April garden plant maintenance

April garden plant maintenance in Wokingham and Maidenhead

Berkshire and surrounding areas

Rhododendron tree at St Paul’s church in Wokingham

April in the garden is wonderful, so much to see (and do!) – spring is in full bloom despite unpredictable weather from a heatwave to a ground frost and/or sleet, wind and too much rain. Be prepared! Veg and bedding plants still need to be protected by cloches and fleece. Slugs and snails are about and won’t do tender plants any good at all. More on that later.

Many different colours can come from a wildflower patch which doesn’t need a lot of room. Sowing seeds from a packet may seem like a lot of work, in which case try a self-seeded wildflower roll, available from many reputable gardening sites online. It may look a bit flimsy when you unroll it but won’t come to much harm if handled gently. Unroll it onto an area of dry soil that is free of weeds and warm enough for germination. There are lots of instructions on the gardening sites.

April is the time to save money when buying bedding plants if you have a greenhouse because, by taking advantage of special offers in nurseries, you can buy small plants and grow them on. There’s a huge choice of these little plants from garden centres and internet sites, not only for bedding but for vegetables too. They do need frost-free surroundings and as much light as possible (greenhouse, conservatory or window sill for example) plus care with watering. Then they need re-potting as they grow, slowly, sort of one pot size up per growth stage: they don’t like being re-potted in large pots.

The Number One Garden Enemy at this time are slugs and snails. Each one seems like a Tardis in that they can eat more of your precious plant growth than seems physically possible for their size.

Nematodes are an effective way of killing slugs and snails although quite hard work because they have to be watered into soil as it’s warming up – and six weeks later this has to be done again. Beer traps work too: any old cheap beer as slugs are not real ale experts. Fill a trap that has a lid as rain can dilute the beer and this can diminish the alluring attraction!

Slug pellets do not have a good reputation as the traditional ones are toxic for domestic pets, wild animals and birds and no good for gardeners either. However, organic slug pellets are now available and much safer. Pellets are effective when spread around susceptible plants although rain will wash them away which can be a problem in the average English summer.

If the slugs have chewed a bedding plant don’t worry. If it’s not too badly eaten, you can dig it up and replant in a pot or greenhouse away from the slug. Often it will recover enough in two or three weeks and can be planted out again. There are also slug-resistant bedding plants.

Thrushes love snails and will rummage around in borders and undergrowth for them! Cotoneaster horizontalis, Ivy, native Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) Pyracantha, and Berberis darwinii are some suggestions for attracting thrushes.

Thrushes, frogs, slow worms, hedgehogs and some types of beetle. Thrushes eat large snails but blackbirds and mistle thrushes  prefer the smaller ones.

In the meantime, there are some beautiful plants which thrive at this time of year: magnolia trees, rhododendrons and flowering cherry; a lovely dwarf Cherry (Prunus incisa “Kojo-no-mai”) is ideal for any border or container is. A good early clematis which can cover a fence or wall or even be grown through an early flowering shrub is Clematis alpina “Columbine” with beautiful pale blue lantern flowers

If you’re short of time and/or inclination, don’t forget that a Gardeneer team can take care of your lawn, plant, dig, weed, tidy up and help you with the multitude of garden tasks that need doing at this time of year.

Jobs for April

  • Apply a general-purpose fertiliser to borders and beds. Take care not to damage emerging shoots, or to burn them with fertiliser.
  • Put supports in place for perennials before they get too large. Criss-crossing strings from hidden or decorative posts allows stems to grow up in the gaps between strings.
  • Remove faded daffodil and tulip flowers, nipping off the heads and seed pods at the same time.
  • Deadhead pansies, primulas and other spring bedding plants. Pansies will carry on into the spring and even to early summer, if attended to frequently.
  • Remove tired winter bedding and plants that did not survive the winter.
  • Check that self-seeded forget-me-nots aren’t smothering other border plants. Pull out plants if necessary.
  • Hoe borders to prevent annual and perennial weeds from spreading and seeding themselves.
  • Herbaceous perennials infested with couch grass and other perennial weeds should be lifted so the roots of the weeds can be removed.
  • Bulbs coming up in the rock garden or in containers may benefit from overhead protection from the rain. A sheet of glass or Perspex placed on bricks will do the job.
  • Top dress spring-flowering alpines with grit or gravel to show off the plants and to help prevent stem rots. Any mulches may need replacing after weed removal. You could plant up an alpine trough to display some of your alpine plants as many can look their best at this time of year.
  • Check whether containers need watering. Even at this time of year, they can dry out.
  • Pots and tubs benefit from topping up with fresh compost. Old compost can be removed and replaced with new to a depth of 5cm (2in) if there is not much room for topping up.
  • Buy fresh potting compost from your local garden centre and store it in a cool dry place in preparation for the season ahead.
  • Water butts are a worthwhile investment for the season ahead. Position them under a downpipe to make the most of rainfall.