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.