It feels like it’s taken a long time to get here, but spring has finally sprung, and for many, this month is their favourite when it comes to appreciating the great outdoors - the garden looks greener, the trees have leaves again and two Bank Holidays on the horizon call for finally making use of the garden furniture and the barbecue.
But, before you recline in the hammock with a Pimms in hand, there’s lots to be done this month to get your garden ready for the summer. With everything beginning to grow and the warmer weather encouraging those shoots and buds to thrive, there’s also a double edged sword (or, perhaps a double edged trowel). The increased growth of the flowers and plants also means the grass needs cutting more frequently and those pesky weeds need keeping at bay. Still, after a hard day’s work tending to the garden, you’ll definitely have earned that Pimms…
Here’s some tips on which tasks to tackle outdoors this month:
Lawn and order
It’s good practice to work on your lawn now to help encourage healthy growth. May sees longer daylight hours and warmer soil than in previous months, providing the perfect conditions for the grass to grow. Apply a nitrogen-rich summer feed after mowing - the high levels of nitrogen will help to promote spring growth.
We don’t just mean you quenching your thirst in the garden, this month you’ll need to pay extra attention to your plants and ensure they’re getting plenty of moisture. Get into the habit of watering regularly, and don’t forget to give some extra love to thirsty crops such as courgettes, cucumbers and tomatoes, especially if you’re currently growing these in a greenhouse where it’s much warmer. Ensure soil is kept moist but don’t overdo it - you don’t want it to become waterlogged.
This month is the prime time to plant up hanging baskets, so that they’ll be abundant with flowers come summertime. Choose a mix of trailing and upright plants, and don’t forget to cut holes in your basket liner to allow the trailing plants to grow through. Once you’ve prepared the liner, fill with a multi-purpose compost which will provide the flowers with the additional nutrients they’ll need. Plant your largest flowers in the centre, add the trailing plants around the sides, and then fill any gaps with flowering plants such as verbena and petunias. Add more compost, and then hang in a sunny, sheltered spot. If the weather is still a little fickle, keep your basket in a greenhouse or shed for a few weeks until the temperature improves.
Slugging it out with the snails
You don’t want to plant all of your wonderful specimens, only to see them devoured by slugs and snails, so consider taking some steps to minimise the damage these critters can cause.
For pots, putting copper tape around the pot will stop them crossing the tape. Crushed eggshells will provide a similar barrier on your soil (but you’ll need lots of them), or try cockleshells as an alternative. Or, depending how you feel about picking them up, when you see them, relocate them to somewhere far away from their chomping ground (and no, not your neighbours’ garden.)
Much like a spa treatment for your garden, mulch can work wonders on your soil. Not only does it work to lock in your soil’s moisture, it also improves its texture and even helps to keep weeds at bay. By layering a good quality mulch over your soil, weeds will struggle to grow due to a lack of light and won’t easily be able to find their way to the soil below. Apply around 2-3 inches of mulch on top of your soil for best results.
It’s a bug’s life
At this time of year, aphids (also known as greenfly or blackfly) tend to swarm to young growth in gardens, and in large numbers can be problematic for your plants because they suck sap from plants, weakening them and can even kill them off in some instances. Some species also transfer viruses to plants - and no amount of hand washing or mask-wearing can fix this unfortunately, so these plants will need to be destroyed.
However, it’s not all bad news - a small number of aphids is unlikely to cause any issues, because birds and insects such as ladybirds will eat them from the plants. It’s only in large numbers you’ll need to be wary, so if you do spot an influx of aphids, grab the hose and wash them off - they’ll fall to the ground where other creatures can eat them. Organic pesticides can also be used to treat them, just be careful not to spritz at a time when insects such as bees are visiting the flowers.
Once the last frost has occurred (it’s usually best to hold off until the end of May to be sure), it’s time to fill your borders with some colour, by planting out summer bedding and half-hardy annuals including sunflowers, cosmos and nasturtiums. Bedding plants grow quickly and will produce a lot of flowers quickly, so ensure you have a good compost to really help them thrive and bring lots of lovely colours to your garden.
As the weather finally begins to take a turn for the better this month, it’s just the encouragement we need to get out into the garden and crack on with that long list of jobs we’ve been putting off.
While there are undoubtedly many tasks you can undertake in April, from weeding to tree planting, the warmer air and moist soil also makes it the perfect time to dig deep and create a new border.
Borders can really transform a garden, and add some colour and interest to areas that may previously have looked a little unloved. With some careful planning, you could create a border that will continue to flourish with the passing seasons, or even use the border to disguise areas you’d prefer to keep hidden, like walls and sheds.
The great thing about borders is there’s no one size fits all approach; meaning whether you’ve got a cosy cottage garden or a sprawling lawn, you’ll be able to create something that works for you and your outside space.
Ready to cross into a new border? Here’s how to give your garden the edge it deserves...
Before you go digging and planting up your new border, you’ll need to do some important groundwork. Planning is essential - in order to decide which plants you’d like to grow, you’ll need to determine how much light and shade the area you’re hoping to place the border will get. Once you know this, you’ll have a better idea of the types of plants that will thrive in the new border, and you’ll avoid frustrations later down the line when things may struggle to grow due to their conditions.
If you’re planting herbaceous perennials, bear in mind that they’ll really flourish next year, so consider planting a mix of perennials and annuals to help the border thrive while your perennials are establishing themselves.
Another important factor in designing your new border is knowing how much space you’ve got to work with - there’s nothing worse than returning from the nursery with a car boot filled with blooms, only to discover you’ve bought far too many or few for your desired space. You’ll also want to know the size of the border so you can calculate how much mulch you’ll need once you’ve finished planting.
Dream in colour
Once you know the size and conditions of your new border, you can start planning which plants you’d like to fill it with. For small borders, one type of each plant will give you plenty to be working with, while for larger borders you may want to create clusters of 3-5 plants. Also plan for filling any gaps with bedding plants, seeds and bulbs.
Think about what’s in flower when, as timing will be essential when it comes to keeping the colour going for as long as possible.
Once you’ve defined the space for your border, it’s time to start making that dream a reality. Firstly, use a spade to cut the desired shape for the border, then lift out the grass in sections. Remove any stones or roots that may be lying under there.
Once this is done, you can put down some compost to help enrich the soil and encourage healthy growth in your new plants.
Now it’s time to edge your border - use your spade to define a clear edge of about 4-6 inches deep. If you’re looking for really neat edges, use shears to trim the grass after digging out your edges.
Now that you’ve dug out your border and it’s ready for your plants, it can be tempting to just start putting things into the ground - but be patient because a little planning now will pay off later.
Before planting, take each of your plants in its pot and place it in the position you’d like it to grow in. Do this with each one until they’re all laid out, then stand back and take a look. Now’s the time to move anything you’re unsure about or that won’t give you the desired look you’re after.
Let it grow
It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for - planting time! Dig each hole to be about the same size as the pot, and place the plant into it, teasing the roots out as you go. Once everything is in place, water your new border thoroughly. Finally, add some mulch to keep the soil moist (and to deter those pesky weeds from ruining your hard work) - then stand back and admire your handiwork!