This Month in the Garden – November 2023

Well yesterday (I am starting to write this in October) the garden and allotment came to St James’ Church.  Thank you to everyone who provided fabulous flowers and foliage – you know who you are – it made decorating the church for the Harvest Festival so easy and such a pleasure.  There were some lovely arrangements  – they were all splendid – but sadly to accompany this article, I only have room for one photo.  I have chosen the one which I think will show up best in the print version of The Loop.  As we worked away in the church I was remembering Joy and Maudie and Nancy and Sheila and Janet to name just a few of those who have given their time so willingly in the past to enhance the beauty of our lovely church and long may these traditions continue …

The weather has been lovely but will soon be turning colder and if like me you are keeping an eye on the weather forecasts to make sure of not being caught out when trying to protect tender plants do make sure that you scrutinise all pots carefully before transfer to greenhouses as slugs and snails can easily be transported and create havoc during the coming months.  There was a great deal of snail activity in my garden during the summer and as a result I am inundated with baby snails.  They are clinging to plants and bedding down in broken pots for the winter.  What a dilemma – do I squash them or leave them to grow to provide food for blackbirds and thrushes next year?  I tend towards the latter – little wonder that my hostas are so ragged.  When putting plants into the greenhouse think about the conditions they will need.  I used to grow auriculas and, having taken advice from the head gardener at Woottens of Wenhaston, the auricular specialists, they told me that, when over wintering their auriculas, they leave the windows and vents open throughout the winter, whatever the temperature.  These plants do not mind the cold but can’t abide the wet.   Having left my plant house windows open for many years now throughout  the winter I find I am less plagued by botrytis.  However, for some overwintering plants the windows and vents do need to be shut, just opening on milder days to let the air circulate.  Water everything very sparingly, more plants are lost through over watering than not enough.  By November I cease watering until February unless anything looks desperate.

Lots to do in the garden in November but do go easy on the cutting back.  Leave as many seed heads as possible for the birds, also these and grasses provide good habitat for over wintering insects.  My hydrangeas have not been good this year – a result of the very dry conditions in 2022 I think.  Leave the old flower heads on throughout the winter as this protects the rest of the plant and the new growth from frost.  Wait until Spring to prune back to two fat buds and take out about one third of the older and taller stems, this will keep the plant compact and manageable.  This is the month to check the whole garden over to deal with anything that is likely to be at risk  from cold, wind or waterlogging.  Dig up dahlia tubers once the first frost has blackened their stems and leaves.  Rinse off the soil, dry off and store the tubers in a frost free place, initially upside down so that the sap drains out of the stems.  If your soil is well drained you can risk leaving the tubers in the ground over winter, but do mulch well to protect them.  Now is the time to plant bare-root shrubs, roses and hedging.  If we get a dry spell do water them well.  Divide fibrous rooted perennials like Michaelmas daisies.  Cut them down to about 10 cms from the ground, dig them up and then use two garden forks back to back to separate them.  If you garden on heavy clay then it is better to do this in the Spring.

This month we will be planting up our containers to provide winter interest.  Foliage is always good but the small viola flowers along with the hellebores provide a good nectar source for the winter pollinators.  Also remember to raise tubs and pots off the ground a little with pot feet or small bricks to prevent waterlogging.  We have had some very strong winds lately so it is a good idea to prune roses a little to prevent wind rock.  The pruning can be finished off in February next year.  Plant out shallots, onion sets and garlic they all overwinter well.  Also, sweet pea seeds can be planted now in root trainers or the inner tubes of toilet rolls.  The small plants will survive in an unheated greenhouse and some people think that sowing now rather than in the Spring provides a stronger plant.  I must remember to buy some Paper white narcissi – they only take 4-6 weeks to flower and provide a lovely scent in my conservatory.  Something to look forward to now that the shorter days are upon us …

Linda Truscott

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