A warm spell, followed by several days of unpredictable wet, cold weather with four seasons in one day is typical of March and has left the soil in most parts of the country cold and waterlogged. Seeds only germinate when the soil is warm and moist; sow too early, even if it is the suggested timing on the packet and they will simply sit there and eventually rot away; wait until the soil is warm and moist, even if it is past the recommended sowing date and they will germinate, grow rapidly and soon catch up. Ancient lore says that if you remove your trousers and can sit comfortably on the soil without getting cold then the ground is warm enough for seeds to germinate! Imagine doing that on the allotment! A more socially acceptable alternative is to watch for germinating weeds, indicating that conditions are suitable for your flower and vegetable seeds to germinate too. As the weather forecast for the first half of this month is unsettled with cold winds, wintery showers and snow, starting crops in modules or trays in the greenhouse will side step the effects of the erratic weather and extend the growing season to your advantage.
April is the ideal time to divide bamboos, grasses and clumps of herbs that have grown too large for their allotted space. Lift and divide them carefully by pushing two forks back to back into the centre of the clump then prising it apart. Alternatively, use an old spade to chop the plant into several sections. Old material from the centre of the clump can be composted, the soil improved with the addition of grit and well rotted compost if necessary and the new divisions replanted or exchanged with friends.
Cyclamen grown as houseplants are finally finishing their mammoth flowering season and are in need of a boost to build up their strength before dying back for a summer rest. Keep them in a cool, sunny position, watering from below to prevent the corms from rotting and feeding every two weeks with general houseplant fertiliser. Once half of the leaves have turned yellow, usually from late spring, stop watering and allow the remaining leaves to die back before removing them all. Once there is no danger of frost the pot can be laid on its side in a hot sunny, south or south west facing spot to prevent rainwater from water-logging the compost or under the greenhouse bench for a dry summer rest. From mid summer, look at the corm regularly and begin watering when the first signs of growth appear, sparingly at first and increasing the amount as more shoots and leaves appear. Once the first leaves are open begin feeding every two weeks with high potash fertiliser and bring your ‘Cyclamen’ indoors into a cool room before the first frosts. Re-pot every two or three years in gritty compost in a pot one size larger towards the end of its resting period each summer every two or three years and it will last for years and become a family ‘heirloom’.