April sees longer days and hopefully warmer temperatures. Spring bulbs bring welcome colour to borders and pots and the veg garden starts to fill up with new plantings. There’s plenty to do to get your garden in shape but don’t panic, take things one step at a time and you’ll get it all done. It’s important to take a few moments to sit in the sun, listen to the birds and plan your gardening.

The lengthening days however do make it the perfect time to set up the garden for summer.

April, as they say, is the cruellest month with sun one minute and frosty mornings and bitter winds the next. In the April garden tender young leaves are prone to frost burn and judging what to do when is tricky. 

It’s all a question of timing.

So, roll your sleeves up, grab your tools and sow, plant, feed and tidy. It’s good for the garden and good for the soul…

1. Flower seeds you can sow this month 

If you haven’t already sown sweet peas now is your last chance. Sow into deep pots or root trainers as they dislike disturbance to their roots. Or, instead, look out for young plants in nurseries and garden centres. Check whether they are grown for scent or for cutting. Some longer stemmed varieties may smell less strongly.

Sow marigolds, petunias, nasturtiums, asters, zinnia and salvia indoors or in the greenhouse. 

Outdoors you can sow native wildflowers and hardy annuals such as poppies and sunflowers.

2. It’s now all action on the veggie front  

The soil should now be warm enough for seeds to germinate so, once the nights begin to warm up find room for carrots, parsnips and beetroot. 

Start sowing spinach and chard. These can go direct into the soil and will need to be watered well until they get going. Avoid letting them dry out or they might bolt.

Sow broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts for winter. Sow individual seeds into modules and leave to germinate either in the green house or a windowsill. They should appear within a couple of weeks. Once they have reached about four inches they can be hardened off and then planted outside.

Sow runner and French beans two to a small pot indoors or under glass. Keep the soil moist and they should soon germinate.

Potatoes need to be planted this month. New potatoes go in early to mid April. Maincrops follow in the second half of the month but exactly when you plant your potatoes will depend on local conditions. The key is to avoid emerging foliage being burned by frost. New potatoes (also known as First and Second Earlies) should be spaced a foot apart.

3. Time to plant dahlia tubers 

Bringing dahlias in for the winter doesn’t just protect them against frost. It also allows them to dry out properly, and helps you bring them on a bit earlier. They’re now ready to be planted.

Give tubers a sprinkling of water in early spring, and they’ll start to produce young shoots in April. 

Dig a planting hole, making sure it isn’t too deep. The shoots are still delicate, and you don’t want to damage them.

Gently pour coarse sand over the tubers; this prevents them from rotting and it’s also a great slug repellent.

Backfill with soil and add a ring of sand to mark the planting spot. 

4. Remember the container growing option 

It doesn’t matter how small your outdoor space is, there’s always an opportunity to grow your own vegetables and fruit, even on a patio or balcony. You will have to water and feed container-grown crops more rigorously than those in the ground.

Which pot or container for growing produce?

There’s lots of choice. There are tiered strawberry pots, which can look wonderful when well cared for.There are veg trugs, raised off the ground to waist height, where you can mix and match low-growing leafy crops such as lettuces, herbs and courgettes.

Pots come in all shapes and sizes, although if you’re planning to grow a long-term patio fruit tree for instance, your pot should be rugged, squat and frost-resistant. Bush tomatoes with a tumbling habit can be grown in hanging baskets, as can strawberries and shorter chillies. Large pots are useful for tripods of vegetables, including climbing beans, and colourful garden peas.

You can use a variety of materials for summer use, including baskets, galvanised metal and glazed pots.

Make sure, whichever pot you choose, that there’s a good-sized drainage hole in the base.

5. Re-energise your garden soil

It’s one of the oldest clichés in gardening: the answer lies in the soil. And as all good gardeners know, it’s true! Improving soil now will pay dividends come summer, resulting in bigger crops and more flowers. Buy sacks of well-rotted manure and dig or fork it into border soil and vegetable patches (don’t let manure touch stems of shrubs and plants). If you don’t have access to manure, the contents of your compost bin can work wonders. Open the access hatch at the bottom and if the material inside is brown and crumbly, it’s a nutrient-rich wonder that’s ready to be dug into soil.

6. More April garden jobs

  • Keep azaleas and rhododendrons looking good by pinching off fading flower heads above a new set of leaves.
  • Deadhead early flowering primulas as early as possible, as they tend to cross-breed very easily.
  • Early April is your last opportunity to hard-prune late-flowering shrubs.
  • Stake your perennials before it’s too late. Create attractive willow or hazel structures.
  • Remove pure green branches from variegated shrubs, such as elaegnus, privet and euonymus – cut them right back to the main stem with secateurs.
  • Start spraying roses using an organic-approved garlic formula; the key is to start early and spray often.

7. When, where and how to sow seeds with minimal effort 

It’s a good idea to order your seeds well in advance so you’re ready for good weather. Clear out the shed, wipe down the potting table and wash the seed trays and pots so they’re free from pests.

Sow your seeds into a variety of different trays, modules and pots, depending on what you have and how large the plant is going to get. The pots should be plastic not terracotta pots, which dry out too quickly because the terracotta absorbs water from the soil.

Smaller plants such as lettuces, cosmos, marigolds and basil can all go into trays. Plants that are going to be more substantial and have strong roots, such as leeks, tomatoes and squashes, should be sown into modules. 

Which is better pots/trays or modules?

The advantage of modules is that it keeps the roots of each seedling separate and so avoiding tangles when you come to planting out. The disadvantage of modules is that some are tricky to push the young plants out. They work best when the roots grow enough to form a network which holds the plant plug together.

Hinged module trays known as rootrainers that allow you to remove the plant more easily are now available, but be prepared to pay quite a lot more for them compared to ordinary seed trays.

Seed trays are great for things like lettuces which are more delicate and won’t form much of a root system before planting.

Pots are good for herbs like parsley and basil as they offer the chance for the roots to travel down and establish before planting out. You should use a proper seed compost for sowing seeds. Ordinary garden soil will be full of weed seeds and either overly nutritious or almost inert, depending on where you live. 

8. Supporting role for your fast growing plants 

Climbing plants head skywards as temperatures rise. Some, such as passion flowers, are masters of clinging on, using tendrils to firmly attach to supports. Others such as climbing roses and honeysuckle may need a little bit of help, especially if conditions are windy. Use garden twine or string to anchor new growth to supports. Installing trellis can help, too. Obelisks offer shelter and support for climbers while looking ornamental in borders.

In an ideal world one would only grow a handful of plants that need support, but in small gardens and where plants are drawn up to reach for light, this will be necessary. Hazel twigs are excellent, but steel hoops are most easily installed.

Make wigwams for sweet peas and climbing beans.

9. Sweet peppers are a must in any greenhouse 

If you have a greenhouse, sweet peppers are a must. They’re one of the easiest crops to grow and have a multitude of uses in the kitchen – adding flavour and crunch to stir fries, summer salads and fajitas. Red, green and yellow varieties are commonly available. Seeds should be sown as soon as possible this month, placing seed trays or pots in a propagator at around 20°C. Once the first pair of leaves have formed, seedlings should be pricked-out into pots. Sweet peppers thrive under glass, but can also be grown in containers outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.

10. and don’t forget to attend your fruit 

To avoid risk of infection, stone fruits such as plum, cherry, peach, nectarine and apricot should only be pruned during the growing season. Prune late April, when the plants are in leaf and after flowering. Immediately seal all cuts greater than one centimetre with wound seal.Repot your citrus in fresh citrus-specific compost. If you can’t find this, ericaceous is the next best thing.

Top dress blueberries grown in pots with ericaceous compost. It’s important to have two different varieties of blueberries to get good production – they will fruit without, but you’ll get a paltry quantity.

All soft fruits, for example strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, and gooseberries, will benefit from a mulch. Garden compost, leaf mould, organic manure, straw, hay and spent mushroom compost can all be used.

11. Re-pot your houseplants 

As light levels increase and temperatures rise, houseplants put on new growth. Increase watering and start liquid feeding – general purpose feeds such as Baby Bio cater for a broad spectrum of houseplants, while specific feeds are available for orchids and citrus. If a houseplant looks unhappy and has been in its pot for two or more years, it may need to be re-potted (roots bursting from drainage holes at the bottom of the pot are a tell-tale sign). Choose a slightly larger pot and fill with houseplant or loam-based compost. Never use houseplant compost for orchids though, which need an open, bark-based orchid compost that allows air to reach the roots.

12. Start off summer bedding plants

In April, start off half-hardy annuals, such as cosmos, marigolds and zinnias, from seeds for colour in summer. Alternatively buy plug plants online and pot them up in a compost for raising young plants. If plants arrive in the post, take them out of the box straight away so they’re exposed to light.

13. Care for camellias 

Use an ericaceous feed and gently hoe it into the surface of the soil. If plants are growing in containers, remove the top few centimetres of compost, and replace with fresh ericaceous compost and controlled-release feed for ericaceous plants. 

Remove any weeds around your plant and cover the bare soil with a mulch, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure. This will help to conserve moisture in the soil.

Most camellias just need a light prune after flowering to keep them in shape. Overgrown plants can be cut back hard if needed. They will send up new shoots from the base. You’ll miss flowering for a few years, but they will recover.

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