April abun­dance

Start plant­ing your win­ter and spring flower gar­den as well as cool sea­son salad crops, writes Alice Spenser-Higgs

Business Day - Home Front - - HOMEFRONT -

APRIL is al­ways a month to look for­ward to in the gar­den be­cause the heat, rain and pests are no longer so fe­ro­cious. In the flower gar­den sum­mer an­nu­als can be re­moved as they fade and win­ter or spring flow­er­ing an­nu­als planted in their place.

Fork some com­post into the top layer of the soil be­fore plant­ing a new crop.

Ice­land pop­pies and prim­u­las are long-sea­son crops and should go in first says Mar­laen Straathof, of Kirch­hoff Seeds.

Pop­pies like full sun in win­ter and they should be planted en masse for the best ef­fect.

Land­scaper Karen Gardelli plants Cham­pagne Bub­bles (yel­low, orange, pink, cream) among the roses to pro­vide colour when the roses are bare sticks af­ter prun­ing. For ex­tra oomph she mixes pan­sies and vi­o­las in shades of yel­low, blue and white among the pop­pies. They all flower well into Oc­to­ber and pro­vide colour around the base of bud­ding and flow­er­ing roses. A new pansy worth con­sid­er­ing is the Fizzy Fruit Salad Mix, which has ruf­fled petal edges and is an ideal bed­ding pansy. The mix con­sists of blue­berry, grape, lemon­berry and rasp­berry shades.

If plant­ing pop­pies now, leave space for the pan­sies, as seedlings only be­come avail­able to­wards the end of April or May.

Petu­nias can also be planted to­wards the end of April when the like­li­hood of rain has passed and if they re­ceive enough sun will flower un­til the sum­mer rains.

This month is the last chance to sow sweet peas. How­ever, Na­maqua­land daisies can still be sown un­til May. Other flow­ers that grow eas­ily from seed are the fra­grant Vir­ginian stocks, linaria, mesem­bryan­the­mums, ursinia, and alyssum.

Sparaxis seed can also be sown di­rectly into the flowerbed. It forms bulbs and if left in place will flower again the fol­low­ing year.

The cooler sunny days are ideal for sowing and grow­ing salad and leafy veg­gies such as let­tuce, Swiss chard, spinach, ori­en­tal veg­eta­bles (mizuna, pak choi, tat­soi and mus­tard leaves), rocket and flat-leaf pars­ley. Cab­bage can also be sown, but the sowing win­dow only ex­tends to the end of April or up to the mid­dle of May. Af­ter that the first frost can be ex­pected.

Swiss chard, spinach and cab­bage can be sown di­rectly into the soil. The fi­nal spac­ing of plants should be about 20cm apart.

Be­cause Swiss chard and spinach grow slower dur­ing win­ter it is a good idea to sow what you need be­fore mid-May to make sure you have enough planted to keep you go­ing through the cooler months. The nor­mal rate of suc­ces­sion sowing is ev­ery three to four weeks, but this can be re­duced to ev­ery two weeks.

When har­vest­ing, cut two or three of the largest leaves or leave the outer ring of leaves and cut the sec­ond level — but don’t cut into the crown. Cut­ting off all the leaves at once puts a huge strain on the plant. Good yields come from har­vest­ing con­tin­u­ally and reg­u­lar feed­ing with a liq­uid fer­tiliser, like Mar­garet Roberts Or­ganic Su­per­charger.

In win­ter, let­tuce grows best in full sun or with plenty of morn­ing sun. Let­tuce seed is so fine that it is bet­ter, and less waste­ful, to sow it in seed trays and only trans­plant the let­tuce when it is 10cm high or big enough to han­dle. Plants should be spaced at least 30cm apart so that air can cir­cu­late freely and the leaves are able to dry off quickly af­ter wa­ter­ing.

Broc­coli, cab­bage, cau­li­flower and Brus­sels sprouts should have all been sown, but you will also find seedlings of these in gar­den cen­tres. They need to grow fast dur­ing April and May to be well es­tab­lished be­fore win­ter.

Give newly planted seedlings a boost by feed­ing weekly with a di­luted fo­liar feed, a gran­u­lar 5:1:5 fer­tiliser (once a month or half doses twice a month) or com­post tea. Make sure the soil doesn’t dry out by keep­ing a thick layer of mulch on the bed.

Other veg­eta­bles that can be sown in April are car­rots, beet­root, broad beans and radishes.

One way of mak­ing peace with pulling out an­nu­als that still have a few flow­ers on them is to start a new com­post heap. There is plenty of other ma­te­rial from the gar­den that can also go on the heap — fallen leaves, grass clip­pings, herb prun­ings and veg­eta­bles that have come to the end of their har­vest.

Make a base of larger branches or sticks. This helps with the drainage and aer­a­tion. A bal­ance of ni­tro­gen and car­bon is achieved by al­ter­nat­ing lay­ers of green and dry plant ma­te­rial. If there are not enough fallen leaves, tear news­pa­per into strips or use egg car­tons to pro­vide the car­bon layer. Keep build­ing the heap un­til it is about 1,5m high. To ac­ti­vate it, in­clude com­frey, fen­nel or bor­age leaves with the green ma­te­rial, or sprin­kle com­post ac­ti­va­tor over al­ter­nate lay­ers.

Some gar­den­ers turn the com­post heap ev­ery three weeks while oth­ers leave it in place to do its job slowly. Turn­ing aer­ates the pile and can speed de­com­po­si­tion.

A new pansy, Fizzy Fruit Salad Mix, com­ple­ments most colour schemes.

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