Thursday, 26 April 2012

April Garden Projects

April is the month when our thoughts turn towards the garden. It’s easy to be overwhelmed at the size of the task ahead but the simple solution is here...

What you need is a project, one which can be achieved in a morning or an afternoon and which improves a few square metres. You’ll feel you’ve achieved something wonderful and if you break the whole garden into a series of small projects it suddenly appears more manageable. Here are three to get you started...



Strawberry Pots
You don’t need a huge patch to enjoy growing strawberries. Plant a few in pots as a treat. Buy young, rich green plants certified virus free. Plant 3-4 to a 12 inch (30cm) clay pot. The crowns (where shoots meet roots) should be level with the compost surface. Water them in and stand in the shelter of a house wall. If you have a greenhouse or a cold frame they will establish more quickly and fruit earlier. Pinch off any runners (slender, horizontal stems) which form.


Seating
Don’t forget an all-weather seat so you can sit and contemplate all your hard work over a cup of tea or a nip of something stronger. Teak from renewable resources is fantastic but cast iron or aluminium is good though you’ll need a cushion to protect your posterior on cold days! Position it in a sunny area. Buy a few flowering daffodils, tulips and pansies and plant them in a pretty pot next to the bench...lovely.

Grass
Lawns always look bedraggled after the winter. Remove dead grass by raking the surface with a wire toothed rake. Improve drainage on heavy soil by spiking it with a garden fork every 6 inches (15cm) or so to a depth of about 4 inches (10cm). Give the fork a good wiggle each time. Sweep sharp sand into the holes with a broom. Then mow the lawn with the blades set on high and remove the clippings. Two weeks later apply a combined weed killer and fertilizer. If you’re lucky it will rain within 24 hours. If not just water it in. Mow weekly to keep the lawn thick and healthy.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Beware the frost- even in April!

So, Oestre has been and gone. That famed pagan festival we all celebrate by eating chocolate eggs and dressing up as rabbits or chicks. It is also the time many people descend on the local garden centre to buy their summer colour, veg seed and other things which perhaps are later regretted.

With the weather we have been having recently, we could be mistaken for believing it was summer already! But, there is an old lore, which you must be made aware of: The Blackthorn Winter. If you are unaware of this small piece of country wisdom, then now is your chance to out-do your neighbours.



It is said, (and I am one who says this regularly), when the blackthorn is in flower, then you will have a second winter. If you are unsure of the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), it is the tree or shrub with the horrendous thorns and white flower. It's bark is a dark almost purple hue. It is also the plant we get sloes from to make that wonderful gin. (Thinking of Christmas already? Surely not). If you are a keen naturalist, be aware these thorns easily break off and harbour a fungus which can cause blood poisoning, so carefully does it!

So in these times of cooler air, be of the knowledge the frost season is still upon us. Many would say it is not gone until early to mid May, so look after those tender plants. Keep the fleece at hand should Old Jack threaten to visit. It may be 23 degrees in the day, but the soil is still not warmed. So it also advisable not to mulch your borders lest you trap this cold into the soil. Wait awhile. If you are again unsure of just when, touch your elbow to the soil as you would a baby's bath water. If it is cold, then do not mulch. If it warm, then add that all important improvement. (Mid May should be okay).

-- Guy Deakins

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Round the garden in April

  1. Encourage hedgehogs, frogs, toads and thrushes into your garden to keep snails and slugs at bay. Bird baths are good to attract thrushes. A small garden pond will encourage frogs and toads. Attract hedgehogs by ensuring you have a safe place for them to nest, such as compost heaps, pile of leaves and twigs to nest in. Leave food out for hedgehogs at sunset, don’t put out any earlier or you’ll attract flies laying eggs and always collect anything uneaten in the morning. Hedgehogs like cat and dog food, chopped peanuts, crunchy peanut butter, muesli and any leftover cooked or raw meat.
  2. Check anything growing under cloches to ensure it is not too dry and check if they need watering. Air your greenhouse on warm sunny days and open the vents mid-morning and close after lunch.
  3. Enjoy your vegetable and salad garden this year, by sowing direct this month carrots, peas, spinach, chard and beetroot. Sow quick growing half-hardy annuals like basil, French beans, sweet corn, squash and pumpkins. April is the month for planting potatoes too.
  4. You can get going this month with some salad by sowing undercover or in your greenhouse or conservatory – rocket, spring onions, radish, chard and lots of different variety of lettuces. Keep growing further batches of lettuce, beetroot, peas, spinach, spring onions and radish every 2 weeks so you have a regular supply over the summer.
  5. Deadhead larger bulbs such as Tulips, Narcissus, and Hyacinths. Be sure not to cut the foliage! This will encourage bulb development and better flowers next spring.
  6. April is the month to get on with planting trees, shrubs, roses, strawberries and perennials. Also get dahlia tubers potted up.
  7. Keep on top of weeding. Use hand tools and get down on your knees to pull out the weeds, rather than using chemicals. Aim to get rid of perennial weeds early whilst they are young and their roots can easily be removed before they set to seed. Wearing Town and Country kneepads makes this task comfortable and easy.
  8. Containerised plants need plenty of fertiliser and frequent watering, especially during warm weather.
  9. After the last chance of frost, (around mid-April but can vary) you can start planting hardier annuals. Start growing your own flowers this month – Marigolds, honeywort and poppies are favourites for me. Seeds can be directly sown outside and any seedlings you’ve been nurturing indoors can be planted out.
  10. Tie down roses so that they keep growing healthily and produce good flowers in the summer. Bend over upright stems, this will produce more flowers. If you don’t bend uprights over, you’ll only have a flower at the end. Tie them in so they lie horizontal.
  11. Directly sow herbs under cover. Favourites are dill, fennel, coriander, chives and chervil.
  12. Give your lavender plants a haircut this month – short back and sides and shape them into domes. It helps them from looking sparse. Don’t prune hard into old wood.
  13. Plan for possible water shortages by installing water butts and adding mulch to borders to conserve soil moisture.
-- Rob Amey

Monday, 2 April 2012

Seeds Seeds Seeds!


I've been asked this month about growing. Growing veg from seed is a fantastic experience - there is nothing like seeing your tiny seeds grow into seedlings within a matter of days in some cases. Last month I wrote about starting off your seeds in propagators which is a great way to start your seedlings off, and the only effective method for some seeds that require a constant temperature for germination.

The key is to do your research - read seed packets, maybe some online research - I have a couple of trusty veg growing books I use just to check a few things here and there. The research is all part of the fun and a little plan of what you're going to grow where, and crucially, when things need to be started off, moved into your growing space and when they'll vacate the space to be used for something else can really help things along.

You'll need to think about crop rotation - not growing the same family of vegetables on the same plot in consecutive growing seasons, too and here again a little research and planning can really help.

So why not invest in a little notepad and pencil, and maybe a simple veg growing book alongside your seed packets, trowel and gloves and get growing!

-- Holly Rowan Hesson