Garden writer Marc Rosenberg, who has been gardening for 30 years and has contributed to the STIHL blog since 2018, shares what he’s sowing and growing in November with a diary from his small suburban garden. Planting hellebores and dogwoods to inject colour into winter gardens is high on the garden jobs list for November…
1.Plant Heavenly Hellebores
Showy flowers are commonly a preserve of the warmer months. In the depths of winter, blooms that adorn shrubs are often tiny, although some can be highly scented – the intensely fragrant, contorted petals of witch hazel or miniature flowers of viburnum are classic examples. Yet the hellebore plant defies convention, whatever the weather, with a profusion of large, cheery blooms while much of the garden lies deep in slumber.
The Lenten rose plant, as it’s commonly known, is a winter superstar that I wouldn’t be without. These dependable perennials are at their finest between February and April, providing an early source of nectar for insects. Planted where they can easily be seen from the house, as well as along regularly trodden pathways, their saucer-shaped blooms are one of the earliest indicators that a new season is dawning.
Hellebores love well-drained soils and are ideal for underplanting deciduous shrubs, where they’ll benefit from dappled light but won’t be starved of rain. It’s important to remove damaged leaves during autumn to prevent fungal and viral diseases from taking hold ahead the flowering season. I just cut the damaged leaves away with sharp secateurs. These jewels in the crown of the winter garden will flourish in garden containers, too, if planted into John Innes No.2 compost with a little added grit for extra drainage.
2. Give a Dog(wood) a Home
When it’s dark by 4.30pm, mist lingers in the air and falling leaves carpet the lawn, the rich tapestry of summer colour we enjoyed in the garden can feel like a distant memory. Shrubby dogwood plants are a perfect antidote to November gloom, displaying a kaleidoscope of coloured stems throughout the darkest days of winter.
My star recommendation for a dogwood tree is Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ – its leaves turn spectacular shades of yellow and orange in autumn, followed by multi-coloured stems that glow like a beacon of light, with golden yellow hues at the base and fiery orange reds towards the top. For the finest crimson shades, plant Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, or light up a dreary corner with the vibrant olive-green stems of Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’.
Dogwoods plants love moisture-retentive soil, which makes these shrubs ideal for planting beside ponds, where their glowing stems reflect in icy water. I enjoy the winter-long spectacle before cutting plants down hard to within a few inches of the ground in March, because fresh growth will display more intense shades of colour next winter.
3. Lasagne Planting Bulbs
Anyone for lasagne? I’m not talking about the Italian dish, but a quirky planting technique that helps you to get more bang for your buck when creating a garden container of springtime bulbs. Put simply, lasagne bulb planting involves planting layers of different bulbs in one pot, you could plant daffodils and tulips towards the base of a flower pot, cover them with compost, then plant hyacinths and Iris reticulata in the middle, and grape hyacinths and crocus at the top.
Rather than being a one-hit wonder, the different bulbs flower in succession throughout spring. The key to success is to make sure that bulbs don’t sit directly above those in the layer below and use a quality compost, such as John Innes No. 2.
4. It’s a Wrap For Exotic Plants
Arching, tropical leaves of hardy banana plants and architectural, deeply serrated fronds of tree ferns from Down Under have become all the rage in recent years. The snag is that our climate is far from tropical, and even here in the mild south of the UK, leaving exotic plants to chance their luck over winter would be a gamble that I’m not prepared to take.
Tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) are expensive to replace and vulnerable to prolonged freezing weather, so wrapping plants up to protect from cold is a must. I use plastic or wire gauze to circle the trunk, leaving a gap of an inch or so inside, which is loosely filled with straw – available at pet shops for animal bedding. Once the trunk is snug, a handful of straw is placed in the crown, where fronds emerge, to protect the heart of these magnificent exotic plants.
The stems of tall, hardy banana plants (Musa basjoo) are wrapped in horticultural fleece, a membrane that allows the plant to breathe, with fleece secured by garden twine. I don’t worry about leaves that protrude from the top, because bananas that successfully overwinter will produce fresh foliage next season.
5. Banish The Bonfire?
To burn or not to burn? That’s the question. Traditionally it was a no-brainer: November was a time to celebrate the turn of the seasons with a roaring fire. In this age of environmental awareness and climate emergency, however, perhaps it’s time for a rethink?
Without wanting to sound like a killjoy, air pollution from bonfires and fireworks spikes in early November, so I minimise the amount of material to be burnt by composting the dying remains of garden border perennials – it makes superb soil improver and mulch for next season. When composting isn’t an option, dry matter burns well, producing little smoke, so weeds such as ground elder and bindweed are pulled up and left to dry out on the patio for a fortnight before burning. Twigs, brambles and thin branches all make for a good bonfire. I build bonfires on the day they are to be lit, to stop hedgehogs taking up residence inside.
In small gardens, an incinerator – a galvanised dustbin on legs – is the safest option, as the lid can easily be put in place if the fire becomes too lively. Bonfire ash, once cold, can be beneficial in gardens, because it contains low levels of trace elements and potassium. Wood ash is a bonus for raising the alkalinity of vegetable plot soil (which can prevent club root disease on brassica crops) but I avoid adding ash to areas where spuds will be grown as it can encourage potato scab. Slugs dislike ash, too, so I save a little to sprinkle around vulnerable plants next spring.
How much gardening are you doing in November? What gardening jobs are on your list? Do you have a favourite type of dogwood tree to grow? Let us know in the comments.