Gardens: The shoots of first early potatoes will emerge and need protecting

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IT’S all go in the garden now, with an explosion of green shoots, delicate pastel blossom and some bold early flowers too.

This first real taste of spring makes it hard for me to stay out of the garden, whether it’s warm, showery or blowing an icy easterly wind, which is lucky because April’s to-do list can be a long one.

My first focus at this time of year is always on the vegetable patch, where outdoor sowing can get under way now that the soil is warming and drying out.

A huge range of crops can be sown now, but my mainstays are beetroot, carrots, parsnips, radishes, peas, turnips, calabrese, spinach, beet and salad leaves. Carrots are always said to be easy to grow, but a good crop is often elusive.

They can be shy to germinate, so always use fresh seed and warm soil under horticultural fleece before sowing. Keeping the fleece in place throughout growth will also prevent carrot flies spoiling the crop. The shoots of first early potatoes planted last month should emerge soon and will need protecting from frost. Cover them with fleece, straw or newspaper when cold nights are forecast, or pull a ridge of soil over the row to insulate it and begin the process of earthing-up.

Don’t wait until later in the season to tame growth in beds and borders. It may seem too soon to put in supports for herbaceous perennials, such as peonies and delphiniums, but this allows the plants to grow through and cover them, creating a more natural look than tying leaning flowerheads to canes later. Keep an eye on climbers too, and tie in their fast-growing new stems regularly. Spread them across the support structure to give a good display, and ease the pliable young growth of climbing roses as close to horizontal as possible to encourage many flowering shoots. This is also the perfect time to prune penstemons, lavenders, hardy fuchsias and cotton lavender (Santolina), to encourage attractive new growth and keep them compact.

Plants in pots will benefit from some attention too. Start watering more regularly as they come into growth and refresh the top layer of compost, or repot specimens that are in containers long-term.

Keep deadheading spring bedding plants, such as violas and polyanthus. If they are looking tired don’t replace them with half-hardy summer bedding yet, because it will not tolerate frost. If you want to get ahead, plant up containers and hanging baskets in the greenhouse later in the month, ready to move outside at the end of May.