Our Garden Gnome has been away for sometime, but this spring we welcome him back to hear all he has to say about gardening at this time of the year.
Hoe, hoe, hoe. It’s time for our inner gardeners to come out of hibernation! SPRING will take us by surprise any minute now: don’t panic! We need to pace ourselves and prioritise.
TOP TEN TIPS
- finish pruning fruit trees & bushes, winter & late summer flowering shrubs
- move or plant shrubs trees & bushes
- lift & divide overcrowded perennials
- start to mow lawns, lay turf, repair edges, seed bare patches, feed
- plant onions, garlic, early spuds & asparagus; early to mid April: main-crop spuds and red onion sets. Check out our ‘How To’ Guides on: onions, potatoes, garlic
- sow under cloches or in modules, beetroot, cabbages, carrots, chard, leeks, lettuce, parsnips, peas, radish, spinach, turnips. Use our ‘How To’ Guide on sowing seeds
- feed & mulch fruit bushes & trees, shrubs, perennials
- sow in heat: tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, cucumbers, half-hardy annuals. April in heat: French and runner beans, courgettes and squash
- clean & tidy everything; weed & rake beds, hoe as weeds appear; harvest last of winter crops and put all debris in newly emptied compost bins; finish all repairs, service machinery, sharpen & oil secateurs.
- add organic matter [e.g.compost] to soil, mulch where and when appropriate; put cloches in place to warm soil, dig in green manures, sprinkle seaweed meal: a small handful/m2. View our handy guide on green manures.
When you sow make a drill, very shallow for small seeds which mustn’t go more than 1cm deep, then water it, sow the seeds thinly, cover with dry soil and firm, then pop the cloches back and leave them in place until the seedlings emerge; re-water only if the weather is very warm and sunny. If they don’t come up, due to lack of warmth perhaps, they can be sown again in April or May. (Seeds will just rot in cold wet ground.) The reasons for covering with dry soil are to deter molluscs, prevent evaporation and increase warmth. If you are using fleece for protection, make sure it’s well tethered and supported as March is often very windy. Local forecasts are a useful indicator of suitable sowing times, don’t sow if it’s less than 10 degrees C.
A word or two on soil fertility: seaweed meal can be scattered at a couple of handfuls per m2; seaweed as a harvested plant can be used as a mulch or dug in (wash the salt off or gather it after rain). It contains a wide range of trace elements, contains reasonable amounts of nitrogen and potassium, and also improves soil structure as its gelatinous nature encourages the formation of soil crumbs. (A word of warning: check whether removal of washed up seaweed is permitted by the beach owner – usually the local authority) Seaweed concentrate is diluted and watered in or used as a foliar spray.
Liquid feeds made by steeping comfrey and nettles in water are also beneficial, especially to fruiting and struggling plants, so cut and steep now to use over the next couple of months. Organic chicken manure pellets can give a boost, but too much fertility can produce lush growth more vulnerable to pests and disease; slower more robust growth is hardier and healthier.
After such a wet winter nitrogen and potassium will be lost from the soil; chicken pellets have nitrogen. If you are just starting and haven’t had a chance to add much organic matter, extra fertilisers may be of use initially and a regular application around fruit trees and bushes at this time of year is beneficial. However, the ideal to aim for is lots of organic matter to encourage good populations of worms and micro-organisms which make the nutrients available to the plants.
Some tips for those of you new to gardening; maybe you’ve just got an allotment and are wondering how to start, what to grow, when to sow. Think about what you like to eat, and what is easiest to grow. Spuds are simple as long as there’s some organic matter added, they can cope with weeds, in fact will smother most. Spuds need earthing up a couple of times and an occasional watering, but won’t be too fussy about exactly when they are harvested and will store well; main-crops may get blight in a wet summer, discoloured leaves which have a silvery mildew beneath, if they do swiftly chop the foliage right off and wait a couple of weeks before digging them up.
Onions from sets are easy too with few pests; beetroot and its leafy cousin chard, are reliable, but seedlings may need protection from birds and molluscs; grow rainbow chard for brightly coloured stems that glow like jewels in the sun. Beans, squash and courgettes are easy and productive but need more warmth to get going so wait until late April to sow all but broad beans which can go in now, (but only if you like to eat them). All of these need some organic matter adding to the soil.
Happy Gardening and see you in the summer! Garden Gnome