10 Must-Do Garden Jobs For April

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Planting comfrey

Spring is a magical time of transformation as growth really starts to gather pace and the true character of the garden takes shape. It’s exciting, it’s beautiful, and it’s what us gardeners live for!

There’s something for everyone this month, with lots to plant and tend to as we move towards the first wonderful harvests of the new season. Let’s get to it!

Grow More Comfrey

Comfrey is one of the most useful flowering plants in the garden. Not only does it tempt in welcome pollinators such as bumblebees, you can also use it to create your own natural liquid fertiliser which is perfect for sploshing around fruiting vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers.

If you’re planting a new comfrey patch look for the variety ‘Bocking 14’, which is a lot less unruly than other types, so is ideal for gardens. Grow plants a couple of feet (60cm) apart. Remove any flowers during your comfrey’s first season to help plants concentrate on leaf growth, and go easy on cutting the leaves too. Once plants have properly bulked out you can start regular cuts of the leaves to use in the garden.

Planting potatoes
Maincrop potatoes like plenty of soil to grow in, so plant them deeply

Plant Potatoes

Now’s the ideal time to plant maincrop or late-season potatoes. Pots of potatoes are a great option for smaller gardens, but growing in the ground is even easier. Dig individual holes for each of your seed potatoes about 18in (45cm) apart in both directions. It’s best to dig fairly deep holes – at least 6in (15cm) deep – as this will give a greater volume of soil for the tubers to develop in.

Draw up soil around the stems as they grow to create more space for those tubers to develop in. Mulch the soil surface with organic matter such as compost to conserve moisture and help protect the spuds from being exposed to the light, which will turn tubers green and inedible.

Want to know more? Check out my Potato Growing Masterclass.

Hardening off seedlings
Acclimatise indoor-sown plants to outdoor conditions gradually

Begin Hardening Off Seedlings

Warm season crops like tomatoes, squashes and climbing beans should be gradually acclimatised to conditions outside in the run-up to planting. Suddenly moving plants from a cosy, cosseted environment to the exposed chill and wind of outdoors risks weakening plants and setting them back, which makes this slow and steady transfer process – called ‘hardening off’ – very important.

Start hardening off two weeks before you aim to transplant your seedlings outdoors. Move plants outside on a relatively calm day, placing them somewhere sheltered for a few hours. Over the following days, steadily increase the time they spend outside. A cold frame is handy because it shields plants from chilly winds, and you can open the lid wider over time to gradually get your seedlings used to life outdoors.

If you can, set plants into their final positions when calmer, warmer weather is forecast for the next few days. I sometimes cover recent transplants with row cover fabric for a week or two to help them transition.

Citrus in a pot
Give citrus plants a boost with a liquid fertiliser or by potting them on into a larger container

Feed Citrus Crops

If you’re growing citrus such as lemons, kumquats or limes, once you start to notice fresh growth it’s time to start feeding plants to support their development.

Use a purpose-sold organic citrus feed suitable for the summer. Summer feeds have a higher concentration of nitrogen to support leafy growth, alongside trace elements to encourage those precious flowers and fruits. Keep plants thoroughly watered as growth picks up, and move them up to a larger container if the roots are congested.

Water barrel
Keep your plants quenched in summer by installing water barrels now

Install Water Barrels

Many of us are experiencing increasingly hotter, drier summers, or more erratic weather patterns, so it pays to harvest more of the wet stuff! Plants prefer rainwater over tap water, so why not install a water barrel or add to an existing rainwater harvesting setup?

Get your barrels set up well ahead of hot weather. Position your barrels on a firm, level surface, raised up on cinder blocks or bricks so you can easily get a watering can underneath the spigot. The barrel needs to be fed from guttering and, in most cases, a downspout or downpipe to channel the water down into the barrel. Keep it covered to stop leaves and too many bugs getting in, and you’re good to go!

Pea sticks
Support dwarf peas with pea sticks, or build sturdier supports for climbing varieties

Support Peas

Most peas grow best with support. Just like beans, climbing peas will need some sort of support, whether that’s a bamboo cane frame or teepee, or a tall trellis. Dwarf varieties of pea will still reach a couple of feet tall and need to be supported to keep them off the ground.

To support these shorter types I use twiggy, branching sticks – your classic pea sticks! Push them into the soil next to your peas before the plants get too tall. You could even do this when you plant them. Supporting peas like this makes better use of space, keeps plant up out of the reach of slugs, and makes it easier to find and harvest the pods.

If you haven’t started your peas yet, there’s still plenty of time. Sow them direct into the soil next to supports, or sow into plug trays to transplant as sturdy seedlings in a few weeks’ time. This is a good way to keep them away mice so the seeds don’t get sniffed out and eaten before they’ve come up. I’ve successfully kept mice off seedlings by just popping plug trays into a sealed box until the seedlings are up, which also helps to keep them a touch warmer and nice and moist too.

Fava bean seedlings
Transplant indoor-sown broad bean seedlings out into the garden, or sow them direct

Plant Broad Beans

I sowed some more broad beans last month and now I have lovely, stocky seedlings ready to transplant. It’s not too late to sow them now if you haven’t started yours yet. Like peas, sowing them away from growing areas reduces the risk of the seeds being nibbled.

These cold-tolerant beans are such a joy to grow. Plant them about 9in (23cm) apart in a grid pattern. They can also be grown in containers, but pick a dwarf variety to keep things manageable.

Shade Seedlings in Hot Weather

If you have a greenhouse or hoop house, keep a beady eye on temperatures. It’s surprising how hot it can get under cover on a sunny day, so make sure to leave door and vents open whenever you can.

On warmer days the sun can be strong. Most plants are happy with that but young seedlings that have been recently pricked out and potted on could potentially struggle. The simple solution is to cast a little shade on the sunniest day, at least till seedlings have grown on a bit. Suspend fine mesh netting above them, move seedlings to a shadier corner or beneath greenhouse staging, or just float a sheet of newspaper over them.

All seedlings need more moisture in warmer conditions, so check regularly and water as needed.

Thinning radishes
Thin seedlings in stages to their final spacings

Thin Seedlings

Check seedlings in recently sown rows. If they are looking a bit overcrowded, remove some of the excess so they have the space they need to properly grow on. The gardening term for this is ‘thinning out’, and it’s simply a matter of looking up the spacing needs for what you’re growing, and pulling out seedlings to leave just one at every interval as directed.

I prefer to thin out in two stages – an initial thinning so seedlings have enough space to continue growing for another week or two, and then a second to thin them to their final spacings. This acts as an insurance policy in case any die off in between thinnings.

Don’t waste the thinned seedlings. Many make good eating and often form the very first pickings from the spring-sown garden, though, of course, do check before eating to make sure it is indeed edible!

Sowing seeds
Sow frost-tender plants but keep them cozy until it's warm enough to transplant outside

Sow Frost-Tender Flowers

Mid-spring is the ideal time to sow frost-sensitive, or half-hardy annual flowers such as zinnia and cosmos to attract beneficial insects and add a splash of color.

Like so many frost-tender plants, in cooler climates it’s best to sow them in pots under cover to get them started early enough. That way you’ll have sturdy young plants to go out once the danger of frost has passed. Sow them into sieved potting mix and just barely cover the seeds over. They germinate quicker in the warmth, so bring them inside onto a warm windowsill. They can go back out into a greenhouse, cold frame, or any other sheltered, frost-free place once they’re up.

Once they have been hardened off and it’s safe to do so, plant your flowers throughout your vegetable garden to lend their cheer and spread their inimitable joy!

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