We are at the tipping point of the growing season when buds burst from bare stems and spring bulbs double in size and abundance overnight as spring gathers momentum. This is good because the garden should be a really cheerful place to be with so much blooming and growing going on. On the gardening front it changes the jobs that can and can’t be done; ‘winter tasks’ should have been completed by now as the dormant season is over. For example, it really is pretty late to be planting anything bare-rooted so, if you have to do it this late, keeping the plants very well watered throughout their first growing season is imperative.
On the other hand, the stirring perennials in your garden deserve, in fact demand, a little feeding. If the soil is dry enough then a gentle surface forking of the borders, removing any weeds as you go, together with a sprinkling of ‘blood, fish and bone’ fertiliser will get the emerging herbaceous perennials off to a good start and growing away vigorously with the April showers. If you didn’t get a chance to do it over the winter season then a surface mulch of sterile (i.e. weed seed free) organic matter over the forked and fertilised soil helps to ‘lock-in’ moisture and suppress weed growth.
With rising average temperatures and a diminishing risk of hard frost there’s more opportunity to sow hardy annuals this month than there was last. Also sowing lawns from scratch can take place now, following rigorous seedbed preparation, as long as you can provide some sort of protection from heavy downpours which would otherwise wash the seed and fine tilth away.
On the subject of lawns; you may have already achieved your ‘first cut’ as there were some ideal dry spells and frost-free periods towards the end of March this year. If not then you certainly will need to start cutting the lawn in April applying the usual common sense, gardening relies mainly on the application of common sense, to avoid doing it during wet weather or if frosts are likely. Make sure whatever sort of mower you have is cutting proficiently and, where possible, set the cutting height a good notch or two higher then you would normally. Getting the lawn back under control is a real ‘feel-good’ task and sets the rest of the garden off to perfection.
Plants which have been wrapped up in fleece, to fend off the worst of the winter cold, can be unwrapped during mild spells. Keep the fleece close at hand for rapid deployment when frost threatens. Open up cold-frames, greenhouses and conservatories, whenever it is sunny, to encourage ventilation and begin the hardening off process. If you took tender perennial cuttings in the autumn, and they are still in pots or seed-trays, then these should be separated out and potted up as soon as growth resumes.
Herbaceous perennials can be propagated easily, before they are too advanced in growth, simply by chopping sections out of the clump while they are still in the ground or by lifting the whole stool and carving it up with a sharp spade. Pot up some sections into fresh compost, creating new plants, then replant the remaining third, or so, incorporating a handful of general feed into the planting hole. Remember to water in well, to settle the roots, even if the ground is already wet.
Here in the south west, especially if you are fortunate enough to live within a stone’s throw of the coast, the risk of frost is diminishing now but it’s still too early to rule it out completely. For this reason it is too early to plant out really tender bedding plants, no matter how tempting the garden centre displays may be, as they could, literally, be wiped out overnight. Having said that, because there is a danger that the choicest varieties may sell out before optimum planting conditions are with us, if you do buy them now they can be potted into larger pots, once you get them home, and kept in a frost-free place until all danger of frosts has passed.
The same goes for planting up containers and hanging baskets. You can steal a march on the season if you have room, maybe a porch or conservatory, to keep things well lit but protected until they can go outside. It’s very satisfying to plant up your summer containers with tiny plug plants, or bedding you have raised yourself from seed, so that they can establish well, and practically double in size, before they go outside next month. If you have large, deep, pots then a layer of summer flowering bulbs below your surface layer of bedding just increases the impact and, in the case of lilies, can add a real hit of scent for those balmy summer nights that are ahead of us (we hope!).
Before signing off I guess it’s worth remembering that, while it’s good to see all the plants getting into their stride, you also need to keep a look out for their accompanying pests which tend to have procreation on their tiny minds. Nipping them in the bud, before they get too numerous, will prevent a lot of the damage which would otherwise ensue. Observation and timeliness are key to keeping a garden healthy as pests and diseases can usually be controlled by cultural methods, if spotted early enough, and then chemical control (assuming you are not organic) can be used as a last resort. It is a sweeping generalisation but, from experience, most control treatments marketed as ‘organic’ are little better than ‘snake oil’.
It really annoys me that proper chemical control, which is tightly regulated and goes through rigorous testing before being allowed onto the shelves, gets a bad press whereas consumers may be lured into spending similar amounts of money on a so-called ‘organic’ preparations, claiming to do the same job, but which will prove largely ineffective. I still maintain that chemical control, used sparingly but effectively, is much better than letting ignorance scare you into paying lip service to ‘organic gardening’.
I’ve never come across an organic gardener who tries to keep clean without resorting to chemicals (what else do you think washing up liquid, toilet cleaner, dishwasher tablets, laundry powder, shampoo, conditioner etc. etc. are?) so why only apply the ‘chemical free’ rule to your garden? Makes no sense at all. Enjoy your garden…….responsibly!