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Garden and grounds maintenance throughout the year.



April

Sunshine and showers

Spring is finally in evidence as daffodils and flowering trees start to bloom. Expect the inevitable April showers this month but with sunny days too, when you can turn your attention to the lawn. It's an exciting month, with indoor-sown seeds well into growth, and it's also time to start sowing outdoors. Just watch out for frosts...

Top 10 jobs this month

Lawns

adjusting the lawn mower cut heightMaintenance

    1. Mow lawns when necessary - whenever the grass is growing - the aim is to maintain a constant height throughout the year.

      Repair the lawn edges using a half-moon edging iron or spade to create a 7.5cm (3in) ‘gutter’ around the lawn. This will prevent grass creeping from the lawn into borders.

      Repair bumps and hollows by peeling back the turf, removing or adding soil, and then replacing the turf.
       


Weed and feed

    1. lawn spreaderApply a high nitrogen spring lawn fertiliser at the beginning of the month to encourage good, strong growth. If moss is a problem choose a combined fertiliser and mosskiller. April is the best month to apply lawn weedkiller. Always follow instructions on the packaging very carefully as lawn chemicals (including fertilisers, weedkillers and mosskillers) can cause pollution of groundwater if used incorrectly.

      Lightly rake lawns with a spring-tine rake to remove old plant debris. This can also be done to rake out dead moss a couple of weeks after applying a chemical moss killer.

       


Brand new

    1. wildflower meadowSowing new lawns, or over-seeding dead patches, can be carried out from mid-April to early May. If the soil is very wet or cold germination will be poor, so delay until the weather improves. Prepare the ground for sowing, by cultivating, levelling and lightly firming beforehand.

      NB Do not walk over or mow newly sown grass until it has reached a height of 5-8cm (2-3in), and then only give it a light trim at the highest setting.

      It is still a good time to sow a wildflower meadow, or plant wildflower plugs into existing swards.

       


Grass clippings

    1. Add the clippings to the compost heap in thin layers (too much grass all at once is likely to be very wet and poorly aerated, resulting in smelly slime rather than compost).

      If a hosepipe ban is looking likely, consider keeping your lawn a little longer than usual. It might be worth investing in a mulching mower, which shreds grass clippings very finely and then blows them into the lower layers of the turf, where they act like mulch to help the lawn retain moisture. Because the clippings are fine, the end result is not unsightly, especially later in the season when the lawn gets very dry, and the mulch helps to keep it green rather than brown.

Trees and shrubs

Planting and moving

Elaeagnus ebbingei 'Limelight'Evergreens

    1. In cooler areas, and earlier in the month, you can still move and plant evergreen trees and shrubs (see Elaeagnus ebbingei 'Limelight', left), provided the soil is not waterlogged. They are best moved or planted once actively growing and when there is less risk of cold weather.

Deciduous

    1. In colder areas, you can also still plant container-grown deciduous hedging plants, shrubs, trees and climbers. Stakes and rabbit guards should be put in place at the time of planting to prevent damage to the rootball and bark.

      Remember that watering and establishment may be problematic for large plants as the weather gets warmer and dryer, and you may be better delaying planting them until October.
       


mulching a roseFeeding and mulching

    1. Mulch rose and shrub beds with a 5-8cm (2-3in) layer of organic matter. This will help retain moisture during dry spells, reduce weed build-up and over time improve soil structure. Pay particular attention to mulching around rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, as flowering is impaired if they are allowed to dry out during late summer.

      Feed trees, shrubs and hedges with a balanced fertiliser (such as Growmore or blood, fish and bone), sprinkling it over the root area before hoeing into the soil surface. This will particularly benefit young, weak, damaged or heavily pruned plants.
       


Pruning and training

    1. pruning cornusWinter-stemmed shrubs such as Salix and Cornuscan still be cut back at the beginning of the month. Prune back hard all the previous year's growth to within 1-2cm (0.5-0.75in) of the framework.

      Other shrubs that are routinely stooled (cut back hard) in spring, to keep their larger or more brightly coloured juvenile foliage, such as the smoke bush (Cotinus) and elders (Sambucus), can be cut back this month. You can leave a couple of branches un-pruned if you are reluctant to lose all the height gained last year.

      Delay pruning spring-flowering shrubs such as Forsythia and Chaenomeles until after they have finished flowering, otherwise this year's display will be lost.

      Remove any frost damaged shoots from evergreens damaged by earlier cold weather.

      Remove any reverted green shoots on hardy variegated evergreens, to prevent reversion taking over.

      Lightly cut back lavenders to prevent them getting too leggy and woody. Treat Helichrysum (curry plant) and Santolina (cotton lavender) similarly.

      Loosen any tree ties that are digging into the bark, or could do so soon as the trunk girth expands.

      Twining climbers (such as honeysuckle and clematis) need regular tying in and twining around their supports.

      Tie in climbing and rambling roses as near to horizontal as possible. This will restrict sap flow, causing more sideshoots to grow along the length of stem, and so producing more flowers.

       

layering sagePropagation

    1. Layering is a good way to propagate climbers and lax-stemmed shrubs. Layers should root by next spring, especially if attention to watering is given during dry weather. Try with PhiladelphusForsythiaHydrangeaand Lonicera. (See sage layering right).

      Check hardwood cuttings taken last year. They may need planting out or potting on.

      Take cuttings of your favourite conifers.
       


Pest and disease watch

    1. bracket fungiBracket fungus (left) on trees is more visible at this time of year. If the tree is in poor health it is worth calling in a tree surgeon for a professional opinion.

      Phytophthora root rots can cause die back on mature trees and shrubs. Wet winter weather and poorly drained soils are likely to encourage this problem on susceptible woody plants.

      Check for damage or cankers on deciduous trees.

      Put rabbit guards around newly planted trees and shrubs to protect the bark.

      Avoid planting new roses in areas where roses were previously growing otherwise the new plants may suffer from rose replant disease.

      Inspect sick-looking box and holly trees for signs of blight.

      Be aware that insects emerge as temperatures rise. Caterpillars, aphids, and other fly pests may all become problematic during mild spells. Early infestations can often be managed by hand removal, making insecticides unnecessary.