The Autumn months are quiet in the garden and mostly a time to catch up, clear up and tackle the weeds. And it is always lovely to get outside into the garden on milder days if perhaps, you’ve been shut indoors due to wet weather.
November is the best time for planting Tulips. Daffodils need to go in first in September and October; Tulips later in November. The correct planting depth is very important to ensure the bulb flowers.
One of the most common reasons for a bulb failing to flower after the first year is that it was planted too shallow. An easy rule of thumb is to plant the bulb three times its own depth, and if unsure, plant deeper and not shallower.
You can plant autumn garlic now. It is a very easy crop to grow in autumn – from mid-September through to mid-December, and there are several good garlic bulbs now sold as suitable for planting at this time of year. Garlic planted in autumn benefits from a longer growing season during the cold months, which is considered to improve bulb formation.
Types of garlic suitable for autumn planting are ‘Lautrec Wight’ (although it is not particularly suitable for heavy soils or very cold plots), ‘Early Wight’ and Elephant garlic, which produces a smaller number of large cloves of mild flavour (it is suitable for autumn planting as it needs a long and warm growing season and is not suited to cold and wet conditions). Garlic ‘Bella Italiano’ – a hard neck variety is suitable for autumn planting, and so is Garlic ‘Provence Wight’ too.
It’s important is to check whether your vegetable plot is suitable for autumn garlic planting. If your plot is on the wet side or particularly cold or exposed, you may find it better to plant autumn garlic under glass or in a greenhouse or leave it until spring.
The summer flowers are winding down, and if you are a tidy sort of gardener, you will want to cut them down to make the borders neat – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Equally, you could leave the borders as they are, and it will give some protection from frosts and provide cover for wildlife.
If cutting back perennials, use pruning shears to trim down close to the ground, but take care with some perennials as they will already have new shoots forming and emerging at the plant base by early November. It is important when cutting back not to damage the new growth.
One advantage of clearing the borders is to see the weeds lurking below and clear them out before the winter – especially if you’re mulching the borders, as you do not want to mulch in the weeds. It is often shocking to see how many weeds have found a home in the border once the dead and brown foliage of the summer plants are cleared away.
Autumn is a good time to weed, as it always seems the weeds give way easier after a few touches of frost.
Overwintering plants can be a good way to save money and to have a more established plant for next spring. Some plants are not hardy enough to survive the winter outside and need frost protection, which means they need to overwinter in a conservatory or unheated porch for the winter.
While some plants need frost protection, other more tender plants will only survive under glass if the greenhouse is heated or require the extra frost-free environment of a conservatory. These include Pelargoniums (known as Geraniums), Fuchsias, Cannas and Dahlias.
Other more hardy plants need some protection, particularly if your plot is exposed and will survive in an unheated greenhouse. These include Chrysanthemums, lemons and other citrus, bays, olive, Salvias, Agapanthus and French Lavenders.
If you are overwintering plants such as Pelargonium and fuchsias in the greenhouse, open the doors and vents on mild days to try and reduce the incidence of Botrytis (also known as grey mould), which often arises in airless, damp conditions.
A good tip is to raise the plants up on a simple trestle made from bricks to increase the airflow around the plants. Most important with the cold, damp air is to water plants sparingly – less is more over the winter.
From now until early winter is a good time to prune roses especially climbing roses. This is a general prune, reducing the size of the shrub by about a third to prevent wind rock.
Wind rock is caused by the longer stems of the rose being caught by the wind, causing the plant to rock or move around in the wind, which in turn loosens its footing and roots. Over time, the entry point of the trunk into the soil widens and allows water and ice in, thus damaging the plant and its roots.
November is a good time to clear the vegetable plot – if it has finished and you are not growing any vegetables over the winter months. Remove weed, stones and debris from the year. After clearing, spread the plot with well-rotted manure or organic matter for the winter.
In early spring, you can cover the plot with plastic to prevent any weed growth after the hard work of clearing it. This will also serve to warm the soil up a little in the spring, for when you are ready to plant again.
If you like your lawn, it is worth taking the time to rake up the leaves. This task can seem pointless, especially as there are often more leaves to come, but piles of leaves spoil the lawn. They cut out the light and will cause the grass underneath to go brown and unsightly.
If you rake up the leaves, it is worth saving the leaves to make leaf mould, which is a great garden mulch. It is easy to make a pen, put 4 corner stakes into the ground and just use chicken wire and wrap it around the stakes. Rake up and pile in the leaves. They will rot down over the gardening year, ready to be spread on borders as mulch in the following winter/spring.
You can tell when the leaf mould is ready to use as it becomes well-rotted and crumbly. If you have no space for a leaf mould bin, you can store leaves in bin bags, but it is essential to put holes in to allow the air and drainage – otherwise, it can become a slimy mess.
Just as it does not benefit the lawn to have winter leaves on, leaves are not good for ponds either. This is because the leaves will rot down and add to the slurry at the bottom of the pond, but more importantly, rotted leaves will add nitrates to the water.
Nitrates enrich the pond water and can upset the natural balance. This, in turn, will make algae more likely and increase the chances of having a green pond in the spring. If these are a problem with your pond, consider skimming off the leaves. Similarly, cut off any decaying vegetation which may die back at this time of year.
It is the process of decomposition from either leaves or plants, which raises the nitrate level – and reduces the oxygen, which is also not ideal if you have fish in the pond.
Tomatoes have fairly well stopped now, and it’s time to cut your losses and bring them in to ripen. There are plenty of suggested ways to ripen green tomatoes and many comments on successfully getting the tomatoes to turn red.
One fool-proof way to ripen tomatoes is to cut them on the vine, bring them in and place them in a dish or on cardboard on a warm window sill, sunny porch or conservatory. Leave to ripen; they will.
It’s easy to grow garden shrubs and trees which produce berries in late autumn and early winter, a big attraction for birds and wildlife. The mild spells in autumn and winter are a good time to plant trees and shrubs which will benefit from the high levels of rainfall. Various garden birds eat a variety of different berries and seeds. So by growing a few different berry-producing shrubs, you are providing food for a wide range of birds.
Some trees, such as the Himalayan birch (Betula utilis), are grown for their attractive bark, and they can become dirty or prone to green moss, spoiling the appearance of the bark.
The bark can be cleaned using warm water and a soft cloth to remove accumulated grime and bring back its bright whiteness. Just like you would in the house, dust off the bark first and then wipe down with a wet cloth, no soap.