As the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness prepares to give way to winter’s icy grip, it’s time to enjoy the festivities of Bonfire Night and celebrate the magic of frosty mornings. Temperatures may be plunging, but there’s plenty you can do in your garden to keep it looking lovely!
Plant tulip bulbs
Statuesque tulips put on a dazzling springtime display, and November is the perfect time to get planting. Tulips appreciate asheltered, sunny spot but they won’t tolerate excessive wet. So if your soil is heavy or prone to waterlogging, plant bulbs in plant pots. Discard flower bulbs that show signs of rot or mould, planting healthy bulbs at a depth of two or three times their height. It’s always wise to wait until November to plant tulips, because planting earlier in autumn can increase the risk of ‘tulip fire’, a fungal disease that results in ugly, distorted foliage.
Protect fruit trees
Fruit trees such as cherry, pear, apple and plum are at risk of attack from winter moth caterpillars which damage buds and can reduce crops. The best deterrent is to apply sticky grease bands to tree trunks, which trap the wingless females, preventing moths from reaching branches and laying their eggs. Hurry though, because grease bands need to be in position before winter moths emerge this month. Position them about 45cm (18in) up tree trunks and stakes.
Feed wild birds
When winter starts to bite, life gets tough for wild birds, as natural food sources become scarce. It may be tempting to put bread out to help feathered friends, but bread offers little in the way of nutrition. Instead, opt for high energy bird food treats such as kibbled sunflower hearts, suet mixes, mealworms, wild bird peanuts and nyjer seed. Don’t put out anything that’s mouldy (even bread) or salty, because salt can poison small birds. Keep bird baths clean and topped-up, and break the ice if water freezes.
Plant autumn garlic
There’s plenty to be getting on with in kitchen gardens. Plant autumn garlic now, allowing 10cm between cloves and leaving up to 20cm between rows (it’ll make weeding easier). Wait until after early frosts to lift parsnips, because the cold will sweeten their flavour. Top-heavy Brussels sprouts can be susceptible to wind rock as their buttons swell, so stake them to avoid plants falling. Tidy up strawberry plants, removing dead leaves and runners. Remember to remove netting from fruit cages after harvest time, or the weight of snow on nets can cause cages to collapse. Check onions and stored fruit in garages and sheds, removing any rotten produce promptly.
Pressure wash paths
Garden paths, patios and decking covered with algae and moss can become as slippery as an ice rink when wet or frozen, so give outdoor surfaces a blast before winter sets in. A pressure washer quickly removes grime and gives hard surfaces a new lease of life for the minimum of effort – you’ll be amazed by the transformation! For best results, before pressure washing use a stiff broom to sweep leaves and debris from the surface of patios and decks. Pressure washers are also ideal for cleaning garden furniture before it’s stored away for winter.
Plant bare-root roses
Autumn is the natural season for planting trees and shrubs, and the same goes for bare-root roses. Dormant roses supplied by mail-order as bare-root plants tend to have better formed roots than roses sold in plant pots, because root growth hasn’t been restricted by a container. Plant promptly after delivery, rehydrating roots by sitting them in a bucket of water for 30 minutes before planting. Dig a hole that’s twice the width of the roots and as deep as your spade’s blade, and fork well-rotted compost or manure into the base of the hole. Place a bamboo cane across the top of the hole and place the rose in the centre, allowing roots to spread out, with the base of the stems at soil level (and therefore level with the cane). Backfill, firm-in and water.
Build a bonfire
A bonfire celebrates the turning of the seasons, allowing us to wrap up warm and enjoy the crackle and glow of the fire against the night sky. Keep material such as small branches, twigs, dry leaves, weeds and prunings under a tarpaulin and build a wigwam-shaped bonfire before dusk on the day you plan to light it (never in advance, or hedgehogs can crawl in to hibernate). Ensure the site is well away from fencing, trees and decking. It’s safer to use a garden incinerator, but whatever option you choose, always use kindling and firelighters to get the fire going, and never flammable liquids such as petrol. Keep a bucket of water or hose to hand, just to be safe.
If you’re overwintering plants in greenhouses, you’ll need to keep temperatures above 5ºC as a minimum (warmer for tender plants). To avoid rapid heat loss, insulate the inside of your garden greenhouse walls and roofs using bulky bubble wrap, clipping it securely to frames. Check the operation of thermostatically controlled electric heaters, but if you’re using a paraffin heater you’ll need to provide a bit of ventilation because it generates a lot of condensation, so don’t insulate over roof openers.
Clear lawn debris
If the weather is mild and lawns are growing, grass can still be cut. However, use a besom (witches’ broom) to sweep worm casts away before they get trodden into turf, and clear leaves with a lawn rake or leaf blower before mowing. Raise the blades of your lawn mower for a high cut, then use a spade or half-moon edging iron to shape lawn edges, giving turf a neat and defined appearance over winter. If parts of your lawn are prone to waterlogging, aerate (spike with garden fork) to improve drainage.
Tidy-up pond plants
In September’s blog, we advised netting ponds to prevent leaves falling into the water and affecting water quality as they decompose. Once leaf fall is complete, nets can be removed to improve a pond’s appearance over winter. Marginal aquatic plants (plants growing in shallow water around pond edges) can look worse for wear by November, so cut back tatty foliage and compost it. Fish become sluggish in chilly water, spending much of their time in the depths of the pond, and they won’t require feeding over winter.
What other gardening jobs do you have planned for November? Tell us about your Autumn gardening tasks in the comments.