Sow your sunflowers! 15 easy April gardening tasks to ensure a glorious, flowery summer
Whether you’re getting your outside space ready for family gatherings or planning a productive year of food growing, this is the month to move your gardening up a gear. As the soil warms up and days lengthen, there’s plenty to be sowing and planting, provided you keep an eye out for late frosts.
Five things you should plant
Gladioli corms can go in now: 10cm apart and at least 10cm deep so they don’t start to lean. It’s up to you whether you opt for something understated like the white-flowered Murmansk or go gaudy with a mixed variety pack. Glads love sun and well-drained soil, so don’t stick them in a dark corner.
Everyone loves a sunflower: bees love the nectar and birds love the seed-heads. Now is the time to get them started in individual pots on a sunny windowsill indoors: the seeds are chunky enough for tiny hands too. If they are destined for pots when they’re moved outside, choose dwarf varieties such as Big Smile or Micro Sun; giants such as Kong and Giraffe will need a sheltered spot in the ground and strong staking. Keep plants indoors until risk of frost has passed.
Sow some salads now in pots and troughs, and repeat every two to three weeks to ensure a steady crop. Choose leaves you can’t get at the supermarket such as purslane, red veined sorrel, leaf beet and miner’s lettuce.
If you’re getting your garden ready for outdoor gatherings this spring, you need instant colour. Go for pots of trailing ivy, pansies, violas, heucheras, primulas, daffodils and tulips. Before planting, test out different combinations by grouping plants still in their pots. Choose your pots carefully: large ones make small spaces look bigger, and don’t need as much watering. Don’t put crocks at the bottom as this doesn’t help drainage, but do add a scrap of brown cardboard to stop compost falling out of the holes.
Sempervivums (AKA houseleeks) are the tough nuts of the succulent world, performing better outside than on your windowsill. Plant a shallow terracotta dish or old butler sink full of these rosette-shaped beauties and you’ll have the most low maintenance container display imaginable. Add lots of horticultural grit to multipurpose compost to make sure they have good drainage, and place in full sun.
Five garden maintenance tasks to complete
Lavender is one of the top sellers at the garden centre, but it can look sparse if you don’t chop it back regularly. Give it a haircut now, snipping just above the lowest point on stems where you see fresh green shoots emerging.
Containers of herbs such as mint and parsley need some TLC now if you want cocktails and garnishes all summer. Remove the rootball and separate out the plants, trimming back long roots (mint is particularly wayward) and dividing bigger clumps in half. Repot in fresh, peat-free multipurpose compost, giving each plant plenty of space to expand.
Cleaning bird baths and feeders regularly with a disinfectant such as Ark Klens helps to stop the spread of diseases. Once clean, dry feeders and refill with only what will be taken in a few days to prevent food going mouldy.
If some of your flowering plants such as foxgloves, cyclamen, brunneras and verbascums have self-seeded about, carefully prize up the young plants with a trowel and rehome in bare spots around the neighbouring beds: leaving seedlings crowded together will stunt their growth.
Any lawn, however scrappy, will look better after it’s been edged with a half-moon tool if you have one, or a sharp spade. The excess clumps that come out can go on the compost heap.
Five other ways to enjoy your garden
Kitting out your garden for outdoor gatherings doesn’t have to cost much. Scour Facebook marketplace, Gumtree and Freecycle to pick up cheap or free tables, chairs, pots and planters you can zhoosh up; washing machine or dryer drums can be upcycled into fire pits, planters or side tables. Plastic furniture can be sponged down with hot soapy water with a dash of bleach to clean it up. Use a stiff brush to remove algae and lichen from wooden and metal furniture, then rub down with sandpaper and repaint.
Once the flowers are gone, the foliage of spring flowers such as crocuses and daffodils start to look messy as they die back. However, don’t be tempted to tie them up or cut them away now: wait until they are completely brown and they should pull away without any tugging. This way the plant can absorb maximum nutrients from the leaves and store this in their bulbs or corms for next year’s display.
Learning what common weeds look like as seedlings will help you tell the difference between a dock and your precious crop of new lettuces. Gail Harland’s book The Weeder’s Digest is a great way of genning up on which weed is which. Surprisingly, some weeds also make tasty edibles, from familiar species such as dandelions and nettles to more unusual ones like hairy bittercress and Himalayan balsam.
With garden centres full of summer bedding plants such as busy lizzies, begonias and petunias, it’s tempting to buy a trolleyful to brighten up your garden. Bear in mind, though, that many of these plants are tender, which means they won’t thrive outside 24/7 until mid-to-late May in the UK. Unless you have space to nurture them indoors or in a frost-free greenhouse until then, hold back. See above for container planting ideas that work.
Clay, sand or loam? Finding out your soil’s makeup will help you select plants that will thrive. Grab a handful of wet soil and work it into a sausage shape. If this is impossible, you have sandy soil, which is free-draining. If you can curl the sausage into a C shape, it’s clay soil – fertile, but hard to work. Loamy soil will make a sausage but won’t bend: this is the kind of soil that gives you the most planting options, as it has an even ratio of clay and sand.