Overhaul your borders and get them ready for spring
November can bring some lovely mild days and it’s great to be outside working in the garden. It’s a good time to spruce up your borders in readiness for the next growing season. You can wait until spring, but I often find there’s so much else to do at that time of year that I end up running out of time! The soil isn’t as cold now as it is in spring, so the work is more comfortable and less likely to damage the soil and plants. If you’re making changes to the border it’s easier to do at this time of the year, while summer’s display is still fresh in your mind. Its also a good time to move any plants, or indeed plant something new, with the whole winter ahead for the plant to establish. And there’s still time to pop in some extra pockets of colour for winter and to plant tulips for a colourful spring.
Get on the top with annual weeds
When the weather cools and the soil becomes moist in September, weed seeds germinate in their thousands. Many of these will be quickgrowing annuals such as hairy bittercress, groundsel, chickweed and goosegrass. If left over winter, they’ll rapidly grow and set more seeds in spring, resulting in a bigger crop of weeds next summer. So now is the time to get these weeds under control. If the weather is dry you can hoe them off, raking them off the soil so they don’t re-root. Hand weed them from the centre of herbaceous plants where you can’t reach with the hoe. You can also smother any smaller weeds with a layer of mulch. Mulch is great as it will also help improve the soil. As most herbaceous plants are dormant now you may be able to carefully use a ready-to-use weedkiller spray on small areas. Still be careful though that you don’t spray any plants you want to keep. Some organic weedkillers may not be as effective as chemical sprays because they rely on dissolving the waxy surface of the weeds and drying out, not as likely in winter as in summer.
Plant Tulip Bulbs
Tulips come in such a wide variety of shapes and colours and are a really easy and effective way to bring colour to the garden in spring. They can be planted as late as November or early December, so once you’ve finished tidying up your borders, pop in a few bulbs. Plant bulbs in groups of seven or more among other plants to match your colour scheme. Planting them among herbaceous plants is quite a good idea, as once the bulbs die back in late spring, your herbaceous perennials will effectively hide the dying foliage. You’ll get the best from your tulips if you plant them deeply. All, except miniature tulips, should be planted about 20cm (8in) deep. This deep planting not only encourages flowering, but it also helps prevent the bulbs being damaged during subsequent planting and soil cultivation.
Divide Herbaceous Perennials
Most herbaceous plants benefit from being divided every three or four years. This is because they grow outwards from the centre, with this central area eventually dying out. There are exceptions, such as peonies and agapanthus, which are best left undisturbed for decades unless they’re being overshadowed by taller plants. Michaelmas daisies, solidago, physostegia and lysimachia are among those that need frequent division. Dig up the whole clump if possible but if it’s too big, cut through the centre with a spade and lift the clump in sections. Chop the outer edges of the clump into sections with a spade or cut with an old knife and replant these in your garden. It will be a bit of a shock to the plant, so add a little compost to the planting hole before popping the new divisions in. Don’t forget to water straight away.
Before winter really bites, prepare your garden for the chill with these top tips to protect your patch and keep plants snug
Insulate your greenhouse: If you’re storing borderline-hardy plants in your greenhouse over winter they may need some extra protection. Use bubble wrap as a layer of insulation as it will raise the temperature inside your greenhouse by a degree or two. Attach to the inside of your greenhouse using special clips available from garden centres online. A bubble wrap layer can also be used, along with a heater, to create a warm section of a greenhouse, rather than heating the whole space. And see Nick Bailey’s article on page 27 for advice on how you can protect your plants in style.
TIP: Invest in a thermometer to measure the temperature inside your greenhouse.
Protect dahlias: In milder parts of the UK you shouldn’t need to lift dahlias, but they’ll benefit from a deep mulch of compost topped with a layer of chipped bark. If you do lift them, cut back stems to about 10cm (4in) and carefully lift tubers. Brush away any soil and store somewhere frost-free for two weeks to allow tubers to dry out. Then place in crates or large plastic trays filled with compost or sand. Store in a frost-free spot until spring.
TIP Form a mound with your mulch so that excess rainwater runs off.
Wrap up exotics: Tender exotics, such as some callistemons, agapanthus and tree ferns, need protection from the weather. If they’re growing in pots they can be moved somewhere warmer. For those growing in the ground, you’ll need to either cover them with a blanket of fleece or wrap them up. Create a ‘cage’ around the plants using chicken wire, then pack straw around the plant. To protect plants such as cordylines, gather together the strappy leaves of plants vertically and tie in place with soft twine or a pair of tights so the leaves aren’t damaged.
TIP Ready-made fleece plant jackets come fitted with zips or drawstrings for ease of use.
Group pots together: Move containers to a sheltered spot next to a wall of your house, where it’ll be slightly warmer. Gather them closely together to create a micro-climate, and help stop them blowing over in strong winds. If you want to give them extra protection, wrap a section of hessian or bubble wrap around your pot collection, and put fleece over the top if necessary. This is much easier than wrapping individual pots. Raise pots off the ground with pot feet available from garden centres.
TIP Remove fleece during the day so plants are exposed to light and air.