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As the countryside springs to life with carpets of stunning bluebells and bright green leaves on elegant beech trees and sturdy oaks, April is all about growth in the garden too. Unfortunately, the weeds have woken up as well as the plants, so it’s time to put the trowel or hoe to good use, to stop them choking budding plants and young seedlings. It goes without saying that you need to dig out the roots of weeds so they can’t regenerate, but this is especially true of those with tap roots such as dandelions and creeping roots such as ground elder (welcome to my world) but with established wood scrubs such as ivy, it may be more practical to just cut back growth to starve the roots.
In April, once the daffodils have faded and you’ve enjoyed the brilliant bloom of the tulips, it’s also wise to say au revoir with some simple steps that will maintain bulb health for next Spring. Daffodils don’t actually need dead-heading except for aesthetic reasons, but it is important to leave their foliage intact for at least six weeks, or until it has died back, as this effectively feeds the bulbs for the following Spring. A good tip if your daffodils are not flowering is to dig them up once the foliage has completely withered and re-plant in a sunnier spot, as there is a good chance they will flower again. With tulips, it’s actually important that they’re dead-headed quite quickly to prevent seed production and promote healthy flowering the following year, regardless of type or hardiness. Dead-heading violas and pansies is also a great idea as they will happily keep flowering until mid-May.
Although sunshine hours increase dramatically in April, occasional frosts are also a feature and it’s important to show your new plant growth or delicate trees a little tender loving care. To avoid scorching or pale brown patches between leaf veins that signal frost damage, you can either position susceptible varieties against south-facing walls or use horticultural fleece to cover exposed plants; Gardening Naturally do a great range of blankets and bags including a washable ‘thermacrop’ sustainable alternative. Probably the simplest plan though is to work out where your ‘frost pockets’ are situated and then consult the RHS plant search which generates lots of useful suggestions for different garden aspects and weather exposure as well as soil type and seasonal flowering requirements.
Finally, we must turn our attention to the much-maligned and slimy world of slugs in late Spring. Although they do not hibernate, slugs are mainly active above five degrees and have many favourite hosts, happily munching on everything from emerging hostas and lupins to delphiniums and zinnias. Slugs, however, are still part of the ecosystem and there are a number of ways to keep them at bay in a more friendly way. The easiest method is to add plants to your soil beds that actively deter them, including astrantia, fennel, rosemary, anise, wormwood and rue. Another way which doesn’t use artificial means is to remove natural slug habitats such as bricks and logs while also encouraging their natural predators such as song thrushes, toads, newts and hedgehogs. Slippery or prickly barriers, copper tape and our personal favourite, the ‘beer trap’ are all effective ways to deal with slugs without going near pellets that can harm birds and wildlife, so do check out a full list of methods on theenglishgarden.co.uk.
If you do still have time on your hands this April after squaring-off these jobs, just have a read of our list of handy tips below. April really is a busy month although an exciting one too, and the tasks should put a spring in your step as the warmer weather awakens the joy of gardening once more.
Divide and replant summer-flowering perennials such as lilies and peonies to give them more room to grow by digging a trench around the clump so you can go under the roots from different angles. It’s also a good idea to give them a generous water a couple of days beforehand.
Enjoy some immediate and bold colour by planting primulas and polyanthus in pots or at the front of your soil beds.
Have a good look at your roses and rub off aphids while spraying new leaves against black spot, mildew and fungal diseases. We particularly like non-harmful Ecofective Rose Defender
Harden off any sweet peas that you have in pots by putting them out during the day but bringing back into the greenhouse if there’s a risk of frost. And if you’re confident in the night-time temperatures, plant out in a spot that gets full sun or only partial shade. Sweet pea seeds can also be sown outside this month.
Think about stakes and supports for tall perennial plants such as delphiniums, poppies and foxgloves before they get too tall.
Try growing some half-hardy summer bedding plants such as marigolds and lobelia and petunias under cover this month, remembering to clearly label your trays and only transferring outside when the weather is reliably warm and after preparing your seed beds
Create a herb garden for summer salads or scented al fresco dining by picking a patch near where you eat outdoors. We love the collections at Sarah Raven which will not only look lovely but inspire some new culinary creations.
Feed roses and shrubs, by adding the ‘big three’ of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous, using a suitable feed such as Neudorff Organic Rose Feed if you can’t get hold of nature’s finest horse manure!
Remember to shape lavender bushes so they have time to re-establish themselves, being careful not to go too hard into old wood
Take advantage of your last chance to cut back favourite shrubs such as buddleia or hydrangeas, cutting back to a healthy looking bud
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