November: A Time For Reflection And Planning For The Future
November brings with it a firework display of Autumn colours from falling leaves to vibrant Chrysanthemums, the last of the perennial Rudbeckias and jewel-like Pansies and Cyclamen. Along with this final flower show though, there also begins a time of reflection in the garden. A time to look back over the growing season just past and remember what your successes were as well as your failures and a time to take these observations and draw up plans on how to best repeat, change or improve on them in the future. Perhaps you are overjoyed that you grew a prize-worthy set of onions and want to do it again but with even more varieties. Or perhaps you are unhappy that your shrub borders ran out of colour in August and want to find out what you can plant to fill the gap next year. If there’s one thing you do in the garden this month make sure you take with you a notebook and jot down all the changes and improvements you can make for next year and when they are best to be done. I think it’s also a great idea to photograph your garden all year round because, as well as recording your achievements for posterity, there’s no better way to remind yourself what worked well and what didn’t in your border displays and landscaping designs.
That said there’s plenty more to get on with in the garden this month from general yearly maintenance to frost protection processes and so on.
Our lawns by now should have stopped growing lushly and will have probably had their last mow of the year (unless the ground is dry enough for another cut or two) but there are still lots of other Autumn lawn maintenance jobs to complete. Spiking clay soils with a aeration machine or fork every foot or so will help reduce winter waterlogging. Push the fork prongs to a depth of 15cm and slightly lift the soil to add air underneath. On particularly badly drained areas horticultural sand or lawn top dressing can be spread over the surface to a depth of a few millimetres. Try also to keep off the lawn if we have had a lot of rainfall as this will help stop compaction.
It’s a bit late to sow a lawn but turfing can continue if the soil is not frozen. Even at this time of year make sure that the turfs are kept moist to help with their establishment.
After the harvests of September and October or if you’re clearing out an old border ready for replanting you will often have a large area of bare soil at this time of year. If so there are 3 ways you can deal with it. Leave it until February/ March time, sow green manure now to dig in in early Spring or dig now and add organic matter (composted garden waste or soil conditioner). Clay soils need a period of freeze and thaw to break them up finely so when you dig them over leave them in rough clods and let the cold do the rest.
Why not take a pH and nutrient test of your soil as it will enable you to be more accurate with feeding next year. A high pH (alkaline) is OK for brassicas while a low pH (acid) can make them prone to clubroot. Most other veg like a medium to high pH of 6.5 to 7 and this can be achieved by liming the dug soil with ground limestone in pellet form 10 days before planting.
The shortened days of November are not only a good time to clear out your borders but also tidy up your greenhouses or conservatories and clean the glass. This will provide extra light for plants that require it as well as remove algae and the eggs of insect pests that might overwinter. Wash canes etc with Jeyes Fluid, clean and sharpen your tools and maintain your mower blades for next year. Hopefully your cleaning will make some space in the greenhouse to bring in frost tender plants for the winter too.
Dahlias need to be dug up once the first frost blackens the tips of the leaves (usually around November) then cut back, labelled and stored in a frost-free place. Mine will be stored in the ground in a cold greenhouse. A large container of sand, old soil or bark is good too.
Eucomis (Pineapple Lilly) are near hardy if left in the ground and mulched but mine are in pots. In this case it is best to store them as they die back in the greenhouse under a potting bench with 3 or 4 layers of Jute sacking over them.
Cannas are popular bedding display plants with colourful Banana-like leaves but, as they come from India, will need to be stored somewhere where the nights don’t get below 0°c. Treat Gingers, Zonal Geranuims, Fuchsias, Begonia, Osteospermums, Calla Lillies, some Alstroemeria, Gaura and Salvia Amistrad the same way too if you want to see them again next year.
Semi hardy shrubs such as Cordylines, Phormiums, Echinaceas, Bay Trees, Olives, Tree Ferns and Hebes might need protection especially if newly planted or in pots. Cover them with sacking and layers of fleece or move containers to a more sheltered area, beside house walls etc.
Lastly let us not forget our wildlife in the November period. Birds will need feeding daily as the weather cools with fat balls, niger seed and peanuts etc and don’t forget to give them water for drinking and bathing.
It’s January and our Gardening Year begins again.
Here in the darkest winter days there’s a fresh enthusiasm and plans to be made for the garden in this whole new Gardening Year.
Venture to the Garden Centre and you will see some of the delights that could be colourful and exciting in your garden even in the middle of winter.