What to do in November

Gardening in November

In November we know that winter is well and truly on the way, with most areas already having had their first frost. The main tasks in the garden are those which will make the plants and any containers or furniture fit to survive the winter and come up smiling in the spring, so the emphasis is on wrapping, cleaning, trimming and generally battening down the hatches for any storms that may arrive. Years of experience have taught many things about gardening later in the year and here are some of the tasks you need to address:

Roses need to be pruned in November if you haven’t already done this job. Views on pruning have changed in recent years and although you have to be careful to keep the bush in a reasonable shape when cutting off the long stems, the rules are much more lax than they once were. The main reason for pruning and making the bushes more tidy is to prevent wind-rock, so aim for a nice compact bush and while you are there, check that the rose is well firmed in and support it if necessary with a stake, but don’t push it in to the ground too near the stem or tie it in too tightly – it is just to help the rose withstand the wind, not to strangle it.

If you have a lot of containers in your garden, they will certainly need some attention before the winter sets in. While you are wrapping them in bubble wrap or other insulating material it is a good idea to see if they are standing on wet ground. If they are, raise them a little to stop them getting waterlogged. You can buy little ‘feet’ – often in the shape of animals or architectural features – quite cheaply in garden centres or from catalogues, but four or so large stones of the same size will do the trick just as well. If you have a few bulbs left over from the main planting in September and October, you could plant them in the containers, just to give some early colour. There is nothing nicer than a patch of crocus to brighten up the patio planters – especially if you have forgotten where you put them. And of course, November is the best month for planting tulips, which do very well in containers and are easier to support there should they need it.

If you are lucky enough to live in an area where bonfires are allowed, your garden clear up will be much easier. The smell of a bonfire is perhaps the best evocation of autumn and burning uncompostable garden waste is the best way of all to get rid of it. If you have had any trouble with pests and diseases on any of your plants it is really the only way to get rid of the prunings and sweepings as you certainly don’t want to spread it all over again with the compost next year. Most leaves are off the trees by November, so it is an ideal time to get rid of any remaining, but especially on lawns and in ponds.

Flowers - perennials
When the borders are raked clean of leaves and you have divided or trimmed back any perennials, you will be able to see any of the really troublesome weeds and can dig them up once and for all. It is always difficult to get rid of dandelion and buttercups when the border is in full swing, so now is your opportunity. In mild areas of the country they will keep on appearing so vigilance now can make your weeding jobs that much easier next year. If you want to have some temporary colour to see you through the winter months, you can plant some last minute winter bedding in November and it should do well. Wallflowers are an excellent choice as they are very hardy and of course their smell is simply gorgeous so will cheer any chilly winter’s morning.

Toiling the soil
If the month is reasonably dry, it is a really good time to do any digging that needs to be finished. Digging now is an excellent way to get rid of any overwintering pests and their eggs, as you will expose them to the birds and the weather, so hopefully cutting their numbers. If you are not planning to plant newly turned earth, though, it is a good idea to cover it over the winter with either a thick mulch or black polythene, if you don’t mind the look of it, as otherwise weeds will colonise it and also nutrients will wash away.

November is the month when all gardeners start looking through the seed catalogues and dreaming of next year’s garden. While the borders are tidy and some of the soil is bare, it is easier to plan what you want to plant where. Although much garden planning goes on in the summer, it is only as you put the garden to bed that you can really let your imagination go and indulge yourself a little. If you really must plant something now, then summer-flowering bulbs should fit the bill. Some don’t need planting until the spring, but some others can be planted through the winter and can be used as the skeleton of your summer garden for next year as you plan your seed purchases.

In the vegetable garden there should be lots to harvest, but planting is restricted to new fruit bushes and trees. While November is an excellent month for this, with some quite mild days, if the weather is very wet or the frosts are hard, it is best not to plant because the root ball will not develop and the plant will suffer from wind rock possibly with fatal results. It is best to hang on for better conditions. If you have ordered from a local supplier, they will probably contact you for delivery advice.

Garden furniture
Generally there are not many days in November when it is warm enough to sit outside, so it a perfect month to examine your garden furniture and put it away for next year or decide to get rid of it if it isn’t likely to last the storage. There are still some bargains to be found in November in garden centres which have not given themselves up entirely to Christmas decorations and if you have room in a shed, it is well worth replacing worn out items now. Otherwise, you can get quite cheap covers for garden furniture, which will protect it from the worst of the weather.

Indoor gardening - houseplants
Indoor gardening seems very enticing as the days get colder and shorter. Houseplants come into their own, particularly the Christmas favourites, such as amaryllis (hippeastrum) which need to be potted up and brought back indoors now to give flowers near the holiday. Children will enjoy planting a bulb such as hyacinth in a special vase so they can see the roots develop before the flower appears. These need to be kept in a dark, cool place until the bulb has ‘struck’ but then it is a fascinating sight as the roots fill the vase and the leave start to appear. Christmas cacti are also a good plant for children, as taking cuttings to make new plants couldn’t be easier and they can share them with their friends. All houseplants, with the exception of the amaryllis and others being brought on for Christmas, should get less feed and water now. Some, like pelargoniums, should be cut right back and allowed to become dormant in a cool greenhouse, frost free shed or the conservatory.

If you have a greenhouse, November is the month when it can get its most intensive clean of the year. Because you will probably have very little in it except perhaps a few cyclamen or other bulbs being forced for the house, you will be able to use disinfectants to get rid of any moulds or fungi and also really scrub the glass to get rid of any shading paint you applied in the summer. This is a good opportunity to check for any missing clips on the panes or a crack that could develop into a break in a frost and is the perfect job to do when it is not very tempting to be outside digging or struggling with wet plants. A clean greenhouse at the start of the next growing season will the best start the plants can have and if you also put some time in to cleaning all of your pots and seed trays, so much the better. As gardening tasks go, none of the clean up jobs are very interesting, but they are certainly worth doing for the trouble they will save next spring.

And finally ...
November in the garden is a month which many people dread. The weather is not bad enough to give the gardener an excuse to stay inside and yet there is little happening except leaves to rake and running repairs to do. The lawn may even need mowing, but without the fun of having the sunshine to sit on it afterwards and after every mow you should really clean the mower off completely, in case this is its last outing until spring. Tools and equipment needs to be checked and oiled, plants need trimming and staking in case the weather is bad over the winter and everything seems to be prevention and packing away. But every hour spent tidying in November will reap dividends in the spring, when everything is growing healthily and well because it had good treatment in the autumn when it really counted