November is usually the time of year that we have to start worrying about frosty mornings in the garden, but with the weather still very mild and some plants flowering much later than normal, that’s not currently a concern! So instead, let’s enjoy the warm autumn and get in some preparations for the months ahead.
It’s a good time to be digging over borders, tidying them for the winter and bringing the roots of any weeds to the surface so that when the frosts do eventually arrive they’ll be killed off. Digging also uncovers tasty worms and other bugs for the garden birds, whose other sources of food are starting to dwindle.
It’s worth investing in some frost protection for your more valuable plants that form part of your garden architecture. You can buy frost protection fleece in all shapes and sizes at garden centres and DIY stores – it’s like a fine spider web that light can penetrate but that will keep the frost and heavy snow off your treasured plants.
Carry on with your pruning and tidying in the garden throughout November, especially climbing plants – pruning will give you a better display of flowers next year. Once the leaves have all fallen from your wisteria, which they are likely to have done by the end of this month, it will be easier to see the interior framework of the plant, making it easier to prune. Take care when cutting –take back the side shoots to two or three buds from the base of the stem. This way you remove soft growth, reducing the amount of nitrogen in plant and so encouraging flower growth instead of leaf growth, giving you a glorious display next year.
Honeysuckle is another climber to give some attention to, and it’s easier to handle too. Don’t be scared to cut it back to ground level and it will grow back vigorously. To encourage more flowering, cut the side shoots back to just above a pair of buds.
Fruit and Veg
Dedicate some time to digging over your veg patch to take out old stems, which can be added to the compost heap. If you have any burned coal, ash or wood from a bonfire, spread it over the top of the soil to improve the soil and drainage. Pick out unwanted weeds or leave the roots on the surface for the frost to do its work. Once you’ve dug over the area, add a couple of bags of manure to improve soil structure and nutrients.
Now fruit like apples are going over, make sure you pick up rotten and diseased fruit from ground and add it to your compost heap – allowing fruit to rot on the ground can spread any disease present and have an effect on the grass underneath.
General Garden Maintenance
Now your borders are nice and clear you can see the gaps between established plants; take the opportunity to spread bark chippings on the ground. They’re great for keeping weeds down and borders looking tidy through the winter and into spring.
And of course, keep raking up those leaves from the lawn. You could compost them, or pile them in a quiet corner to build up a stockpile for wildlife over the colder months.
If you’re like me, you enjoy giving some consideration to wildlife when you’re gardening, sharing your outdoor space with the animals that use it. November is a good time to focus on helping smaller animals to survive – there’s a harsh winter predicted, so it’s particularly important at the moment.
Make time for wild birds in the garden – food and drink are starting to be in short supply for them, so birds that winter in the UK need our help. You can put up bird feeders, either on a stand, hanging from a branch, and perhaps a bird house that can be nailed to a tree or fence. It’s a good idea to provide a birdbath – you should change the water daily as the colder weather sets in, as shallow water will freeze quickly at this time of year. You can of course pick up a range of birdbaths at the garden centre, or make your own from a shallow dish or tray.
If you’d like to build a habitat for wildlife such as hedgehogs and insects, you could construct a log pile using any dead wood you have from trees. Pile it up in a corner and it will form a much-needed shelter for hedgehogs, amphibians and beetles. You can also drill some holes in larger logs to give insects shelter. This is a great garden activity with creepy-crawly mad kids.
Garden Design Ideas
Last month I suggested that if you’re thinking of making big changes to your garden in the next few months, you spend some time thinking about what kind of garden you want – what overall function it should fulfil. This month let’s think about what the physical position of your garden –its aspect – means for the kind of layout and planting you’ll go for.
To work out the aspect of your garden, grab a compass (or you could download a compass app on a smartphone) and stand with your back to your house, facing the garden. Whichever direction the needle is pointing is the aspect of the garden.
North facing gardens don’t get much sun, so you’ll be contending with year-round shady spots. To help with this, keep tall trees and hedges pruned back and focus on shade-loving plants.
South facing gardens get the sun all day long, which of course can be great for plants, especially in spring and autumn when the weather is milder, but it can cause problems in the summer when the sun can scorch the grass and other plants. To remedy this, you can add shade with larger plants or structures or go for a planting scheme that loves constant sun, choosing plants like red hot pokers that will bask in it.
The morning sun is the main feature of an east-facing garden, ideal if you want to create a terrace or deck for a breakfast table.
The saying goes that west is best, and it’s not wrong! West facing gardens get afternoon and evening sun, an arrangement that many plants thrive on, so you’ll have a wider planting choice.
Next month on the blog – your garden’s soil type and how to make the most of it. Sign up for our newsletter using the box on the right and we’ll let you know when we publish new articles.