The wait is over. Spring has arrived and the garden is suddenly blossoming! If you haven’t yet started to sow vegetable seeds, there is still plenty of time. Better yet, the ground should be warm enough for you to sow directly outdoors. If you sowed seeds in early spring, many of the crops will now be ready to plant out. Here are our top tips for what you can grow in your garden in April.
Preparing a seedbed
One of the secrets to growing your own vegetables successfully is a well-prepared seedbed.
If you are growing directly in the ground, or in raised beds, dig over the soil to improve its structure, alleviate compaction and to warm the ground ready for sowing. As you dig, remove any weeds you see, as well as roots and other debris. Incorporate plenty of compost or well-rotted manure. Finally, rake over the surface of the soil so that it is level and has a loose, crumbly texture.
Increasingly, people are growing vegetables in pots and containers to make the most of their space. In this case, ensure you have the right size containers for your seeds, being mindful as well of required root depth. Ensure all containers are clean, with good drainage and fill with good-quality compost.
If you are planning on growing carrots, leave an area of the patch without manure, as this can cause their roots to fork and distort. If you rotate crops, then planting them next year in an area that had manure this year will be perfect.
When you are ready to sow, always check the requirements on each seed packet carefully, as they do differ per plant type. Generally, it is a good idea to lightly water the bed before sowing, and create narrow, shallow trenches with a garden hoe or trowel across the bed. Plant the seeds and check the seed packet for spacing and depth requirements – then gently refill the trench using a rake. You can then cover the bed with fleece, which can be tied to posts or buried around the edges to avoid it coming loose. This will protect your seedlings from any late frosts or birds, as well as making them more difficult for pests to reach.
Sowing and Planting
In the Greenhouse
Sow seeds of broccoli undercover now, with one seed per cell. You can keep them in the greenhouse or a propagator, but it is not essential and they will also germinate on a light windowsill. Use fresh compost and make sure it is kept moist at all times.
For seeds sown undercover last month, the new shoots will probably be approximately six to eight centimetres in height and will benefit from being potted up into individual pots with fresh compost.
Perennial herbs such as chives, fennel, sage and rosemary can be sown under cover in warmth, so a greenhouse or heated propagator is ideal. Harden off using a cold-frame or cloche before planting out in late spring.
If you are planning to grow potatoes this year, in April you will probably be looking to plant second earlies at the beginning of the month, and maincrop towards the end. Varieties that are suitable for planting out later in the season include Charlotte, International Kidney and Pink Fir Apple, and these will be ready for harvesting between July and September. If you are growing potatoes, you must allow them to ‘chit’ first. This is typically done between February and May, depending on the variety. Put the potatoes in a tray with shoots facing upwards and place them somewhere light, protected from extreme heat or cold. A kitchen windowsill or a greenhouse is ideal and leave for six weeks until the sprouts reach 1.5 – 2.5cm in height.
Hillier tip: Keep an eye out for the presence of cockchafer grubs in potato containers. While they are more of a problem in terms of damage when found on the lawn, they are occasionally known to feed on potato tubers.
Read more in our guide to growing potatoes.
Sow seeds of lettuce, rocket, mustard, salad leaves, broad beans, kale and peas directly outdoors now. For a continuous supply of these crops, you can sow seeds every couple of weeks from the beginning of April into late spring. Beetroot, carrots, cauliflower, leeks, radish, turnips, Swiss chard and spring onions can also be sown in April, so you will be spoilt for choice!
If the weather is mild and the threat of frost has passed, sow courgettes, sweetcorn and outdoor tomatoes outdoors. If it’s still cold or you’re located further north, consider starting these off in small pots and seed trays indoors until the weather warms up. For tomato and pepper plants that were started off in the greenhouse, these can now be planted outside in a sunny area of the garden. You might want to acclimatise them first if it’s still a little cold.
Hardy annual and biennial herbs such as dill, chamomile, parsley, mint and coriander can be sown directly into the vegetable plot, a dedicated herb garden or amongst flower borders between now and August. Sow at intervals of two to four weeks for a continuous supply of fresh growth.
Other Key Grow Your Own Activities
If you are planning to grow runner beans this year, these can be sown directly outdoors from mid-May until July. In the meantime, you can construct your own support for them as they are very strong climbers. The easiest method, and an attractive structure for the garden, is to make a wigwam-type support using three or more bamboo canes.
Slugs will start raising their heads around this time, so start thinking about your preferred control method. Vine weevil may pose a problem, particularly for plants in containers. Keep an eye out for other pests, too, including carrot root fly, onion fly, codling moth, thrips and aphids.
It is better if you keep on top of weeds with a little and often approach. There are plenty of hand tools available that let you weed through large and small areas of the garden.