This Month in the Garden – April 2018

There is still snow on the grass as I write and a bitter northerly wind. This is not what we should expect near the end of March but we have the prospect of a return to normal temperatures quite soon and I sincerely hope that, as you read this, things will be back to normal. They won’t be truly normal though because everything in the garden is bound to be behind what it would normally be …

We can speed some things up by sowing them under glass and transplanting into open ground later on but you need to be careful about that as some crops will not transport properly. This particularly applies to root vegetables like carrots and parsnips; they have to be sown directly into the place where they will grow. Whatever you do things will grow eventually and it’s surprising how nature catches itself up.

Crops that can be successfully started off under glass in seed trays or pots are brassicas (all things in the cabbage family) lettuce and peas. A good trick with peas is to fill a length of plastic guttering with compost, sow the seeds in this and then slide the growing plants out of the guttering into a little trench where you want them to grow. Remember that many types of peas will need staking; best with hazel pea sticks. Courgette, cucumber and runner beans can be started in multipurpose compost in pots in the greenhouse but only in the last week or so of April. Annual flower seeds can also be started in seed trays and planted out later. If you sowed sweet peas in October or January these will be ready for planting out as early as possible in April (normally in the latter part of March). Sweet peas need support. They can be grown up permanent structures like trellis or tree stumps or even other plants or on supports put up especially for them. This can be either a pyramid of bamboos, perhaps six to eight plants with one to each bamboo about nine inches apart in a circle, or in a line with strong supports for wire at either end. In this case the plants can be trained up vertical string or wide mesh netting strung between the supports.

April is the time to be getting dahlias on the move again. If you have overwintered dahlias in pots in a frost free place they will probably have started shooting by now. Bring them into the light but don’t put them outside, where they will be exposed to the possibility of frost until late May. They can be grown in the open ground or in large containers. Dry tubers, whether just bought or coming out of store should be put in compost pots and watered.  As plants start growing they will probably produce quite a few shoots but these need to be restricted, at the most, to three and just one will make a strong plant. Cut the shoots off at ground level and use them as cuttings if you want to increase the number of plants. Cut the shoots at an angle with a sharp knife and remove the lower leaves to give bare stem for three or four centimetres. Dust the cut end in hormone rooting powder and stick five or six cuttings into damp multi-purpose compost in a plastic pot., using a pencil or stick as a dibber to make a hole in the compost. Cover the pot with a plastic bag but take this off and dry it fairly frequently to stop the plants from rotting. Check the compost for dampness but don’t keep the soil wet.

Perennial flower plants will be coming in to growth and now is the time to put in stakes or other supports for plants that won’t stand on their own. You can get excellent metal supports but they are often expensive and there are lots of DIY methods involving sticks and twine or bamboos. If you have access to hazel bushes, twiggy green sticks set up around the edge of a plant and bent towards the middle and entwined at a level below the maximum height of the plants make strong and unobtrusive supports.

You will have probably have pruned roses by now but its not quite too late. Plants will benefit from a a sprinkling of rose fertiliser and mulching with well-rotted farm manure or compost. I also suggest a sprinkling of all flower beds with chicken pellets. I use chicken pellets in the vegetable garden too. Garden compost is good anywhere; dug in or used as a mulch.

Jeremy Arthern

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