Chris Beardshaw: Gardening in April
PUBLISHED: 15:21 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:52 20 February 2013
April really is the month where most change is observed in the garden. It often starts as an extension of winter with gardeners earnestly checking plants for life but by the end of the month the garden and landscape has been transformed as colour ...
April really is the month where most change is observed in the garden. It often starts as an extension of winter with gardeners earnestly checking plants for life but by the end of the month the garden and landscape has been transformed as colour washes through in leaf and flower.
Favourite places of mine this month are the many woodlands found across the Cotswolds. The lush, green foliage of the understory plants such as Dog's Mercury, Foxglove and Geranium provide the perfect foil to show off the Bluebells and Ransoms which carpet the floor of the woods. Streamside's babble with life of early marginal and aquatic species and hedgerows explode into blossom - it seems impossible to not be won over by nature's optimism.
Lavender plants can have their life significantly extended if gardeners carry out carefully timed pruning. The first prune should be done this month by pinching out the tips of freshly grown shoots, removing up to 5cm in length. This stops excessive leggy growth and encourages plenty of side shoots on which flowers will be carried later in summer. The second pruning is completed in a similar way after the flowers have faded in late summer.
Aquatic plants like Water Lilies are slow to break into spring growth but as they start to show signs of life over the next few weeks prepare to lift and divide congested clumps. Carefully lift mature plants from the base of the pond, hose down the tangled root mass, trimming off old shoots and decaying rhizomes as you go. Then, slice the thick stems into sections up to 15cm long ensuring each has shoots and roots clearly visible. Pot the sections on into aquatic pots lined with fleece and filled with specialist aquatic compost, place the rhizome of the lily just below or on the surface of the compost. Cover the compost with a layer of coarse grit to prevent fish disturbing it then gently lower into the shallow water. Allow each new leaf to fully emerge at the surface before moving the plant to deeper water in stages.
Control of Slugs and Snails:
This is the ideal time to prevent populations of slugs and snails getting out of control. Regularly water the ground, pots and containers with biological nematode control - available from specialist suppliers. Attacking the young pests at this stage helps to stop the development of mature egg laying generations. One important key to success with nematodes is related to their reliance on water, as once applied; ensure that the soil moisture is maintained with regular irrigation.
Plant up Baskets:
Despite the likely-hood of frosts occurring for another month, now is the ideal time to plant up baskets and containers with exotic bedding plants. Whatever the nature of the container you are filling do ensure good drainage holes are present and fill with a fresh compost made up of 50% soil based media and 50% organic matter as this combination displays good water retention abilities while adding mass and good re-wetting properties. It is also worth adding a water storing polymer and quick release (3 month) granular fertiliser to maintain great flowering throughout summer. After planting up allow the exotic plants to acclimatise in a frost free environment for a month or so before transferring to their flowering positions.
Help to keep your pond clear of algae this summer by submerging a bundle of Barley Straw in to the shallows now. Aquatic stores sell mats and balls of the straw which should be tethered just below water level, as it decomposes it is thought to release compounds that, although not harmful to aquatic life, controls the growth of algae.
It is not too late for injecting a flourish of colour in bare areas of the garden by sowing hardy annuals such as Calendula, Nigella and Escholtzia. Cultivate the ground lightly, raking level and into a fine crumb-like finish. Avoid applying fertilisers as most of these rapidly growing plants prefer slightly impoverished soils but do keep soils moist throughout plant establishment. Scatter seeds liberally and rake in gently. For an informal feel try mixing all seeds together in a tray before sowing, alternatively create choreographed schemes by etching patterns on the newly cultivated soil with a cane, and then sow individual species. Although normally sown earlier in the year, a late sowing of these plants provides flowering within 8 weeks.
Rub Fruit Buds
Plums and Cherries trained against walls, fencing and wires can be shaped now as the buds start emerging. The principle involves gently rubbing buds away that are emerging in unwanted areas. Those that face the wall, or support are the most important to remove and doing so now is not only easier than pruning later but also allows the plant to concentrate its energies on favourable growth and fruiting.
This month will be spent making frequent trips to the Isle of Wight to check on progress of the new garden I have designed for Carisbrooke Castle, owned by English Heritage. The garden is to honour Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria's daughter, who lived at Carisbrooke for nearly 50 years of her life. I will also be flying back out to Bahrain to take part at the Bahrain International Flower Show and to check on progress with the landscape development of a new residential and golf and country club resort which I have been working on for the last year.
Look out for further details on all these projects on www.chrisbeardshaw.com.
If you want to ask gardening questions then I'm frequently found on www.gardenersclick.com so do visit and meet our other gardening members.