It only takes a few days of beautiful weather like we had last week for us optimistic gardeners to believe summer is here and that we can plant with abandon. However, there’s wisdom in old sayings and one we follow strictly at Woodthorpe is’

“Ne’er cast a clout till may be out”

Or in modern English

“don’t abandon your winter clothing before May”

Or in gardening parlance

“don’t leave your frost tender plants unprotected before May”

Despite regular bouts of sunshine April can be a cold month. In fact April 2021 saw the lowest average minimum temperature in the UK since 1992 and the Met Office reports confirm it was the third lowest since records began back in 1884.

To avoid wasted money, effort and disappointment your small and frost tender plants need protection throughout this month to get them established and ready to give you a wonderful display as soon as things start to warm up.

Here are our top tips on keeping your plants protected.

  1. Check the weather daily

Being aware and prepared is the best way to protect your plants. We check weather reports daily to see when low temperatures and frosts are predicted. Forewarned is forearmed (plenty of old sayings today!) and we are ready to take protective action ahead of any damage.

  1. Protective fleece

By far the cheapest and easiest way of protecting plants in your garden is using fleece to throw over any plants that suffer from frost as soon as you know a cold spell is on the way.  You can buy horticultural fleece in rolls or you can even use old net curtains. The fleece provides a protective layer that prevents the frost from getting to the young, tender growth on plants. You can use this method on early flowering plants like magnolias and camellias, you can also use it on plants where frost can affect buds like hydrangeas, you can also use it on early flowering fruit and newly planted vegetables.

  1. Avoid planting frost tender plants to early

You can now buy summer bedding and vegetables like tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers at garden centres. You’ll notice that all shops selling these are doing so from indoor selling space. This is because it is too cold for these plants to be outside. Here at Woodthorpe we have plenty of signs telling you to keep the plants protected and our friendly staff are also advising you on care as you purchase. Keep these plants in a greenhouse or on a windowsill until after the last frosts which here in Nottinghamshire is around mid to late May.

  1. Invest in some protective kit

If you are a keen gardener and want to extend your gardening season despite the frost then we’d recommend you invest in some protective kit. The king of frost protection is the greenhouse and you can purchase them in all different sizes and prices. A greenhouse means you can overwinter frost tender plants, grow many food crops all year round and start seed sowing in spring extra early.  

Next on the list is a cold frame (these are like mini greenhouses) and despite their smaller size can give you great opportunities when it comes to seed sowing and quickly popping tender plants in them when frost is predicted. They are pretty easy to make from old decking boards and discarded windows or shower screens.

Finally you can buy a range of cloches which can be dropped over plants when temperatures are set to drop. They come in many shapes and sizes from ornate glass through to small plastic tunnels. You can even use recycled milk cartons and plastic bottles.

Whatever size garden or budget, you can get a hold of all of these items and if you are into upcycling and recycling all of them are fairly simple to make.

  1. Move container grown plants

Moving your pots and containers into the lee of a wall, hedge or fence will often give them just that little bit more protection from frost.

  1. Don’t prune too early

We always read in the gardening magazines and watch TV gardeners cutting back all their plants in early spring ready for the new growth, for many plants that works but for the more tender ones like penstemons and salvias we recommend you leave all the old growth on until early May as it acts as an insulating layer. Once the chance of frost has really receded give them a good prune and they will reward you with new growth within a few weeks.

In summary our best advice for dealing with fluctuating temperatures in April is be vigilant, be prepared, take action and don't get too carried away in a hot spell.

Happy gardening!