Well, the last week of October has seen some heavy rain & gales especially over the north & west & I would like to say that November is going to be better but, unfortunately the long range forecast isn't very promising. The beginning of November is likely to continue in the same vein with heavy rain & showers with some windy spells. Following this, the wind is due to change to northwesterly or northly bringing cooler temperatures & more rain & wind with the possibility of snow over the Scottish Highlands & over the hills of northern England and Wales later in the month. The north & west will get the worst of the weather with the east & southwest being the driest. There is the possibility of short spells of calmer & drier weather amongst the mayhem but watch out for overnight, frost & fog. So it looks like it is time to get into the garden, if you haven't already, moving tender plants inside before they get waterlogged or blown down & tidying up all that soggy, herbaceous growth that has slumped onto the lawn. This awful weather is also a wonderful excuse to visit the garden centre & then plant up your empty tubs & baskets with colourful winter displays with an under-planting of spring bulbs to look forward to. Place them near the house or where you can see them from a window & it is always nice to have some near the front door to welcome visitors.
There are plenty of jobs to do in the garden as plants are starting to die back & a bit of pruning can be combined with taking hardwood cuttings to increase your stock or to give away to friends. Cut & dry structural flower heads then spray with gold or silver paint to enhance your Christmas displays & remember to leave ivies & hollies unpruned as you can cut them nearer Christmas for creating wreaths & garlands. As summer bedding & herbaceous perennials die back to reveal empty soil it is the ideal time to plant more bulbs for your spring display. Or maybe add something a little more structural such as an evergreen with berries that you can use in your Christmas garlands, wreaths or add to one of our lifelike artificial Christmas trees.
- There a number of seeds that can be planted from now on if you have space in an unheated greenhouse or windowsill. This will give them an early start or allow you to crop them over winter. Try some summer flowering perennials such as lupins & sweet peas or sow herbs, winter lettuce & spring onions.
- In the vegetable garden or in suitable pots you can plant a wide variety of things including garlic, broadbeans, onions & spring cabbage.
- Take hardwood cuttings of woody plants including deciduous plants such as flowering currant, climbers such as honeysuckle, fruit such as gooseberries & some trees including willow.
- Don't forget to order your summer-flowering bulbs for planting in spring to create a magnificent display later in the year.
- Tulips are ideally planted this month to reduce the risk of fungal diseases & they come in a huge selection of colours & shapes - why not try something new? You can still get away with planting other spring flowering bulbs but flowering may be delayed.
- If you want to harvest your own hedgerow type goodies or provide extra food for wildlife why not consider planting ornamental fruit & nut trees such as crab apple, quince, & hazel?
- Take root cuttings of plants such as Japanese anemones & Oriental poppies.
- Although pot-grown shrubs can be planted all year round, early winter is the best time to plant bare-rooted shrubs including fruit, roses & ornamental trees. They need planting in their final position as soon as they arrive or can be planted in a temporary trench elsewhere if the ground is waterlogged or frozen.
- Plant grapevines & rhubarb crowns now.
- Beeches are best planted and replanted when the leaves have gone golden yellow. It is crucial for their development that a particular soil fungus is attached to the roots. So make sure that you buy beeches when they are still (entrenched) in the soil. That offers the greatest likelihood that the roots are in good condition and that fungus is present.
- There are some herbaceous perennials which may not be tough enough to survive our winter temperatures because they originate from milder climate zones such as Helianthus, Acanthus, Lavatera, Agapanthus & Perovskia. If they are in a pot you can move them into a garage, otherwise cover with a layer of straw or garden fleece and then remove it again when the temperatures climb a little. Good drainage is also important. Many plants can rot in soil which is cold and wet for an extended period, even though they might tolerate lower air temperatures for a short while.
- Rake up leaves from the lawn and bag them or stack them to make leaf mould.
- Aerate your lawn before winter sets in. Either use a lawn aerator or use a garden fork at regular intervals to create holes & lean it back slightly to let air in. It is also a good time to edge the lawn once plants have died back making it more accessible & giving it a neat look throughout winter.
- Clean out bird boxes & give bird feeders & bird baths a scrub down to reduce any chance of infection.
- Put out food and water for birds to help them get through the winter, the sooner you start feeding them the better condition they will be in before the temperatures drop.
- Fix grease bands to the trunks of fruit trees to prevent wingless moth pests. You can also use them on ornamental deciduous trees, such as flowering cherry, crab apple & rowans if you have problems with winter moth caterpillars in late spring/early summer.
- Protect tender or sensitive rockery plants by covering them with glass or acrylic sheets.
- Bring prepared bulbs of paperwhites or hyacinths into a well-lit area to give them time to flower for Christmas.
- Raise containers onto pot feet to prevent waterlogging & insulate (or move into shelter) vulnerable container plants that are remaining outside over winter. Bubble wrapping pots works well.
- Net all brassicas to protect against damage from pigeons.
- Place cloches over any tender plants or herbs that like to remain dry at the roots over winter such as oregano and basil.
- Continue to harvest leeks, celeriac, cauliflower, parsnips, kale & Brussels sprouts.
- Check tree ties to make sure they are not too tight and check tree guards are in place against rabbits.
- Spray peaches to protect against peach leaf curl.
- Keep overwintering cuttings of tender perennials just moist and maintain good ventilation to avoid fungal problems.
- Lift & divide large rhubarb crowns to increase stock.
- Keep watering recently planted evergreens during dry spells.
- Clean greenhouses & check for pests & diseases before bringing in plants to overwinter. Keep greenhouses & conservatories ventilated to reduce humidity & fungal diseases.
- Many standard roses have two budding (graft) points: one just above the roots which is protected from frost by a covering layer of soil, and one at the top where the (flower-bearing) branches attach. Ideally pull a black plastic bag (with holes) over the crown and tie around the trunk.
- Prune hedges especially deciduous hedges that need an extra good cut back.
- Prune Acers, vines, birches, laburnum, fruit trees and any other plants that 'bleed' badly in spring.
- Reduce borderline-hardy plants such as Perovskia and Penstemon by a third. Consider mulching them with a thick layer of garden compost or straw then complete their pruning in spring.
- Prune roses on exposed sites to prevent wind rock.
Drain water pumps and pipe work to avoid freezing in ponds & water features - If your pond freezes over and remains frozen for some time, gas which is released from the muddy bottom can collect under the ice. At the same time the oxygen-rich air in the water is gradually used up. This can create an unhealthy situation for the plants and animals which spend the winter just above the bottom of the pond. You can easily avoid this by placing an ice preventer in the pond to ensure a good gas exchange with the outdoor air.