April To-Do List

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Welcome to the fourth instalment of twelve monthly blogs, these blogs will cover some of the many key gardening tasks that will need to be undertaken throughout the year.

Job Checklist:

  1. Keep weeds under control
  2. Sow new lawns or repair bare patches
  3. Protect fruit blossom from late frosts
  4. Tie in climbing and rambling roses
  5. Sow hardy annuals, herbs and wild flower seed outdoors

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Non-Chemical Weed Control

It may come as a shock to some, but it is actually possible & really simple to control any weed without resorting to weedkillers. Believe it or not, killing & restricting weeds can be as simple as pulling them straight out of the ground! Other exciting methods include burning them to a crisp or using weed barriers.

Timing: When weeds become troublesome Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Suitable for-  All types of weed can be controlled without the use of weedkillers, but deep-rooted weeds can be harder to control. Annual weeds (which only live for one year) and Ephemeral weeds (which live for less than one year) are easy to manage, but often scatter seeds in large quantities and usually reappear, requiring further control. Deep-rooted weeds (which die down in winter and re-grow each spring) can re-grow from their roots even when the tops are removed or burned off. They can be challenging to dig up and can grow through weed barriers.

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When to control weeds

Weeds can be dealt with whenever they become unruly, this tends to be in the spring-summer months. It is best to place weed barriers down during late winter / early spring, this is because weed barriers work best as a preventative measure.

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Manual removal & Cutting back

  • Pruning: Running a hoe over your flower bed or between plot rows will kill most weed seedlings. Hoeing on a dry day will dry out the seedling on the surface, preventing them from re-rooting
  • Hand-pulling or weeding with a fork: Pull up annual weeds by hand before they set seed. You should dig out Perennial weeds with as much root (or bulb) as possible, using a hand or border fork. Hand weeding is easier on light soil and should only be attempted where it will not disturb the roots of other garden plants. Further pulling will be needed for persistent weeds like bindweed & couch grass because the small root sections left behind can re-grow back into a new plant
  • Weed knife and other tools: A weed knife has a hooked end and is designed to for those weeds that live between paving slabs & along path edges. Other hooked, narrow-bladed or spiralled tools are available for other specific weeding tasks such as digging out dandelions on lawns.
  • Repeated cutting: In large weedy areas, repeatedly cutting to ground level over several years will weaken and even kill some weeds. Strimming is the most comfortable and fastest way to accomplish these results.
  • Flame gun: Another way to control hard to reach weeds is by scorching them, This method of weed control is perfect between paving slabs and on driveways and saves you bending down or hurting your knees with a small sharp tool. It is preferable only to use this tool when the foliage is dry, be sure to allow sufficient burn-time for deep-rooted weeds, such as dandelions.
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Weed barriers

Mulching: Use a thick organic mulch such as bark or wood chip to smother weeds around plants. To be effective, you will need to keep them topped up to a minimum depth of 10-15cm (4-6in) to suppress established weeds. Be sure to keep woody stems from rotting by maintaining contact between shrub stems & mulch to a minimum.


Edging boards or strips: These are used to edge lawns & pathways to prevent unwanted grass growth into the border. This method of weed control is useful where invasive rooted grasses such as ‘couch grass’ are a problem.


Root barriers: These are inserted into the ground to stop the spread of perennial weeds like ground elder or horsetail into neighbouring gardens. They are also used to restrict invasive plants like bamboo, or suckering trees, shrubs or raspberries. A straight barrier can be made from paving slabs or corrugated sheets, but for a flexible solution, use a sturdy fabric like Rootbarrier

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Weed-suppressant fabrics

Placing landscaping fabric over recently cleared ground will hinder re-growth of old weeds and prevent new ones from being established. There are many types of weed suppressant fabrics available to purchase; each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Spun materials

There are many types of weed suppressant fabrics available to purchase; each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages:

  • Lightweight, easy to cut.
  • Doesn’t fray on cut edges.
  • The porous material allows water to reach plant roots.

Disadvantages:

  • Cheaper versions do not last long.
  • More robust versions can be expensive.
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Woven materials

Woven plastic strands are used for temporary cover, or for the long-term on beds, borders or pathways. 

Advantages: Different grades in toughness, weight and durability are available & doesn’t need to be covered in mulch.

Disadvantages: Cut edges may fray and is much heavier than spun materials.

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Plastic Sheeting

Black plastic sheeting can be used to suppress weeds in parts of the garden where appearance isn’t a priority. 

Advantages: Cheap to purchase & easy to cut. 

Disadvantages: water-resistant material allows ground to dry out underneath, allowing rain to pool at ground level, Pierce holes in the surface so water can penetrate. However, this can create an area for weeds to grow through.

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Problems
This is not a one-off garden task & repeated control measures will be necessary. See our own weed profiles blog (Coming soon) for more detailed advice on the eradication of specific weeds. Some of the most persistent include; bamboo, bindweed, couch grass, ground elder, horsetail, oxalis and speedwell.


Lawn Maintenance

Lawn repair:
Patches in lawns can appear for many reasons, and when they do, it is always advisable to repair them. Re-seeding, or turfing bare spots will prevent weeds germinating in the patches, and of course, it looks much better.

Quick facts:
Repair lawns in spring or autumn by Re-seeding bare patches or using turf from another part of the garden. If the whole garden is patchy, it may be advisable to totally re-seed or re-lay the lawn

When to repair lawns – It’s best to repair lawns in spring or autumn, when the weather is damp and cold, as the grass is most likely to recover well in these conditions.

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How to use turf:
  • Cut out the damaged area of grass in a square, using a half-moon edging knife.
  • Lightly rake over the soil at the bottom of the removed square.
  • Cut out an identical patch of healthy turf from another area of the garden where it will not be missed, or use new grass if you have it.
  • Place the healthy grass over the damaged patch and brush a sandy lawn top-dressing into the crevices between the curves.
  • Flatten the edges of the turf with the back end of a rake.
  • Water in with the repaired path watering can fitted with a fine rose head.
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How to use seed:
  • Cut out damaged areas of turf in a square, using a half-moon edging knife.
  • Lightly rake over the soil at the bottom of the removed spot.
  • Sprinkle some crumbly topsoil over the base of the removed patch.
  • Scatter grass seed at a rate of 15-25g per sq m (½–¾oz per sq yard).
  • Lightly sprinkle topsoil or compost over the seed to hide it from birds.
  • Thoroughly water in with a watering can fitted with a fine rose head.

A better result may be achieved by pre-germinating the seed before it is sown. Add the grass seed to some moist soil in a bucket and cover it with clingfilm. Place a warm place – no higher than 15°C (60°F). After three days, check for signs of germination. If none is seen, check daily after that. Once you see small roots developing, sow the mixture as stated above.

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Repairing lawn edges:
  • Dig out any damaged areas with square cuts on three sides, use the same method as stated above to prepare the base.
  • Turn the damaged patch 180° and replace it, so the cut edge aligns with the edge of the lawns, and the damaged end is facing inwards.
  • Cutaway any damaged areas and re-turf or re-seed as above.

Minor Humps and Hollows:
  • Cut a H shaped slits through uneven patches then peel the turf back.
  • Rake over the base and either remove excess soil or add new topsoil to raise the level.
  • Firm down the patch to ensure the area is levelled before the turf is replaced.
  • Keep adjusting if necessary until the patch is level.
  • Use a sandy lawn top-dressing in the crevices between curves.
  • Use the back of a rake to compress turf edges.
  • Thoroughly water in with a watering can fitted with a fine rose head.

Problems – It is not uncommon for repaired patches lawn to look a different colour. Using turf patches from other areas in the garden (rather than new turf or seed) may avoid this problem.

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Protect fruit blossom from late frosts

Spring frosts can destroy new buds, shoots & flowers. Frost often affects plants in a random pattern & yet sometimes only the upper flowers are spared. Heavy russeting and cracking of skin can appear in apples and pears due to damage from cold temperatures. Cold damage can also cause fruits to become malformed.

When to protect from frost- When temperatures reach below 0°C (32°F) over a sustained period, this temperature is cold enough to freeze trees’ buds/blossoms, fruit, leaves, and even twigs. The measures that will need to be taken depend on the fruit you are trying to protect.

Browse the huge selection of “Thermometers & Meteorological Instruments” at Amazon.co.uk

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Frost protection will prevent:
  1. Damage to new buds, shoots or flowers
  2. Russeting and cracked skin on apples and pears
  3. Abnormally formed fruits, typically on pears
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How to protect fruit from frosts

Most fruit damage can be avoided by choosing an area where spring frosts are least likely, however, this isn’t always an option for gardeners. Planting in a sunny, sheltered spot such as a south-facing wall is preferable for early flowering crops such as apricots, nectarines & peaches.


If the above is not possible then try these following methods..

Soft fruit: use a fleece cover to protect the developing crops on the nights a frost is forecasted.

Strawberries: protect with a double layer of fleece, open in the day to allow pollinators access

Small fruit trees: cover with fleece overnight, remove during the day.

Keep grasses at the base of trees cut short during the flowering season, long grass will prevent the heat from escaping out of the soil.

Browse the huge selection of Frost Blankets here at Amazon.co.uk

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How to prune climbing roses


When to prune
Routinely prune climbers between December and February after the flowers have faded. Tying back or shortening long whippy shoots during autumn will prevent them from becoming damaged by strong winds. Pruning can happen at any time between late autumn to late winter. It is much easier to see what you are doing once the leaf has died back your Roses will respond better also and grow back more vigorously the following spring.

Pruning and formative training of young climbing roses

Climbing roses are not self-clinging and need the support of horizontal wires or a trellis to which the shoots can be tied to.

  • Lowest wires should be set to 45cm (18in) off the ground, and subsequent wires should be spaced 30cm (1ft) apart.
  • If training roses up Pergolas, Arches or Pillars, gently twist the main shoots around the upright supports, keeping them as horizontal as possible, to encourage the formation of low down flowering shoots.
  • To encourage side shoots on slow branching main stems, tip-prune them to the first healthy bud to promote side shoots, otherwise, leave them to fill the available space
  • Remove any diseased, damaged, dead or spindly growth, and deadhead flowers during the flowering season to encourage further flowering
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Routine pruning of climbing roses
  • First remove any diseased, dead or dying branches.
  • Then fill any gaps by tying in any new shoots. 
  • Flowered side shoots should be pruned back by a third of their length.
  • For heavily congested plants, Promote new growth by cutting out old branches from the base
Renovating overgrown climbing roses
  • Remove all dead, dying, weak and diseased shoots
  • Cut old woody branches to the ground but retain a maximum of six young shoots to secure to supports
  • Saw/Cutaway dead stumps at the base of the Rose, to prevent rot from pooling rain. 
  • Side shoots should be shortened on the remaining branches and tips should be pruned back by one third to one half, to promote branching.
  • Spread granular rose fertiliser to give pruned plants a boost in the following spring, then mulch with a 5cm (2in) layer of well-rotted manure or garden compost. 

Common rose problems include rose powdery mildew, rose black spot, replant disease, rose die-back, rose rust. Common rose pests include rose aphids, rose leaf rolling sawfly, rose large sawfly Blindness (lack of flowering) is also a common problem with roses.

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Sowing hardy annuals, herbs and wildflower seed outdoors.

Outdoor Seed Sowing:

Many seeds can be sown outdoors, including Vegetables, biennials, annuals, and herbaceous plants. Preparing a good seedbed with a crumbly soil & free of weeds is the secret to success.

Many seeds can be sown outdoors, including Vegetables, Biennials, Annuals, and Herbaceous plants. Preparing a good seedbed with crumbly soil texture, free of weeds is the secret to success. Sowing seed outdoors between Spring until Autumn is suitable for many plants, some examples include – Centaurea cyanus (cornflower), Digitalis (foxglove), Iberis umbellata (candytuft), Eschscholzia (Californian poppies), Helianthus annuus (sunflower), Limnanthes douglasii (poached egg flower) and Tropaeolum majus (nasturtiums). Vegetables such as carrots, beans, peas and onions can also be grown from seed outside. Outdoor sowing, directly into final growing places, is ideal for gardeners that do not have room indoors to raise seed in propagators or trays. You can freely scatter ornamental seed to achieve natural-looking growth, or sow cutting flowers and vegetables in clearly defined drills to make thinning and weeding easier to carry out.

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When to sow seeds

Seed germinates quickest when the soil conditions are warm and moist. This usually means (April-June) either mid-spring to early summer or (September) late summer. If protection can be provided in the form of cloches or fleece, for example, then sowing is started in early spring. Regular watering will also make it possible to many raise rows of seedlings during the height of summer. However, Always refer to seed packet instructions for best sowing times, as it does vary with each plant type.

How to sow seeds 

Sowing seed is actually very simple – even plants can scatter seeds, they grow where they land as soon as it gets moist and warm. However, this is how us humans should sow:

  • Beds should be dug in advance to a depth of one spade, doing this in advance allows time for the soil to settle. New beds can benefit from being double dug (two spades depth) but digging to a single spades depth is usually fine.
  • Freshly dug beds should be covered with a double layer of fleece or plastic sheeting to suppress any weeds, as well as in early spring to aid warming the soil. 
  • Uncover the bed when you are ready to sow the seed. Create a crumble like texture with a rake to with levelling out the site. Then simply pick up any remaining debris and weeds.
  • You can create a straight drill (shallow depression) in the soil by lightly pushing a cane into the ground; The required depth & spacing of which should be specified on the seed packets instructions. 
  • Watering the row before sowing is usually better than watering over sown seeds.
  • Lightly scatter seeds into the bottom of the drill. Don’t be over-enthusiastic, a fingers width apart often is right for small seed, but required spacings can also be found on seed packets. 
  • Gently fill the drills back in using a rake. 
  • Don’t forget! Place labels at the end of the row, so you know what and where you have planted.
  • Cover the area with a single layer of fleece.
  • Remember to water on dry days.
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Common Problems 

Under certain soil conditions, a cap of hard compacted earth can be formed during heavy rains, this then dries into a crust through which seeds may find impossible to emerge. Using a Peat free multipurpose compost to cover seeds can help prevent this issue.

Other problems include
  • Pigeons and other birds can be a pest where seeds are not covered with fleece
  • Occasionally, seedlings can fail to emerge, or keel over soon after emergence in wet weather. This is known as damping off
  • Likewise, slugs and snails eating young seedlings can be a problem
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Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I hop the above advice has helped you with your gardening for the month of April. Stay tuned for future monthly garden blogs by subscribing to my free email mailing list below

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