With April sunshine and showers, let’s hope we see lots of rainbows this month!
Sowing seeds is a wonderfully cost-effective way of gardening, and a quick and easy way to provide a valuable source of nectar, pollen, and food for insects. If you would like to grow more plants beneficial to bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects, then now is a good time to sow Cosmos bipinnatus and Verbena bonariensis seeds under cover.
If you don’t have anywhere to start seeds off under cover, don’t worry there are many seeds that can also be sown now without protection: Agrostemma githago (Corncockle), Anthemis arvensis, single flowered forms of Calendula officinalis, Centaurea cyanus (Cornflower), Clarkia elegans, Eschscholzia californica, Helianthus annuus (sunflowers), Iberis umbellata (Candytuft), Limnanthes douglasii (Poached egg plant), Machaeranthera tanacetifolia, Matthiola bicornis (Night-scented stock), Papaver rhoeas, Papaver orientale, Nigella damascena, and Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium). These hardy seeds can be sown directly in the ground where they will flower, saving you the time and energy of potting them on, and avoiding any worry if we have a cold snap.
If you would like to encourage butterflies, it’s also important to provide a source of food for their caterpillars. Nettles are an important food source for Commas, Peacocks, Red Admiral, and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. It’s worth noting that the nettles need to be planted in a sunny spot to attract the butterflies. It’s also worth growing a large clump to provide enough substance for the caterpillars, the plus side being that nettles – although hungry plants – are very easy to grow! Nettles are also popular places for Ladybirds to lay their eggs.
You could even harvest some nettles to make a free Nitrogen feed for your plants! This can be done at any time of year: wearing gloves, cut some of your nettles, then crush or bruise the nettle leaves and stems, place them in a bottle or in a container with a lid, (as they smell rather unpleasant!) and partly fill with water. You may want to use a stone to weigh the nettles down and keep them submerged. Then just fill up ½ to ¾ of your container with water. Your feed will be ready to use after only four weeks; dilute it one part nettle tea, to ten parts water and then water on and around your plants.
Other jobs this month:
Plant up hanging baskets and containers for a beautiful display over the coming months.
Plant Agapanthus, hybrid Gladiolus, Nerine, Schizostylis, and Zantedeschia.
Plant shallots, plant second early potatoes, and maincrop potato varieties.
Plant new aquatic plants – use special aquatic compost, which is low in nutrients and top dress with gravel.
Outside: sow beetroot, broccoli, summer cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, endive, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, mangetout, parsnips – intercrop with radish, salsify, scorzonera, spinach, swede and turnips. You can still sow broad beans, an ideal variety to sow now would be ‘Witkiem Manita’ – it’s a quick growing, heavy cropping variety.
It’s worth growing tomatoes that have some blight resistance, ‘Legend’, ‘Ferline’, ‘Losetto’, Tomatillo de Jalapo, and Solanum Sponteneum all have varying degrees of blight resistance, at the very least you will be able to delay the onset of blight by growing these varieties.
Why not plan a trip to Winkworth Arboretum, or the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew? Enjoy the magnificent carpet of bluebells and make the most of this beautiful time of year.
This article was first published in the mid-April 2013 edition of The Surrey and Hants News.
For more gardening advice for April, please click here.
For gardening advice for May, please click here.
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To read about the varieties of gourmet vegetable that you can sow in April, please click here.
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For advice on protecting your plants from slugs and snails please click here.