Professional Gardener - Work schedules, aeration and weeding

Do not be fooled by unseasonal weather but be prepared for a tricky season, Sally Drury advises.

Ne'er cast a clout

It is springtime and work schedules are really stepping up with all areas of the garden now needing attention. But it is still only April, as the weather is likely to remind us from time to time.

No-one should be fooled by the warm sunny days that verged on summer temperatures in some parts of the country at the end of last month. This looks like being a trickier season than most, especially with drought conditions persisting in many parts of the south and east.

Lawns

Aeration should be considered before soils become too dry. Remember that scarification will help to reduce and control the undesirable thatch build-up that prevents the efficient penetration of any rainwater we are fortunate to receive. If it is not too dry, plan to weed and feed ornamental lawns.

Cutting height on lawns on in the south could be reduced, depending on soil moisture. Normally we would say reduce to 10mm for fine lawns, 15mm for amenity areas and general areas can be left at 25mm - but it all depends on the availability of water. Do not stress the grass unnecessarily. Now is a good time to sow wild flower meadows.

Weeding

Sharpen hoes and be sure to carry one with you whenever you walk the grounds and inspect the gardens. A few weeds cut off here and there will add up.

Kitchen garden

Tomatoes, celery and celeriac can be sown indoors for planting out in June. Make successional sowings of lettuce, radish, beetroot, peas, broad beans, salad onion, spinach and kohlrabi outdoors. Dwarf French beans can be started under cloches and leeks in a nursery bed. Plant asparagus crowns. Inspect early potatoes regularly and protect as necessary. Maincrop potatoes and onions also need planting this month. Thin existing crops as necessary and watch for any pests and diseases.

Blackcurrants and blackberries will appreciate a nitrogen feed. Watch for mildew on all fruit bushes. Fan-trained cherries and plums should be pruned. Tie in vine shoots.

Ornamental garden

Finish dividing perennials. Prepare beds for planting. Stock up on mulching materials to help conserve soil moisture as well as to reduce weeds.

Water features

Pond Conservation is inviting pond owners to join in the Big Spawn Count 2012. The Big Pond Dip and Big Pond Thaw surveys have already yielded a lot of new information about garden ponds. Now the charity is working with Amphibian & Reptile Conservation and Amphibian & Reptile Groups of the UK to know more about the number of frogs breeding in garden water features and also to find out more about the common toad.

Toads spawn in a melee, over the period of a few days, which is often later than frogs - typically March or April. If you see toads or strings of toad spawn in your garden pond, tell Pond Conservation through the online Big Spawn Survey at www.pondconservation.org.uk.

Pest and disease watch

The recent warm weather means aphids are multiplying rapidly across many parts of the country. Control is best before they get out of hand. Use yellow sticky traps in greenhouses and conservatories to keep a check on the build-up of whitefly. Order biocontrol agents.


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