring and noticeably warmer. We've had a generally mild winter which lots of garden pests will have survived, so keep an eye open for them. On the plus side, there should be lots of appropriate predators, as well as more birds to add their song to the dawn and evening chorus.
If you haven't already done so, plant all seed potatoes, they are traditionally planted on Good Friday, but with Easter being mid-April means that remaining maincrop varieties should be planted by now. Remember that most varieties are frost-tender and may need some protection if the overnight temperature threatens to drop below zero.
Lots of vegetables (as well as many annuals and herbs) can be sown now - check the seed packets. They will mostly be hardy types (carrots, beetroot, radish, parsnips etc.) and can go direct into the soil, but that may depend on if you’ve had the chance to prepare the beds for them. There's still a chance of late frosts - never sow into frozen soil.
If you’re not confident about growing things from seed there will be lots of seedlings for sale in garden centres, once they're open again! However, they will have been raised in a very benign environment and won’t appreciate going straight outside, especially if it’s chilly, so they need to be slowly acclimatised by being protected at night – but don’t keep them in a heated house.
Seeds for tender vegetables can be sown under cover; tomatoes, courgettes, squashes, peppers and so forth. Again, you can buy young plants from garden centres but they can be quite expensive for what you get, plus it’s far more satisfying to grow things from scratch. If they need watering it is better to stand the trays in shallow water until the surface of the soil appears damp, spraying from above can flatten the delicate seedlings.
If you are planning a new strawberry bed this year now is the time to save a space and dig in some organic matter such as manure to give these productive fruit crops a really good start. Think about ordering some strawberry plants or runners to be planted next month.
Mulching with compost is by far the best way to feed your garden, but if you can’t produce enough or haven’t got a good source, most established plants will appreciate some general fertiliser spread around above where their roots will be, and gently forked in – don’t overdo it and damage the roots themselves. If you only have a little compost, either reserve it for your hungriest plants or use it to cover a thin scattering of fertiliser.
As the days warm anything in pots will need to be watered more often, especially houseplants, which should be moved away from places where they are in direct sunlight. Start including a weak feed, increasing to full strength as new growth starts to sprout.
If you have fruit trees or shrubs their blossom may be damaged by frost, so try to protect them; this is more important for things like apricots or peaches, which are more vulnerable. Larger trees will to some extent provide their own micro-climate so will suffer less damage (depending on the severity of the frost), and can be left to take their chances.
Lawns should be growing faster now, so may require more frequent and lower cuts. You can also repair any patches that have appeared over winter by sowing seed into them; loosen the soil a bit first, and rake the surface. Protect any newly-sown areas from pigeons.
There isn't a month when you shouldn’t be weeding, but it’s much more important if the weather is mild!
Words: Transition Chesterfield Picture: Robert Nixon Betts