In our new magazine series, Great Dixter’s gardener chef focuses on monthly gardening in a kitchen garden. Here’s a snippet of his expertise, which can be seen in full in April’s Gardens Illustrated. Subscribe here.
Gardening jobs for April
In the warmer weather, weeds start to spring up. Keep on top of them with regular hoeing. I use a Dutch hoe with a good, sharp edge.
Start sowing warmer weather crops, such as French and borlotti beans, pumpkins, squashes and courgettes. If you’re pushed for space, old egg cartons on a sunny windowsill will work very well.
If you haven’t done so already, start sowing salad crops. I like to do it in small batches every three to four weeks, so that I have a succession of crops throughout the summer. Stick to lettuce, or a seasonal salad seed mix, and avoid rocket or mustard, as these are very susceptible to flea beetle if sown too early.
Potatoes should go in now. Increasingly, I am growing my new potatoes in bags, rather than in the ground. It’s so much easier to earth them up, and to harvest them at the end – just up-end the bag and the potatoes will tumble out. Just remember not to overcrowd them – as a rough guide, each potato will need around ten litres of compost.
Keep a close eye on emerging seedlings to make sure they are not going mouldy or damping off. This is caused by sowing too thickly and over-watering, but is easily rectified by thinning out the tiny plants.
Fruit trees will be kicking into growth now, so give them a good feed and weed around the base. I like to use blood, fish and bone.
If you grow globe artichokes, this is the time to propagate them by making slips. Dig up the plant and, using a sharp knife, cut away sections from around the edge, making sure that each one includes a healthy root and shoot. The newly planted slips are unlikely to produce artichokes until the following year, so to ensure a good supply I dig up and propagate half my plants one year, and half the next.
At this time of year container gardening comes into its own. The beauty of growing in pots is that you can move them around to make the most of the warmth and sunlight and cover them easily – or even bring them inside – if the temperature drops. This is also the time to tidy up any perennial plants in pots. Remove any winter damage and top-dress by scraping off the top 4cm or so of soil and replacing it with high-quality, fresh compost.