What Do I Need to Do in the Garden in November?
Clipping, planting, protecting – there’s still plenty to do in the garden this month, as these expert tips show
The autumn colours are wonderful, from soft yellows to bright oranges, deep reds and crimsons. A walk through deciduous woods or an arboretum is so uplifting and there is still much to enjoy outdoors. Here are some key things to consider for the garden this month.
Tidy beds and clear old stems and foliage, but some plants, such as Sedum, and grasses such as Miscanthus, look lovely when left to catch the early frosts.
You can cut back perennials and divide congested clumps, but leave about 15cm of old growth to protect the crown of less hardy plants and prevent winter damage. Phlomis and Echinacea can be left, too, as the seed heads are much loved by goldfinches.
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November is the best time to plant bare-root roses, which are cheaper than container-grown ones and establish much better. Prepare the soil thoroughly first, working in plenty of organic matter.
Never allow the roots to dry out – when they arrive in the post, pop them in a bucket of water for a few hours and put them in the earth as soon as you can. Plant them deep enough so the graft is about 5cm below the ground. Firm in and work the soil around the roots. Mulch on top with manure or compost.
The leaves are falling from trees all around the garden and the temptation is to gather them up and burn them. You don’t want sodden leaves on the lawn or borders, but if you heap them up in a pile (don’t add evergreen leaves) and make a chicken-wire frame container to put them in, they will rot down to make a great mulch and save you a fortune come spring for improving soil structure.
If snow arrives, don’t worry too much about damage, as it acts as a natural duvet, keeping plants warm underneath. Frost does more harm, as it causes water in plant cells to freeze, which damages the cell wall. Embrace the bare bones of the garden – formal hedging looks wonderful under a blanket of snow, as does any architectural feature you may have.
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Roots from plants in pots can be damaged by frost, so if they’re too big to bring inside, use bubble wrap around them, or hessian, which is a bit more attractive. Gather pots together to give mutual protection, and place near a wall away from sharp winds. Make sure your terracotta pots are truly frost-proof, as many will not be if they’re labelled frost resistant.
Some plants really come into their own at this time of year and are magical even in thick snow. Remember, snow won’t do the same damage as frost, as it’s a natural insulator, so only remove the snow if it breaks branches or becomes too heavy.
Shrubby Cornus – or dogwoods, as they’re commonly called – have brilliant-coloured stems, from bright greens to fiery reds and oranges. ‘Midwinter Fire’ is almost electric in colour and, planted in groups, looks wonderful, especially around a pond. Make sure you cut them back hard in March to around 8cm from the base and give them a good mulch for great winter stem interest.
After the long, dark days of winter, nothing is more uplifting than seeing fresh young growth and flowers popping up through the bare soil. November is the best time to plant tulips to prevent them being infected with fungal disease. They flower better in sunnier sites, but there are so many varieties to choose from there are types for all positions. If you have heavy clay, dig in some coarse grit.
Tulips look great in planters, too, and the advantage of pots is that you can move them to areas of the garden lacking in colour. Try layering different bulbs for longer flowering periods. Simply put your tulips deeper – about two to three times their own depth – then daffodils and crocus or grape hyacinth on top. Add a layer of grit to the tulips when planting them to stop the bulb rotting off.
Try to clean out your pond before it gets too cold. It’s best to get rid of any dead plants, foliage and algae, as the debris can produce gases under ice that can be toxic to fish. Fish will not need feeding as much come the winter as they semi-hibernate. If you have been able to net the pond to stop falling leaves, then this will help, but a large pond is hard to net.
You don’t have to remove your pump in winter, but you can give it a good clean and raise it higher if it’s in your pond and not in a chamber. A hollowed out piece of polystyrene on the surface will stop that section freezing.
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The vegetable garden is not finished yet. The best thing you can do now is dig over the patch, as it allows any rainwater to filter through and break down clods of soil, improving structure and making it easier to cultivate in the spring. Once done, you can still sow many things to enjoy throughout the winter, such as hardy broad beans and garlic.
November is a wonderful time to plant trees and hedging plants. The soil still has enough warmth in it to allow them to become well established before winter sets in. Many plants are available as root balls wrapped in hessian and should be planted as soon as they can into well-prepared soil.
Remember not to plant trees too deeply – their roots spread outwards, not downwards, and many people now suggest not adding organic matter to the hole. Stake firmly to prevent wind damage and site your trees carefully, remembering how big they will grow.
Which gardening jobs are you hoping to tackle this month? Share your tips in the Comments.