As we bid farewell to autumn, gardeners are preparing for the colder, darker months ahead. Ann Winwood offers a few tips.
Here we are at the end of another season. The relatively milder month of November is the time to prepare the garden for winter. Make sure you’ve got fleece ready to put over tender plants such as cordylines, hebes, tree ferns and other semi hardy plants once the frosts arrive.
It’s very important to remove dead foliage from around roses – only put on the compost heap if it’s not diseased. Borders can then be mulched with compost, well-rotted manure or bark multi-purpose compost ideal for this.
Carry on planting
While there’s no frost in the ground, you can still plant any bare root hedging or fruit trees. For winter colour in the garden, why not plant shrubs such as viburnum, bodnantense dawn, skimmias, gaultherias or leucothoe.
Continue planting pansies, wallflowers and winter bedding; the sooner, the better. If we do get a cold frosty spell, winter pansy flowers will droop but once they thaw out in the sun, they pop back up giving colour even on a cold day. November is the ideal month for planting tulip bulbs.
I recommend that you check that heaters in glasshouses are working to avoid any last-minute panic. If we do get a cold spell, try to open the doors on greenhouses occasionally to allow some fresh air in; this is especially important where you use paraffin heaters, for fumes build up in a closed area and you can soon lose the plants that you’re trying to keep. Drain down hosepipes and water features that won’t be used again until next spring, to prevent damage by frosts.
As the end of November approaches, many people start to purchase the traditional Christmas house plants. One of the best loved festive plants is the poinsettia, which can give instant colour to a room. They like good light during the day and a warm room; never place them in a draught. Only water when the soil is dry and never stand in water for longer than 10 minutes.
If you have a cooler room, the brightly-coloured cyclamen will be ideal. They always require good light; the most common cause of failure with this plant is overwatering. Only water just as the foliage begins to wilt and make sure that any excess water is removed from saucers after 15 minutes. Other plants ideal for Christmas colour are the Christmas cherry with its shiny red-orange berries, or Christmas cacti which produce beautiful red, pink, orange, white or lavender flowers. Azaleas will flourish in either a warm or cool room and are very easy to keep, requiring plenty of water. There’s lots of choice in the orchid family and many of them are quite happy in normal room temperatures.
Many garden centres offer planted arrangements in baskets, which, like pot plants, can be gift wrapped, making them an ideal present. For a living gift, consider buying a shrub for the garden or a planted-up tub or hanging basket specifically designed for winter colour.
From the end of November, freshly cut Christmas trees will be available in centres. When you get your tree home, put it in a stand or pot that can be kept moist, as warm temperatures and dry air inside the home make the tree absorb water very rapidly. Keep away from hot radiators, open fires and TV sets. This also applies to rooted trees, especially if you’re planning on planting it in the garden after Christmas.
When choosing your tree, don’t forget to have a look inside the garden centre. Most put on spectacular Christmas displays. There’s always a multitude of baubles, garlands, lights and lit villages and, if you don’t want a real tree, there’s an excellent range of artificial ones which can be difficult to tell from the real thing. Have a look in the festive light department if you get a chance – there’s so much choice, from solar-powered spotlights and strings of lights to battery-powered sets and the huge range of electrical sets which will switch on at dusk and switch off a few hours later.
Once the bad weather arrives, don’t forget bags of rock salt, outdoor tap covers, snow shovels, sledges and window scrapers. Remember the birds too, during cold weather. Keep feeders topped up and offer fat balls and specialist feeds to encourage a wide range of birds into your garden. Put out fresh water regularly especially during freezing weather.
Stay warm and happy gardening!