Gardener’s Corner: April
After a rather dull but relatively dry February, the rains have returned in March, which will have been the wettest for some years. April has been relatively dry and very sunny for the past ten years; I think the last very wet April was in 2012. Gardeners will always moan about the weather, and in April, we always want some decent rain to wash in the fertilisers we have applied to the soil and lawns. A dry April means weaker grass, and grass needs a good start to not only look good but be developed enough for the heat of summer.
Recent summers have tested our lawns, and by July, they have been rather parched; however, if you look after them, particularly in spring and autumn, they will be very resilient and usually green and healthy by September, even following a drought. I think lawns are still a vital part of many gardens, and there can be little more impressive than a striped lawn!
In spring, we apply a slow-release fertiliser – usually organic – which promotes growth by encouraging root development and the plant’s ability to produce food from sunlight (photosynthesis). This breaks down over a long period, and by the middle of summer, when another feed is beneficial (and if it is not too dry), we apply a liquid feed to the grass. With the lack of rain at that time of year, granular fertiliser could take some time to break down, whereas a liquid feed is absorbed quickly, early or late in the day. In September and October, we scarify (using a machine or a springbok rake), which removes dead grass and moss. Following that, we aerate utilising a machine that penetrates the ground just enough to improve aeration, which helps water absorption and nutrient uptake. Late winter is an excellent time to tackle moss, and iron is critical to this; the moss turns black and can be removed by light scarification if necessary. The iron also strengthens the grass. Scarification is best in autumn as early dry spells can mean spring scarifying leaves the grass looking rather bare and stressed. We apply lawn weedkiller in spring and autumn, but only in a few areas; a decent management regime will reduce weed growth without the need for weedkiller.
We do not irrigate our lawns, although we do irrigate some of the flower beds in very dry years. Most of the lawns at the palace are left more naturally, and we enjoy all the wildflowers that appear. We also leave large areas of grass longer. In the arboretum, pyramid and bee orchids have naturally appeared, and there are numerous bumble bee nests.
April is a perfect month to visit the gardens and enjoy thousands of tulips, daffodils, hundreds of American bluebells, lots of blossom, and a rampart bank carpeted with primroses.