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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 Salixand Cornus can 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 PhiladelphusForsythiaHydrangea and 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.

Greenhouse, conservatory and houseplants

In the greenhouse

Achimenes 'Show Off'

  1. Pot up any BegoniaGloxinia and Achimenes (see A. 'Show Off', left) that you started off earlier in the spring and are now large enough to re-pot.

    Don’t forget to prick out seedlingsbefore they get too crowded, and then to pot them on as individual plants as soon as they are large enough.

    Make sure you give greenhouse plants more space as they put on new growth. This will help to prevent disease, and to contain early pest infestations.

    Check if plants need watering at least every few days and seedlings will need daily attention.
     

Temperature

  1. Fuchsia 'Alan Titchmarsh'Maintain a minimum of 5°C (41°F) to prevent fuchsiaspelargoniums and other tender plants being killed by the cold. A higher temperature of at least 12°C (54°F) is needed for most tropical plants, which will require a greenhouse heater.

    Apply a light covering of shade paint on greenhouse panes, if weather turns warm, to prevent plants becoming scorched by bright sunshine. Alternatively, a sheet of newspaper, or some shade netting from the garden centre, work fine as temporary shading for seedlings and young plants.

    Remember that temperatures can still drop at night. Seedlings in particular object to wide temperature fluctuations and a heated propagator, or fleece cover, could be a cost effective answer if your greenhouse is mostly full of hardy mature plants.
     

Humidity

  1. If the weather is warm and sunny, you may need to start damping down the floorof the greenhouse in the morning, splashing water over it will increase humidity levels in the whole glasshouse. This will help reduce problems with red spider mitewhich like a dry environment.
     

Ventilation

  1. A very high humidity can encourage diseases such as grey mould so be sure to open vents and doors of greenhouses during warmer days.Keep alpine houses well ventilated too.
     


plug plants by mail orderPreparation for planting

  1. Try growing on plug plants in your greenhouse. They are a relatively cheap source of large numbers of plants, which avoid the need for propagation facilities and time-consuming pricking out.

    You could use also use spare space in the greenhouse to warm up grow-bags before for planting.
     


Houseplants

  1. Citrus lemon plantBegin feeding citrus plants with a citrus feed, or use a high-nitrogen feed with added trace elements.

    Increase the watering of indoor and conservatory plants as days lengthen. Check if plants need watering at least every few days.

    Start using liquid feeds once plants show signs of growth.

    Pot up houseplants showing signs of being root-bound or top dress large containers with fresh compost.

    Clean shiny-leaved plants with a damp cloth and spiky plants with a soft brush.

    Cool conditions and regular watering will help keep potted indoor azaleas looking good for longer. Remember to water azaleas with rainwater rather than tap water if you live in a hard water area.

    Hippeastrum 'Green Magic' AGMDeadhead Hippeastrum (amaryllis), leaving the flower stalks to die down naturally. Keep feeding and watering, and you may be treated to further flowers in August, as well as the normal blooms next winter. Alternatively, feed for a few weeks (to build up the bulb) and then reduce the watering, let the leaves die back, and allow the plants to dry out completely. The bulbs can be ‘rested’ like this under the greenhouse bench or in a cupboard if they are houseplants, to be brought out in late summer or autumn, for flowering the following winter.

    Rest pot cyclamen that flowered over the winter, reducing watering until the foliage starts to die down. The pots can be placed under the greenhouse bench, or in cupboard if they are houseplants, to be started back into growth in late summer.
     


Streptocarpus leaf cuttingsPropagation

  1. Take leaf cuttings of Streptocarpus plants.

    Hydrangeas and fuchsias can be propagated from softwood stem tip cuttings.
     


seedlings suffering from some damping offPest and disease watch

  1. Brush up fallen compost and debris, and pick off dead leaves from plants. This will help prevent pests and disease spreading.

    Damping off of seedlings can be a problem with sowings under glass. Keeping all your equipment clean and always using fresh seed compost will help prevent this.

    Insects start to emerge as temperatures increase. A mild spring can see pest problems developing earlier than usual.