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  • Louise Mills and Chair

Last Days of Autumn

We are now in November and one gets a strong sense that Autumn is drawing to a close. There are still plenty of jobs to do although the weather is less inviting. Luckily there are also indoor jobs as well. For instance, now is a good time for checking and cleaning your tools, catching up on any greenhouse maintenance and continuing to plan for spring displays but, as cold evenings and frosts become increasingly frequent, don’t forget to enjoy of those rich displays of late-autumn colour.

Perennials, Shrubs and Trees

● Plant bare-root deciduous trees and shrubs, including roses. They can be planted throughout the dormant season, from now until early March, whenever the soil conditions are favourable. At the time of planting, consider including an upright stake for young trees. The most important thing when planting any tree or shrub is not to plant it too deep – make sure the entire root ball is covered. See

● Winter prune established deciduous trees and shrubs if necessary. Start by removing dead, diseased, and damaged material, followed by cuts to reduce congestion and crossing branches. Remember to avoid pruning any Prunus species until next summer, as winter cuts leave them susceptible to disease.

● Winter prune roses, buddlejias, and other shrubs prone to wind-rock. Reduce long new shoots by up to one-third.

● Lift and store dahlias if you haven’t already done so. Cut the stems back to about 10cm from ground level. Lift with a fork and shake off as much of the old soil as you can; use a hose to rinse off the rest before turning them upside down and leaving them to dry out completely. If you don’t lift your dahlias make sure you cut back stems to the ground and cover the tubers with a thick layer of mulch (up to 15cm deep).

● Continue lifting and dividing perennials when weather allows. The earlier this is done this month, the better as the newly planted divisions will have time to establish their new roots before it gets much colder and the ground freezes.

● Carefully select which herbaceous perennials may need cutting back but consider which could be left until spring to provide winter structure and much-needed habitats for wildlife.

● Autumn is also a good time to mulch borders and the kitchen garden provided the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged. Always apply mulch to moist soil and apply a layer between 5-8cm deep for maximum benefit. Please avoid using compost or mulch containing peat.

● Hardwood cuttings taken last autumn should now have rooted and can be transplanted to a more permanent position. There is still plenty of time to take more hardwood cuttings for next year.

● Tie in long whippy shoots of climbers and wall shrubs to prevent them from being damaged in windy weather. Also consider available space and whether the shoot may be best pruned back to 5-6 buds instead.

● Continue planting tulip bulbs from now until mid-December. On heavy soils, add grit at the time of planting to increase drainage. You should also finish planting all spring-flowering bulbs this month.

● Consider whether any large, outdoor pots that cannot be moved inside would benefit from additional insulation through the winter to protect from frost damage. This can be done by wrapping hessian sacking securely around the outside of the pots. Also make sure they are raised on pot feet to ensure adequate drainage during these wet months.

Kitchen Garden

● Harvest parsnips after the first frosts; they tend to taste better! Either pack them in boxes of sand or put them in a heap covered with a thick layer of straw held down with netting to store them throughout the winter.

● Begin harvesting brussel sprouts, starting from the base of the plant upwards. Consider whether tall plants might need staking to prevent them from blowing over in high winds.

● Check over all stored crops and dispose of any fruits or vegetables showing signs of rot or disease.

● Net all overwintering brassicas if you haven’t already. As the weather gets colder and there is less food around, pigeons will be more and more interested in the winter crops in your garden!

● Prune blackcurrants. You should aim to remove about a third of the bush each year, removing the oldest stems or any spindly stems to encourage new shoots to form from the base.

● Prune gooseberries and redcurrants to build a framework of four or five branches, with plenty of fruiting spurs on each. Start by removing any dead, diseased or damaged material, then any shoots not summer-pruned in later summer should be pruned back to two or three buds from the previous year’s growth.

● Now is also a good time to plant new fruit bushes, raspberry canes, etc. as long as the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged.

● Propagate rhubarb by lifting a large root and splitting it into smaller pieces so that each piece has at least one bud. Plant the divisions 90cm apart in soil enriched with organic matter.

Other Jobs

● Continue to gather up autumn leaves, placing them on the compost heap or creating a pile of leaves to supply leafmould. If you are still cutting your lawn, leaves can be cut and added directly to the compost heap.

● Wash any pots and trays so that they are ready to be reused next year. Tidy up canes and other gardening kit as well to avoid creating a breeding ground for unwanted insects and diseases.

● Clean out bird boxes, removing old nesting material, and put food out for the birds on a regular basis. This will encourage them to nest in your garden next year.

● Now is a good time to sow sweet peas and other hardy annuals for a good display next year. The cooler temperatures mean the seeds will germinate slowly, developing strong root systems over the winter. Deep Rootrainer modules are particularly well-suited for growing sweetpeas.

● Remember to keep off the lawn in frosty weather so as not to damage the grass.

● For colour and scent indoors why not plant up a few pots with paper-whites, hyacinths, freesias or smaller daffodils like Tete-a-Tete. Amaryllis are also beautiful plants for the hoiday season. Pelargoniums can also be moved inside for colour.

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