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.
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
April is the month to start putting in plant supports for your beans, sweet peas, clematis, and any other climbing flower or vegetable. Having cried over the devastation an unexpectedly fierce summer wind wreaked on my annual flower beds a couple of years ago, it's a lesson I've learned the hard way. The easiest way to support tall climbers is to create a wigwam of bamboo canes and gently tie in your plants to them as they start to grow up.
One job I'm not looking forward to is tying in my roses. We have a gloriously fragrant, rambling Paul's Himalayan Musk rose that scrambles through our peach tree but it has a lot of thorns. My hands and arms will bear the scars for a fair few days after I've tied in the shoots to the branches.
If your garden furniture was left outside to fend for itself over winter (like ours) then it will benefit from a wash down now. Similarly, if you have a patio (like us) then it will probably have a lot of slippery algae on it, particularly in shaded areas. This is where a power wash becomes Alan's best friend - although Flora does love helping him, haha.
I've seen a lot of birds gathering bits and pieces for their nests so Alan is keeping their feeders topped up in readiness for the breeding season. And our ponds are absolutely crammed with frogspawn. I have never seen so much in the eight years we've lived here. Flora is going to have a lot of fun this summer!
Alan is not happy that he'll have to start mowing the lawn and orchard this month. Tip: keep the blades high for the first cut of the year, so as not to shock the grass. And if you follow me on Instagram, you'll know we have a LOT of bulbs that are flowering happily through the grass, so he'll have to mow around them. Last year this made for some lovely naturalised sections of ground, especially in the orchard. So, this is our April in the garden - what jobs will you be doing this month?