April in the garden

Just because spring is trying to do a vanishing act this year doesn't mean April in the garden is an easy ride. There's a whole host of jobs to be done in preparation for the growing season (once it finally gets underway). And it's the time of year my husband dreads - yes, it's the start of grass cutting!

Weed, feed, mulch

Last month we sowed a lot of our flower and vegetable seeds into module pots and trays to grow on in the house on window ledges and in the greenhouse. This month it's time to prepare the soil for outdoor seed sowing towards the end of April.

One sure sign of spring is the emergence of weeds. I've noticed a LOT of weeds where I want to grow my beans, peas, carrots and radishes, and my poppies and other wildflowers. Once they've been removed I can feed and mulch the soil, either with some chicken manure pellets (warning, they STINK!) or some used coffee grounds (I mentioned this on Twitter a while ago). Tip: if you live near a Starbucks or Costa, ask them for their used coffee grounds to sprinkle over your weed-free soil. It puts nitrogen back into the earth, which is just what growing crops need. And, it's free! After that, just spread some compost over the top to act as a mulch or protective cover.

The soil is probably still a little too cold for direct seed sowing so if you don't have any polytunnels (like me) then you can spread some black bin liners over the ground and weigh them down with stones. After a couple of weeks your soil will have warmed up enough for direct seed sowing.

Top dress your pots

When I first heard this term I had absolutely no idea what it meant. I had visions of fancy throws and bunting :) Actually, all it means is adding fresh compost to any outdoor pots as your plants will have exhausted the nutrients in last year's compost by now. To keep them growing happily, scoop out the top 10cm of old soil and top up with fresh compost. If you're feeling generous you could pop some coffee grounds in as well.

Divide perennials

Now is the time to lift and divide any large clumps of perennials such as hostas, irises, euphorbia, geraniums, primroses, or salvias. There are a couple of reasons for this: division every two to three years helps to maintain plant health and vigour, and it's also an easy way to get new plants for free. Lift your plant(s) with a garden fork and either tease them apart, or cut through the middle with a spade. Then simply replant each plant with fresh compost.

Plant lilies and gladioli

I'm mentioning lilies because now is the best time to plant them in pots for summer colour and scent. But I won't be doing this because lily pollen is poisonous to cats. If the pollen falls on their fur and they lick it off, it will kill them. I'm aware Gardeners World's Monty Don raises both cats and lilies but I'm not prepared to take that risk with my furbabies.

Gladioli on the other hand are not poisonous and I will be planting some white, purple, and green flowering ones, for cutting and displaying around our house in summer.

Plant supports and tying in