- 1 Lovely gardening jobs to do from April to mid-May
- 1.1 Hardy annuals
- 1.2 Gardening for butterflies
- 1.3 Home-made fertiliser
- 1.4 Ponds
- 1.5 Aquatic plants
- 1.6 Potting up hanging baskets and containers
- 1.7 Protecting tender plants
- 1.8 Glasshouse or window sill growing
- 1.9 Sowing seeds outside
- 1.10 Growing potatoes and shallots
- 1.11 Unwanted potato plants
- 1.12 Growing potatoes in containers
Lovely gardening jobs to do from April to mid-May
Sowing seeds is a wonderfully cost-effective way to garden. Many hardy annual plants can be grown from seed this month, providing us with a quick and easy way to fill our gardens with beautiful flowers, in a wide range of colours and forms.
Many annual plants provide a valuable source of nectar, pollen, and food for insects. If you’re keen to grow more plants that are beneficial to bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects, then include plants that produce single flowers in your garden. Single flowered plants, like daisies, produce pollen and nectar that are accessible to insects. Whereas double flowers are fussier. Double flowers feature many more petals, but these more complex flowers offer no reward to our insects, as they have no pollen or nectar on offer.
The weather can be so unpredictable at this time of year. We might be basking in a heat wave, sheltering from the rain, or shivering in the cold! With this in mind, I wanted to suggest sowing seeds of some easy to grow, hardy annuals that produce absolutely fabulous flowers, in a wide range of colours and sizes. These plants are all easy to grow from seed; they’re all hardy plants, so your seedlings won’t need any protection if we have a colder night.
You won’t need pots or a greenhouse, as you can sow these seeds directly in the soil, where you want your plants to flower, so it couldn’t be easier! Why not share the joy of seed sowing with your children? Choose single flowered varieties to provide nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, hoverflies, moths, and other insects. These seeds can all be sown outside this month:
- Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)
- Poppies (Papaver rhoeas and Papaver orientale)
- Love-in-a-mist (Nigella)
- Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus)
- Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus)
- Californian poppies (Eschscholzia californica)
- Corncockles (Agrostemma githago)
- French marigolds (Calendula officinalis)
- The poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii)
Gardening for butterflies
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. Butterflies tend to avoid nettles that are growing in the shade, so to make sure you position your nettles in a warm, sunny spot.
I don’t want nettles to spread through my garden, so I restrict and contain these plants by growing my nettles in large pots. It’s worth growing a large clump of nettles, to provide enough substance for caterpillars. Nettles are very useful to insects and wildlife, they’re popular plants with Ladybirds, who often choose to lay their eggs on this plant’s leaves.
You might not want to share all of your plants with the butterflies, you could harvest some nettle leaves 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 them, place them in a bottle or a box with a lid, (as this liquid feed gives off a rather unpleasant aroma!) and partly fill with water. You may want to use a stone to weigh the nettles down and keep them submerged underwater. Then, depending on how many nettle leaves you’ve gathered, just fill half to three quarters of your container with water. Your home-made 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.
Do you have a pond? Ponds can really enhance a garden, providing a focal point and a great place to observe wildlife. Even a small pond can make a big difference to wildlife, attracting wonderfully colourful dragonflies and damselflies, as well as frogs and toads, newts, birds, and other fascinating creatures. This is a great time to create a new pond or to enhance your existing pond, by planting new aquatic plants.
Pot your pond plants up into aquatic baskets, lined with hessian. Use a specially formulated, aquatic compost, which is low in nutrients, and finish off by top dressing your planters with gravel. If you want your aquatic plants to flower well, it’s important to remember to fertilise your pond plants. I use a product which has been designed especially for aquatic plants, this fertiliser comes in a tablet form. I pop a fertiliser tablet into my aquatic planters, as I plant them up, but you can just as easily add tablets to ready planted pond plants. It’s a simple task and only takes a moment, but adding this fertiliser now, will really help your aquatic plants to grow and flower well.
Potting up hanging baskets and containers
This is a good time to plant up hanging baskets and containers. Make sure your planters have drainage holes and choose a water retentive, peat free compost, like Dalefoot Composts Wool Potting Compost, which will save you time and energy with unnecessary watering. This fantastic compost will provide your plants with all the nutrients they need during the spring and summer time, so you won’t need to feed them either. Potting up your planters now will allow your plants sufficient time to grow on and develop, ready to produce a fabulous floral display over the spring and summer months.
Protecting tender plants
If you choose to grow frost tender plants, remember to keep an eye on the weather, as you might need to use Enviromesh, old net curtains, or another material, to protect your plants during any chilly spring evenings.
Glasshouse or window sill growing
If you’re lucky enough to have a glasshouse: you can sow French beans, courgettes, pumpkin, squash, melons, basil, and sweet corn, under cover this month.
Sowing seeds outside
While outside in the garden, or at your allotment, you can sow a wide range of seeds this month, including: beetroot, broccoli, summer cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, endive, kale, kohlrabi, spring onions, lettuce, salads, herbs, peas, mangetout, salsify, scorzonera, spinach, swede, and turnip. Parsnip seeds are slow to germinate, so make the most of your space by intercropping – sow seeds of radishes, which germinate and grow quickly, in the same row, at the same time, as sowing your parsnip seeds. I promise you, that you’ll have harvested and eaten your radishes, long before your parsnips need the space.
You can still sow broad beans this month, choose ‘Express’ or ‘Witkiem Manita’, as they’re both quick growing, heavy cropping varieties.
Growing potatoes and shallots
You can also plant shallots, second early seed potatoes, and maincrop seed potatoes outdoors now. I am particularly fond of ‘Vivalidi’, a second early seed potato with a fantastic sweet, nutty, and buttery flavour. ‘Vivaldi’ is a first-class potato that makes the best tasting jackets, wedges, and roast potatoes. ‘Nicola’ is a particularly good salad potato, with good storage capabilities. ‘Charlotte’ is a super potato, great as a salad potato, but good for almost everything – a good all-rounder. ‘Cara’ is a heavy cropping potato with good disease resistance, that’s great for baked, boiled, mashed, or roast potatoes.
If you’re growing potatoes, earth up the soil around your potato plants, as you see leaves and stems emerging through the soil. This action will help to protect your potato plants’ new growth from frost and cold weather and will also increase your harvest.
Unwanted potato plants
When you’re gardening in the soil, at your allotment or in your garden, you might notice that if you’ve grown a row of potatoes one year, however long you spent meticulously gathering in your harvest, there will always be a number of tiny potatoes that escape. These potatoes remain in the soil, ready to grow up again next year and disrupt your carefully planned rows of vegetable, herb, or salad seedlings.
For this reason, avoid planting any permanent plants in an area where potatoes have recently grown. This will avoid the hazard of unwanted potatoes growing up among your rhubarb, strawberries, redcurrants, raspberries, globe artichokes, or any other permanent fruit or vegetable plants. Container gardeners can avoid this hazard, by growing their potatoes in planters.
Growing potatoes in containers
If you’re planting potatoes in containers, choose a really huge, deep planter (an old plastic bin works very well). Ensure your planter has drainage holes to allow water to escape, then pop a piece of broken tile or a broken piece of pottery over the holes in the base of your pot. Next, tip in some compost (I use Dalefoot Double Strength Compost mixed with garden soil and spent compost). Add enough compost to cover the base of your container to provide at least a 10cm (4 inch) deep layer of soil. Plant one to three potatoes, depending on the size of your pot and cover with soil. Water regularly during the growing season and add a new layer of compost to your container, every time you see new potato leaves emerging. Keep adding new layers of compost until you’ve almost reached the top of your pot. Take care not to overfill your planter with compost, as you’ll want to leave room for water to collect, to make it easier to water your potato plants. I never feed my container grown potatoes, I find that the Dalefoot Double Strength Compost I use provides all the nutrients my plants need during the growing season.
This article was first published in Vantage Point Magazine‘s Gardening Newsletter, in April 2019.
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