Life

Seven tasks to kick-start the growing season

If you're having trouble prioritising tasks during this busy month for gardeners John Manley has seven helpful suggestions for keeping your green fingers busy throughout April

Deadhead daffodils after blooming to keep the bulbs healthy

:: Deadhead daffodils

Our favourite spring flower needs minimum maintenance and tends to return year after year if left undisturbed. However, the one annual task that'll keep the bulbs extra healthy is deadheading.

Pinching off the heads of faded flowers helps the plant focus its energies on preparing for dormancy. In non-sterile species such as Narcissus cyclamineus and Narcissus bulbocodium the heads can be left alone to develop seed to help naturalisation.

Always be sure to leave the foliage for at least six weeks after

flowering and don't tie the leaves up.

:: Move snowdrops

The spring harbinger Galanthus finished flowering weeks ago but its green strappy foliage is still visible. If you want to create a carpet of snowdrops over the years it helps to transplant a few bulbs every spring.

The plants are best moved when ‘in the green', which is now – after flowering but before the leaves disappear. Go for random patterns to ensure your snowdrop carpet looks natural.

:: Tend ornamental grasses

The sturdier ornamental grasses come into their own in winter, especially when the weather is very cold and still. Therefore any maintenance – ie getting rid of dead foliage – should be left until spring arrives.

How you go about this depends whether the grass is deciduous or evergreen. Deciduous grasses like Miscanthus can be chopped back to low level but avoid cutting new growth. Evergreens like Stipa tenuissima are best combed upwards with gloved fingers.

:: Sow hardy annuals

Annuals are great for filling a gap in a bed or border. They also help create a wilder, more naturalised atmosphere and are great for insect life. Easy grown favourites include Papaver rhoeas (field poppy), Nigella damascena (love-in-a-mist) and Leucanthemum vulgare (ox-eye daisies).

Rake the ground into a tilth before sowing and keep weeds in check then hopefully come July your garden will be buzzing with happy bees.

:: Clean the greenhouse

I'm happy for my greenhouse to be a winter refuge for all sorts of creepy crawlies but come springtime plant life and biosecurity becomes the priority.

Over the coming weeks, it'll be time to move out all the junk that's accumulated over the past year and go to work with the power hose, flushing away any nasty pests that could kill my undercover crops.

I also change the compost in my tomato bed at least every two years to avoid a build up of diseases such as blight.

:: Tend to the pond

Spring is the recommended time for pond maintenance though if your water feature gives more than a nod to wildlife then please show restraint. I'll be ensuring I don't disrupt the habitat where frogs and sticklebacks thrive, however, I'll be keeping duckweed and algae in check – both of which thrive this time of year and can quickly overrun a pond, slowly choking it to death.

:: Plant spuds

If you're looking to cultivate fallow ground then potatoes are a great way to start – even if you have an ornamental garden earmarked for the site. They break the soil up into a tilth and will outgrow and suppress weeds once they establish a canopy.

Now's the time to plant the last of your earlies and first of your second earlies in milder coastal parts. Planting can continue through until June as long as you pick an appropriate variety.

I'd recommend seeking out blight-resistant varieties the further we move towards main crop. Anything from the Hungarian-developed Sarpo range fits the bill.

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