April is out to fool us - watch the weather. It is capricious at this time of year.
It has been an odd start to the year - most things are advanced (plum trees are in bloom and lily of the valley is flowering here in the Gironde), the ground is so dry, because of a combination of driving winds and little rain, that it is almost impossible to weed and now a sustained frost is forecast for the first weekend in April.
Any tender plants that you have moved outside in a misplaced spirit of optimism need protecting from the frosts which are expected across much of France from April 1st. Either bring them back under cover, or create a temporary shelter for them and hope for the best. Your shelter can be a cover made from horticultural fleece or even a sheet, an upturned bucket (remove it a.s.a.p as your plants need light), or for smaller plants upturned jam jars or clear plastic tubs can create a temporary mini green house.
Cold frosty air sinks below warm air, so if you have any dips or slopes in your garden you will probably find the lowest point collects the frost, which rolls downhill and settles at the bottom. This is the area you will need to be particularly careful about.
If perennial plants are damaged do not give up hope - if their roots are well established they can start to re-grow later this spring.
Best advice of all, of course, is don't move your tender plants outside until May.
And from the ridiculous to the sublime - the persistent drought and wind has meant that I am having to regularly water plants which spend all year outside in a pot as well as recently planted/transplanted trees, shrubs and perennials. It is normally May before this becomes a daily task.
Once tackling the weather is out of the way there are lots of other things to be getting on with:
Weed when you can and mulch over the clean earth when the ground is wet. This holds in the moisture and deters weeds. Mulching always seems like an effort, but it makes life so much easier in both the short and long term. There will be more about mulching in a future blog.
Continue to sow seeds, either in trays or directly into the ground, depending on what you sow - follow the instructions on the back of the packet or, if there are none, Google what to do. Individual plant species vary tremendously and whereas most are straightforward one or two can have quite specific needs.
Watch out for slugs and snails, as well as aphids, box moth and other caterpillars, lily beetles and other pests which are hungry for tender leaves and emerging buds.
Increase the feeding and watering of plants in pots - especially citrus trees which will need a dedicated citrus ('agrumes" in French) food administering weekly from now on.
April is the right time to move and divide grasses and bamboos. The earth (usually) is warmer and their roots will re-establish faster. You also need to cut back deciduous grasses such as miscanthus now. Take care not to accidentally cut the emerging new growth. Grasses which are not deciduous need to be combed through to remove dead growth from last year. I do this using my hands while wearing thick gloves - take care not to cut yourself, the edges of grasses can be sharp. Some grasses, such as stipa tennuissima need a haircut to remove the matted seedheads of last year. Cut the dead material off, again ensuring not to remove the young growth.
Keep an eye on your potted up dahlia tubers as they will soon begin to sprout ( see: https://www.jardinpaysan.com/post/dahlias for more information). Once the new shoots appear they will need to see daylight but must not be exposed to frost (or slugs).
If you want to grow your own asparagus, now is the moment. Asparagus crowns are available for a very short time from mid March into April. They are a long term investment in that the crowns take several years to mature sufficiently to crop. It is vital that you ensure that the bed you plant them in is completely free from perennial weeds from the beginning as weeding around asparagus is difficult. You need to mulch around the crowns regularly to keep the bed weed free and maintain the soil condition over the years....but home grown asparagus is second to none. It is like sweetcorn, a crop which needs to go straight from garden to kitchen as the flavour deteriorates quickly.
As your roses and other climbers grow, tie them in. Spring winds can be ferocious and young growth can easily snap. Likewise, check all deer and rabbit guards are in good condition....they also adore the young growth that proliferates at this time of year.