Gardening jobs to do in April: a guide to borders, wildlife gardening and vegetable plots
Magnolias and ornamental cherries are in full glorious bloom this month, blackthorn, damson and pear blossom is out, and the bees are buzzing from one flower to the next. It is bluebell time in the woods and tulip time in gardens, each of them creating their own wonderful spectacle.
April brings sunshine and showers, as the ever-climbing sun heats the earth faster than the seas, creating collisions of warm and cold air that causes great rain-filled clouds to build. But now when the sun does shine there is a warmth to it that we haven’t felt for some time. Beware of getting carried away by this: there is also still a good chance of frost, and it is at times like this that it catches us out. The focus this month is on getting any annuals sown and underway, while dicing with one of the most meteorologically temperamental moments in the year.
In warmer parts of the country you can start sowing hardier seeds outdoors this month, but sow everything else under cover if you can and protect anything even slightly tender by keeping your eye on the weather forecast and having horticultural fleece to hand.
Gardening jobs to do in April
This is the perfect time to divide and replant any perennials that flower late in the summer, such as echinaceas, heleniums and Michaelmas daisies, giving them plenty of time to settle back in and bulk up before flowering time comes around again. This will reinvigorate any plants that have started producing fewer or smaller flowers each year, and it will give you more plants. Split into a few pieces with two garden forks and replant with fresh compost, or give away to friends.
You can start a nursery bed in a sheltered, sunny corner of your veg beds this month, particularly if the weather has been good and the soil has been warmed. It will free up space in the greenhouse, and you can plant the seedlings out in their final places in a couple of months. Prepare your chosen bed really carefully, mixing in compost and making sure you create a fine tilth to the soil, so that there are no big lumps and gaps for the little seeds to fall between. Sow Brussels sprouts, cabbage, calabrese, sprouting broccoli, cauliflowers, leeks and onions here, in rows and labelled.
It is always good to have something scented to hand and clove pinks are among the loveliest, compact, pretty and clove-scented. They do really well in pots and on balconies as they love good drainage and lots of light, and form a neat mound of silvery foliage. ‘Gran’s Favourite’ is a pretty pale-flowered cultivar with dark pink edges to its many ruffled petals. Pot up into peat-free compost mixed with plenty of grit, and water and feed well all summer.
If sweetcorn isn’t sown this month, it may run out of time to produce cobs before the end of the season. Sow in pots under cover to plant out in mid-May. You can also prepare the bed where you are going to plant them out – they do best in a rich soil so dig in lots of organic matter such as garden compost or well-rotted manure. They should be planted in a block with 40-50cm between plants each way, as they are wind pollinated and this way are more likely to catch the pollen that the other plants in the block shed.
Hedgehogs wake up in April and they will have lost a large amount of weight over winter. They will be hungry and very thirsty so help them out by putting out cat biscuits or wet cat or dog food and water, replenished every night. If they can get their weight up fast they are far more likely to have a successful breeding season.
In order to take care of nesting birds it is time to rest your hedge cutters for a few months, and if your hedges are untidy, they should stay that way now. The noise and disturbance from hedge cutters can make birds abandon their nests and even their young during nesting season, which runs between March and August in the UK. If you do decide to cut during this time you must check very carefully whether there are any nests in the hedge, or you could face a fine under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
The fruit garden
Late frosts that hit while fruiting trees are in bloom can kill or damage the delicate blossoms and severely reduce your harvest later on. Buy some horticultural fleece and completely wrap smaller trees on nights when frosts are forecast, paying particular attention to the underneath. On larger trees that are impossible to cover completely you could tuck fleece around the lower limbs, as frost often lies at ground level and so is less likely to damage the uppermost branches.
Cut flower garden
Zinnias are among the most beautifully coloured of cut flowers, in Mexican fiesta colours. They are half-hardy annuals and need to be started into growth now, if you want late summer flowers. A heated propagator will start them quickly into growth, but if you don’t have one then sow them in pots on a sunny windowsill. You will need to plant them out into a spot in full sun in a month or so’s time, and to give them regular liquid feeds all summer to get the most flowers. ‘Queen Red Lime’ is a lovely deep red fading through pink to a lime centre and ‘California Giant Mix’ has particularly long stems that are good for cutting.
Christmas cactuses (Schlumbergera) should have been having a period of rest, post-Christmas, in a cool room with little water. Now it is time to wake them up again. Repot them into a slightly larger pot with fresh cactus compost or peat-free multi-purpose compost, move them to a warmer spot – not too sunny, as they are forest not desert cacti - and begin watering and feeding regularly. They will need another rest period in September if they are to flower at Christmas, but this is their time to put on new growth.
This article is kept updated with the latest advice.