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April 2013 Newsletter

Catch up with seasonal planting
This year the growing season is about a month behind what we would normally expect and everything has been affected by the weather. While it may be a bit depressing the delay gives us the chance to catch up with jobs we might have missed such as planting bare rooted ornamental trees, dormant shrubs and hedges or adding some glorious roses.
Snow, wind and rain certainly focuses our minds on which plants and shrubs are hardy enough to withstand a UK winter. Cold and wet can be a lethal combination for most plants and even well-established specimens have suffered. Although it’s sad when a much-loved plant suddenly keels over or gives up it’s the perfect opportunity to plant something new! 

With luck the snow will clear before the end of the month when plants are naturally eager to grow and April showers and warmer weather will help hardy plants and shrubs to establish.
It’s cheering to anticipate warm weather but don’t risk planting any half-hardy and tender plants outside this month.  You’re safe with hardy perennials and shrubs; they are made of sterner stuff and once hardened off they’ll cope with cold weather.

 

Revamp the border with some sparkling new plants
If you plan to revamp the garden choose perennials and shrubs to add permanent structure.
A really cost effective way of buying perennials is as young plants. They’ll arrive as well rooted plants that can go into the garden as soon as the ground is workable.
First year flowering perennials such as aquilegias, echinaceas and rudbeckias fill a garden with colour from spring to late summer.


Extend the season into autumn with late flowering plants such as decorative spray chrysanthemums. Pot them on when they arrive and keep frost-free ready to plant out after all risk of frost has passed.
If you’re keen to make the garden look as mature as possible plant perennials in threes or fives or add some container grown shrubs. Top of my ‘must have’ list is the gorgeous new Lacecap Hydrangea ‘Dark Angel’  It has an amazing colour and should be a real focal point for the garden. I’m always on the look out for plants that will thrive in shade and hydrangeas are quite happy in a shaded spot.
One of the best perennials for deep shade is Pachysandra; it makes a neat groundcover plant that spreads to clothe any bare soil in shade. Ajuga Burgundy Glow is another valuable plant for a shady border and it’s equally happy in a sunny site

 

Plan container displays
Getting your hanging baskets and containers planned and planted is one of the best spring jobs. You can always do it indoors if weather is horrible! It's fun to choose what young plants to put in and how to get the best effect.  
There’s plenty of scope for letting your imagination run riot!  Don’t forget to choose plants for scent as well as colour. Nemesias are wonderfully fragrant plants for containers and hanging baskets, just one plant can scent a garden and the plants will flower until the frosts.
Once you’ve settled on a colour scheme and style, choose containers and baskets.
If you’re reusing hanging baskets buy new basket liners or moss and check that hanging chains and supports are up to the job; baskets can be very heavy once they’re planted.
Stock up on compost plus lots of granular feed and water retaining gel to add to the compost as you plant.

 

For the best effect in containers allow space for plants to grow but plant much more closely than you would in open ground. Because container plants are kept well fed and watered (and only last a season) they won’t suffer if you plant them closely.
Rest the empty hanging basket in a bucket or large pot to keep it stable as you plant. Plant the sides as well as the top of a basket for the fullest effect. Just plant from the inside of the basket; make some slits in the liner if necessary; and squeeze the foliage carefully through the sides then top up with compost and plant up the top of the basket. Lobelia and trailing foliage plants look especially effective planted this way.

Once they are all planted hang the baskets up and keep all the containers in the greenhouse or a bright, frost free place to grow on. As they grow pinch out the plants’ growing tips to encourage compact, bushy plants with plenty of flowers. However nice the weather is while you’re planting don’t be tempted to put them outside until at least late May or after all risk of frost has passed.

Catch up with seed sowing.
One of those delayed jobs I’m hoping to catch up with is seed sowing. By now I’d expect to have seed trays full of germinated seedlings but it’s been too cold to risk it in my unheated greenhouse so April is here and like many gardeners I’m still playing catch up.


If you had a late start too, don’t despair; there are plenty of plants that can still be grown from seed. Sow hardy annuals and perennials, either in trays or directly outside into moist weed-free soil. Sow half hardy and tender herbs and plants and greenhouse vegetables in gentle warmth indoors or in a propagator on the windowsill or in the greenhouse.
Why not try a few wildlife-friendly varieties and bee friendly plants as well as the usual ornamentals.
I adore delphiniums and can’t wait to see their deep blue spires in the border so I sow some every year. That’s the great thing about growing from seed, you get plants you love in the quantities you need!

 

 

Tips for the garden...

Prune roses
Pruning is one of those jobs that sounds really complicated but in practice it’s easy. The hardest part is getting out in the garden to do it - and avoiding the thorns of any particularly vigorous roses!
Sturdy gloves and sharp secateurs are a must.

3 Simple steps:
1 Start by cutting out any dead, diseased or dying stems.
2 Remove any weak, spindly stems and any branches that are crossing.  (You’ll be left with between 3 and 5 of the sturdiest stems.)
3 Cut these remaining stems hard back to an outward facing bud, low down on the plant.

The aim of pruning is to encourage flowering stems and to create light and air around and within the plants to prevent disease. With shrub and bush roses that means giving them an open, vase shape with well-spaced branches and plenty of outward facing buds.
Climbing roses need cutting back to a strong framework of branches and any stems coming out from the wall or fence should be cut back.
Keep secateurs sharp to avoid tearing the wood and use a gently sloping cut that angles away from the bud, this will allow rain to run off, away from the buds.
At the moment these buds look like raised bumps on the stems but they’ll soon swell and start sending out leaves and new shoots.
It may seem harsh to prune long, healthy stems but don’t be scared to cut them, the pruned stems will send up vigorous flowering shoots to give a great summer display.
 
If you have an unpruned buddleja or cornus (dogwood) in the garden it’s not too late to prune them back hard to a bud low down on the plant; they’ll send up lots of fresh stems.

 


Redefine the borders
Once snow melts and weather warms up spring is a great time to redefine the borders and to make changes to their shape. As soon as soil is workable get out with a sharp spade or half moon edger and a string line and set to work straightening up wobbly border edges and widening existing borders.
It’s amazing how simply widening a narrow border can make the whole garden look bigger!
If you want to cut a new curved border edge try trickling sand from a bottle in the shape you want-or coil a length of hosepipe curved into shape and follow the line with your spade.
It helps to look at a new design from above to make sure it works; an upstairs bedroom is the ideal vantage point.

Top tips:
To mark out a new circular border in grass attach a length of string to two stout canes.
Position one cane firmly in the middle of the area where you want the bed to be.
Pull the string taut and mark out the circle on the ground with the end of second cane.
Finish by cutting around the marks with a spade or half moon edger.

If you have to strip off turf don’t discard it. Discard any roots of perennial weeds and lay the pieces of turf on top of each other (grass side to grass side) in a spare part of the garden. Once rotted down it makes great topsoil.

 


Plant lilies and summer flowering tubers
Plant lilies in pots and encourage dahlia tubers into growth this month; both will give you a fabulous summer display with the lilies in bloom from midsummer and the dahlias adding colour until the frosts.
Potting up bulbs and tubers in the shed or greenhouse is a great cold weather job. You (and the bulbs) will be snug inside; whatever the weather is doing outside!

Plant lilies up to 3 times their depth into free-draining compost, john Innes No.2 is ideal. 2 or 3 bulbs will fit into a 25cm (10in) pot. Keep moist but not wet and put outside once all risk of frost has passed.

Dahlia tubers can be grown in large pots of multi purpose compost, or you can start them off into growth now in trays or boxes of compost and plant them outside when all risk of frost has passed.
Cover the tubers with compost and water well. Keep somewhere frost free and bright. Protect containers and sprouted tubers from frost.

Taking cuttings from these sprouting tubers is great way to increase stocks. Just cut a 7cm (3in) shoot; as near to the tuber as possible. Dust with rooting powder and dib into a pot of gritty compost or vermiculite. Grow on and plant out once all risk of frost has passed.

 

Look after the Lawn.
By the end of this month you should be regularly cutting the lawn, so use this cold spell to sharpen the lawn edgers and make sure the lawn mower is in good working order. It can be a labour of love to get a perfect lawn but it doesn't have to be a full time job!  Even a hardworking lawn can look its best with the help of some lawn care remedies and simple equipment.

Lawns have definitely suffered with all the rain and snow we've had; now it’s time for some first aid!  Walking on frozen lawns can cause grass to die leaving brown ‘footprint-shaped’ patches. To avoid dieback keep off lawns and grass paths if they are under snow or heavy frost.


As soon as weather warms up use a high nitrogen spring feed and target perennial weeds in the lawn. 
Puddles in the lawn or lots of moss growing in the grass means the soil is too wet and drainage is poor, the soil may also be compacted. When warmer, drier weather arrives aerate the soil to loosen any compaction and let air into the roots.
If you need to reseed the lawn let April showers later in the month get the seed off to a good start.
An all in one weed and feed is a quick and easy way to revitalise a winter-weary lawn.

 

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