The craze for instant gardening programmes like Ground Force seems to have passed and the real nature of gardening which needs a long-term view is increasingly recognised. November, particularly, is a month for planning for the future rather than being taken up by the demands of the present. There is still plenty of work to do outdoors though.
In the vegetable garden, clearing the finished remains of crops, like runner beans, and getting the winter digging done will be high on the list. If you make compost, and I hope you do, this is the time to use it, spreading it fairly thickly over the soil before digging it in. Don’t forget, though, that you will probably need some of it for mulching. If you plan to leave dahlias in the ground they need about nine inches (should I say 23cm ) of mulch around the stems while soft fruit, roses and and newly planted shrubs all benefit from it. You can never have too much compost.
Before you clear the vegetable patch or beds, or at least before you forget what you have grown this year, it is a good idea to make a plan showing what was where. You can then plan what you will grow and where it can go for the next season. Relatively small areas may not leave much choice but, wherever possible, you need to keep in mind the principle of rotation. Some crops take goodness out of the soil and some, like beans with nitrogen, put it back. Also, diseases that affect particular plants can build up if those plants are always grown in the same place. It probably isn’t practical to be too fussy but the recommended practice is for a four year rotation where crops are grown in a cycle of brassicas (cabbages, sprouts etc) followed by pods (beans and peas), then root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, parsnips and beetroot and finally alium ( onions, leeks and garlic). It is also good to keep in mind the relative height of plants so that a tall crop like runner beans doesn’t take all the sun from other plants.
November is also a good time for thinking about the seeds and new plants that you will want for next year. Shopping for seeds and plants can increasingly be done on-line but I still like to browse through a catalogue where it is easy to see the range of possibilities and make comparisons. Before you buy vegetable seeds remember that many will last for more than one season so check the packets for final sowing dates or rely on trial and error. For example, brassicas and tomatoes are long lasting while parsnip and sweet corn do need fresh seed. From now on and the next three months or so this is the time for planting roses, fruit bushes and trees with bare roots. Most plants can nowadays be bought in containers and planted at any time but they generally establish better, are cheaper and available in greater variety (especially if bought direct from a nursery) if bought with bare roots. Evergreen shrubs and most herbaceous perennials (if not planted by October) are best left until spring for planting.
Much of the weather in October has been unusually mild but you should be prepared for frost at any time. Tender plants like pelargonium (commonly geranium) and non-hardy fuschias should have been brought inside by now. With milder winters there is less prospect of shrubs being damaged by frost but it is wise to have horticultural fleece available and to keep an eye on the weather forecast so that plants can be covered if necessary. I mentioned dahlias earlier on and, although they may well survive left in the ground and mulched, it is wise to take some inside to overwinter. They can be put in earth or compost in a pot or cleaned and left bare in a box after leaving for a while upside down to drain water from the stems. In any case dahlias should be cut down to ground level after the first frost.
Final tips: Tulip bulbs should be planted this month. Keep an eye on stored fruit to check for rotting. Bring alpines in pots into cover under well-ventilated glass. They will tolerate cold but not wet.