Hot diary: what can you do in April?

How about sitting down with a glass of wine???? Wouldn't it be a lovely way of celebrating the start of autumn?? It certainly would. Unfortunately, planning tasks prevail in April and you will be sedulously taking notes, conspiring against the rest of the neighbourhood and plotting in the darkness of your shed for your garden to impose its sovereignty.
April is one of the busiest month, so you will have to leave your chair alone for a little longer and save your glass of wine for May. If we compare the month of April to the process of cooking a meal, we would only be at the stage of shopping for the groceries. Indeed, this is the time where most of the work you will be doing is only going to show its effects later in the year.

Writing down:
In a diary resides the secret of coordinated and organised green projects . April is definitively the perfect month to start one, since you will have a jumble of ideas to tame and stacks of experiments, successes and failures to keep record of. It is also a nice way of getting in the mood before undertaking frantic outdoor work.

Pulling stuff out:
Weeding is high on the list of priorities. Yes, it is!!! Weeds can set hundreds, some thousands, of seeds. Their seeds lifespan in the soil may reach 25 years and over.

Feeding:
If you cover your soil with a nice layer of mulch and throw the odd shovel of manure or compost, need will not be to fertilise...... Well! NO! Most ornamentals need the extra feeding (every second to third year), as we keep pruning them for aesthetic reasons. The removal of plant parts, and the nutrients they contain, leads to an impoverishment of the soil and impacts on your little darling's health. Bear in mind that if you grow ornamental plants that require constant feeding, they may not be suited to your soil and climate. Why not consider something tougher and local??
Personally, I never recommend feeding garden beds at that time. Plants will start to grow vigorously and we are getting too close to winter. We will be performing heavy pruning in 2 months and if left untouched those new shoots are very likely to be injured by a sudden frost. In the wild, humus forms in winter, when we have generous rainfall. I like to feed plants in winter, when they are dormant. Indeed, by the time spring comes, nutriments will have travelled down the soil with the winter rain and will be readily available. If you do not have a layer of mulch, the nutrients will leach down.
Pot plants and vegetables are a different story and they must be fed regularly. Pot plants cannot explore other area for extra resources and veggies need to be kept healthy and productive. Mix composted material and/or manure in your veggie patch and a little in your pot plants.

Veggie patch:
Point a cranky finger at old vegetable plants!!! Do not keep a whole tomato bush for the sake of 2 tomatoes. Old vegetable plants use a lot of the soil resources for not much results. Make it your golden rule: when an old vegetable plant would do more good to your compost hip than your plate, get rid of it!!!!

Time has come to plant your winter crop:
beetroot, broad beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, burdock, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chives, collards (kale), corn salad, endive, florence fennel, garlic, huauzontle, jerusalem artichoke, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mizuna, mustard greens, onion, oregano, pak choy (bok choy), parsley, peas, radish, rocket, salsify, shallots, silverbeet, snow peas, spinach, swedes, turnips.

By now, you should be harvesting: amaranth, beetroot, burdock, cape gooseberry, carrots, celeriac, chicory, chives, climbing beans, cucumber, dwarf beans, eggplant, horseradish, jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, luffa, marrow, okra, parsley, pumpkin, silverbeet, sunflower, swedes, sweet corn.

Start picking herbs and leaves for drying and build up your winter stash (herbal tea and cooking herbs). Clean up any fallen fruits, vegetables and place them in a disposable bag, leave that bag in the sun for 2 to 3 weeks after which it is safe to place in the compost hip. Solarisation is a clean way of getting rid of hiding pests, such as fruit fly. NB: do not place citrus in the compost, too acidic, hence not worm friendly.

Composting and mulching:
As far as composting goes, here is a little management dilemma for you. Some will say not to place infected plant material in the compost hip. Some will argue that diseases will encounter other micro organisms that will suppress them. Personally, I am in the middle. If the plant is really badly infected, I discard clippings. If it is only a few fine branches and leaves I am not worried. Though, bear in mind that some fungus are extremely aggressive, so if you have a doubt, burn the lot or place in it the appropriate bin.
Same question with mulching garden bed using leaves and plant material. It may harbour overwintering pests, to which you can argue that beneficial insects will do the same. By keeping a layer of mulch you will keep a balance, where pests outbreak in spring will be restrained by beneficial insects. In any case, it is absolutely unhealthy to keep your soil bare, it must be covered with a layer of mulch... 'I just felt like saying it again.... and again .... mulch, mulch, mulch.

Planting and maintenance:
This month is the perfect time to plant trees, shrubs and seedlings. Make sure you do it when having optimal weather conditions: soil not too dry, nor too wet, temperatures around 30C max during the day and not too windy.
Start planting spring flowering bulbs.
Divide overgrown plants, such as canna, iris, Agapanthus and the like.
Do not prune plants that are flowering, only for light corrective pruning or to remove spent flowers.
Do not cut back plants harshly quite yet and wait for them to be dormant. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, some plants offer amazing autumn and winter colours with bright foliage, intriguing branching colour, pattern and/or noticeable seed pods. Secondly, it is too early in the season and your plants could start sending new shoots, which could get hit by the frost. However, feel free to unleash your mighty secateurs, loppers and shears to hack plants that are dead, dying back or are simply under performing.

Landscaping:
Start your landscaping projects now, do not wait any longer, as temperatures are oscillating between low 30C to low 20C, the soil is soft and not too wet (it usually is by now). The worse thing you can do is to work on wet soil, as it leads to terrible soil compaction. Though, bear in mind that professionals work on tight schedules and do not have the choice.
Go ahead and dig garden beds, make walls, paths and plant avenues of trees: a rather short sentence for a titan task, don't you think?

Lawn:
This is also the best time to sow your lawn and to fix dead patches.

Watering:
Keep the watering up, as we often get fooled by cooler days and nights. Pot plants: Move the girls into bigger apartments..... transplant into bigger pots. By the end of the month start bringing tender plants closer to the house, to keep them protected from cold winds and sudden frosts.

APRIL'S SUMMARY:

Week 1: start a diary, get landscaping projects started,
Week 2: tidy your plants with light corrective pruning, plant ornamental and edible, divide overgrown plants,
Week 3: sow your lawn, plant spring flowering bulbs, transplant pot plants,
Week 4: bring tender plants closer to the house.

All through the month:
Weed, keep picking fallen fruits, pull out old vegetable plants, keep with the watering up (especially with newly planted ones), pick herbs for drying/freezing and remove spent flowers.

Enjoy April and do not forget to enjoy your garden,

Aurélie Quade