April is the first full month of spring. Because it’s so early in the season, erratic weather is highly likely. A day of heavy rain will nearly always follow a day of sunny weather. In Aprils past, some parts of the country have seen snow and record warm temperatures just days apart. Such volatile weather can be a death sentence for some plants. How to ensure you’re still enjoying them when spring turns to summer in late June?
Cover: Frost is not as unlikely as you might think; snow in April is actually common and with 2018’s erratic weather, it’s still possible. Many gardeners have seen seedlings die before they’ve seen much light when a sudden cold front comes in bringing frost or snow. The best way to protect your plants from frost or snow is to cover them. A cloche is ideal as it traps the residual heat from the soil while still allowing the sun’s rays through the glass. The extra benefit is that any heat from the sun will increase, keeping the temperature inside the cloche relatively stable. Alternatively, cover with a cage and put an old bedsheet over the top. Although this will cut off sunlight, it’s a great insulator.
Water: If you know unseasonal frost is coming, water your plants the day before. Water, when combined with soil, is a great insulator from frost. Although it will get very cold beneath the ground, it will retain heat longer. Keeping your plants water rather than letting them dry out, is a great way to prolong the life of a plant hit with cold weather.
Elevate pots: Some plants fair better in pots than in garden soil; the problem is that pots flood. Excess water will not just drown the plant, it will wash away vital nutrients when you empty it. The best thing you can do for pots is to raise them up (on a bench for example) to let the rain flow through the bottom. The nutrients should stay in the pot while the excess water flows out of the holes. If too much water does accumulate, it may be advisable to pour it onto another (non-flooded) plant to preserve the nutrients.
Support vines and other tall plants: Excess water can make tall plants unstable. The water gets into their outer wood, making it soft and much more flexible; it will lose stability. When combined with wind, you have a potentially lethal situation where plants bend and snap. Support them with bamboo sticks or metal rods and use cable ties to keep them together. You probably already have support for your taller plants, so make sure this is reinforced.
Water in the dark: The worst thing you can do during hot weather is water your plants when sunny. There are two reasons you should not water during the day. The first is that it will quickly evaporate so you’ll need much more of it to ensure your plants are effectively hydrated. The second is that your plants will bleach and burn when water is directly applied. Watering during the cooler and darker evenings and mornings will also reduce the temptation to over-water. Fungi grow in overwatered soil and plants tend to wilt.
Use mulch: Ground up dead wood, dried grass and other mulch serves a variety of functions. The first is that it insulates the topsoil from water evaporation so common during hot weather. It will also contain nutrients which will leach into the topsoil. It’s a great way to fertilise as well as protect. You can use almost anything for mulch including grass cuttings, straw, wood mulch and even seaweed.