Although April has arrived you could be forgiven for thinking you were still back at the beginning of the year, with cold spells and endless days of rain. Frustrating for gardeners who just want to ‘get going’! We share your frustrations as we are a few weeks behind where we would like to be at the Mill. It’s not just muddy paths that are the problem, on light sandy soil such as ours, if you walk on the beds when they are soggy you can compact it and reduce aeration. This prevents future water and nutrient retention which is paramount for healthy soil.
Don’t despair though, everything will catch up eventually, it may just be a different year to what you expected!
When you have got a few dry days, here are some jobs you can be tackling:
Any hardy perennials will be starting to shoot now, so ensure that any old foliage is cut away to make way for the new growth. This is also an ideal time to divide clumps if they have become too big for an area or if you simply want to create more plants. If the centre of the patch has become unproductive and is hollow, simply discard this part and replant the outer edges which are more vigorous and will provide a better show of colour. Plants such as Hemerocallis (day lily), aster, solidago and sedum are all great examples. For those perennials which need support it is often easier done when they are smaller. By staking now the plants will grow through the stakes and create a more natural look to your garden.
Protecting your wildlife
As the warmer weather arrives (and it will!) you will see your hosta and delphinium shoots starting to appear in the borders. These succulent and tender shoots will attract slugs, so begin with some control measures. Please avoid slug pellets at all costs as the harmful effects to our birds are devastating. Try instead to put in place prickly and irritant matter around your most precious plants. Egg shells, holly leaves, cotoneaster cuttings, twigs and other abrasive material. These often prevent the slug’s path of travel as they dislike these against their skin. Alternatively try buying nemotodes from a reputable source. These arrive in sachets which you add to a watering can and simply apply to your beds. These minute worms enter the slug and prevent it from feeding. The slug then retreats and dies but without any harmful contamination to the environment. The life cycle of the nematode continues to breed until the slug numbers diminish. This normally lasts for six weeks. Birds feeding on the slugs are not affected by any harmful toxins.
Back into the gardens
Warmer weather brings more weeds and it is a good idea to start tackling them before they begin to get too large. Annual ones can be hoed or hand pulled easily but perennial weeds such as dandelions or couch grass will need a little more care in order to get all the root out. By leaving a small section the weed will begin to regrow with greater vigour!
Your climbing roses will be putting on a growth spurt now so ensure you tie them in so they don’t break in the wind. They will benefit from a feed and mulching of their stems. Ensure the weeds or grass is kept away from the base so that they are not competing for nutrients. The same goes for fruit trees and bushes. Mulching is essential but you should avoid mushroom compost as it raises soils alkaline level. Instead use straw, homemade compost or well-rotted manure.
We are probably all looking at our lawns at the moment and wishing it looked a little better, we have a lot of moss in ours despite aerating it in winter. When you have a dry spell, rake it to remove the moss and thatch and if necessary add a little more seed or a general fertiliser.
If you have a greenhouse now is the time to think about giving it a good clean. This will improve light levels which is essential for plant growth as well as removing any over wintering pests and diseases. Ensure that you empty all your plants before tackling the inside. In a few more weeks you will need to be thinking about removing any insulation which you put up for winter.
April is the month for many crops to be sown or planted and we have delayed some of ours because of the cold weather. On our raised planters we have installed a few cloches. These have been down for a few weeks and will have raised the soil temperature so we can begin some direct sowings. Ideal crops for this are carrots, radish, spring onion and lettuces. As they emerge you will need to thin the seedlings so that you produce nice size crops. If you haven’t already done so, plant your potatoes and onions, there really is nothing nicer than your own new potatoes!
For many, the first wave of spring bulbs is coming to an end so take time to remove the flower heads to prevent it setting seed. However do not remove the foliage as this will put essential goodness back into the bulb for next year. In a few weeks the leaves will come away in your hand and then you can begin to tidy them up.
Fingers crossed we will see the sun emerging in the next few weeks and we can all begin gardening again in earnest. Remember though that nights can still turn cold so have fleece at hand for any delicate plants you may wish to protect!
We have a wide selection of plants on sale near our Mill shop so do come and visit us.