April: plant-aholics-anon

With the coming of sunny spring days, there is a great temptation to rush out and fill your car with plants from your local garden centre.

I am sure you would get ten out of ten from a gardener for enthusiasm. However, the chances of the best looking plants you see being plants that suit your particular needs, are probably zero!

My advice would be to think carefully about the spaces you are trying to fill and the character of the border you are trying to create. What is the soil type? Is the drainage good? How much sunlight gets in? At which time of year will this area be seen the most? Even as a professional, I am often dazzled by the showy plants at a nursery only to find them disappointing for the remainder of the year.

Applying the same principle when shopping at a famous Scandinavian furniture retail outlet, I try to go for the exact product I am aiming for: I try to avoid being a victim of superb marketing and highly confusing floor plans. Steeling my spirit by eating at the craftily placed cafeteria never works:it saps my will to make sound judgments as I try avoid the items placed in the path of my trolley. So beware! Garden centres are beginning to get the hang of these tactics.

Once you are back in the safety of your garden, you can go about April’s tasks with the confidence that you probably won’t be distracted by unnecessary commercial attractions. The main jobs for this month are:

· Tie in climbing and rambling roses as they take off in the warmer weather.

· Loosen tree ties where necessary.

· Cut back the stems of Forsythia once they have finished flowering

· Plants that have attractive young growth, such as Cotinus (smoke bush) and Sambucus (elder) can be cut back to make way for the bright new juvenile stems.

· Feed trees and shrubs with either an all-round slow release fertiliser, such as ‘Blood, Fish & Bone’ or with an organic fertilizer such as horse manure. Be generous to depleted looking plants and newly planted ones.

· Grass seed can be sown to create a new lawn or repair an old one. Add slightly more than the recommended amount as conditions are rarely perfect and, one way or another, quite a lot of seed can be lost to the birds, the frost or to damp.

· Be gentle with your lawn: if you cut it too hard, the structure of the stems will be damaged. For the average garden lawn, 30mm is an ideal height of grass to aim for at this time of year.

· If you have not done so already, cut back Cornus (dogwood) and Salix (willow) shrubs to 150mm from the ground. This will increase the chance of producing bright looking stems for the winter.

· Divide and replant water lilies when they show signs of growth.

· It is quite natural for your pond to go green in spring. It should clear of its own accord but if it does not, consider adding oxygenating plants. Feed your water plant baskets with specially prepared fertiliser that will not turn your pond dark green due to the excessive nitrogen.

· Try to get on top of the weeds as they emerge. A well laid out garden should have plenty of dense plant cover to suppress the weeds. Hoeing is probably the most effective and easiest way to keep weeds at bay: it is also kind on your back.

· Watch out for dry spells: these can knock the growth of a plant back, so be prepared to do some watering of newly planted trees and shrubs.

After completing these tasks, why not reward yourself with a nice plate of wholesome food.

Anyone for meatballs?