As we're late and spanning months, I've combined garden tips for both April and May, have a nice busy time out there!
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. As shoots appear don't forget to ‘earth up’ the growing shoots. This serves two purposes – young potato shoots do not like frosty weather, so cover over the shoots with soil for protection, and it also helps to avoid young tubers from turning green with sunlight exposure.
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. 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.
Thin out raspberry shoots and prune gooseberries. As always, the idea with this sort of job is make an open framework with an even distribution of fruiting stems all getting a good supply of sunlight and air (often easier said than done).
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 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 sprouts.
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.
As May arrives ...
more tender vegetables can be sown: French and runner beans, courgette, cucumber, pumpkin and squash as well as cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli for winter harvesting - they like a long growing season.
Sow peas outside in May with pea sticks in place early and prepare supports for any other plants (e.g. climbing French and runner beans) that will need them later. Keep sowing salad crops (radishes, spring onions, lettuce etc.) and herbs (parsley, coriander, basil etc.) for regular harvesting.
Towards the end of May, plant out summer bedding plants, these are available from garden centres but are often displayed earlier than they are sensibly planted out, so, if tempted, keep them in a shady place (protected from frost) and well-watered until they can go into the open garden.
If you’ve already sown tomatoes and courgettes inside, they can now go outside in May. As upright (cordon) tomatoes grow, keep an eye open for any side-shoots that form in the angle between the main stem and branches and remove them. Towards the end of the month, seeds for both can be sown directly into the ground.
In May Prune spring-flowering shrubs after they have finished flowering and remove any growth damaged by frost from evergreen shrubs. Check variegated ones for any where the leaves have reverted to plain green and remove those shoots completely. During May it's that time of year when spring bulbs are now beyond their best, but as they fade the tidy gardener can't resist the temptation to 'tidy them'. Once the flowers have faded you can cut the head off the flower if you want to, don't cut back the leaves until they are completely yellow, and don't tie them up either, the leaves need to continue to produce chlorophyll (food), the leaf needs exposure to as much light as possible, the bulb needs the energy in the leaf to be re-absorbed into the bulb ready for next year. Once your leaves have completely withered your bulb is now dormant, so you can lift them if you need to thin them out or move clumps that are too big to new areas, they don't generally need feeding they're very self-sufficient.
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. Hedges will need clipping, but check for birds' nests first, and if you’ve been feeding the birds in the winter, don’t stop – current thinking is that you should do it all year.
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
Images: Robert Nixon Betts