In September I was away on holiday in rural North Wales, near the sea but away from any big town, and I saw stars. At night the sky was black and the stars stood out with a wonderful brightness; the constellations sharp and clear and myriads of other stars that make the night sky so wonderful, mysterious and awe –inspiring. This is something we have lost, living on the edge of a big town like Bedford where the night sky is never darker than a vague grey awash with an orange glow. A few of the brighter stars and constellations still show but so much of the detail is lost and one of the delights of going out into the garden at night has been taken from us …
Fortunately, most of the enjoyment of gardening comes from what we do in daylight, whether it is working in the garden or looking at its beauty, and we can get on with that even in November. November is a month for tidying up and cutting down. Opinion varies on whether you should cut down dying stems and foliage now or in February. Frosted seed heads can look lovely throughout the winter and can provide food for the birds but you can also be left with a bit of a mess and a lot of work. Perhaps a bit of both is the best answer and, although the main time for pruning shrubs is in the early spring you can profitably cut back longer stems on roses and hardy fuschias. Pruning evergreen shrubs is always best left until spring.
Tidying up at this time of year especially means clearing leaves and, as I have said before, don’t throw them away. It’s well worth the effort of packing them densely into black plastic bags, stabbed with a fork to let air in, tied up and left for at least a year and preferably longer and you will have wonderful leaf mould for mixing with compost for sowing or potting and especially for mulching. Woodland and shade loving plants benefit greatly from mulching with leaf mould. Water them first if the soil is dry. If you have a pond make sure you net it to keep the leaves out of the water.
November is a good time for planting roses, shrubs and fruit trees and raspberries while there is still some warmth in the soil and before it gets too wet. Most plants are sold nowadays in containers but at this time of year bare root fruit trees and raspberries will be available, especially from online or mail order from specialist nurseries rather than garden centres. This is also the time for planting tulips, and, if you haven’t bought them yet, you may be able to get them from garden centres at a reduced price.
You will need to keep the dangers of frost in mind. Plants that aren’t hardy, like pelargonium (non-hardy geraniums) and most fuschias should have been brought inside by now. Once they have been blackened by frost, dahlias should be cut down almost to ground level. They can be mulched thickly and left in the soil or dug up, dried and brought into a frost free place. They can be left in a box as bare tubers but I think it is better to put them into a container in compost. It is worth wrapping shrubs with a low frost tolerance in horticultural fleece which is available online and at garden centres. It can be bought by length from a roll or as large ‘bags’ which can be fitted over a shrub. The roots of plants grown in containers can be protected from frost by wrapping the pot in bubblewrap and this will help to protect the pot itself. Pots are often not as frost resistant as the manufacturers would like to think.
If you have a vegetable plot try to get it dug as soon as possible and if you have got rotted manure or home- made compost spread this thickly on the surface and dig it in. In the milder winters that we often have nowadays lawns will keep growing so keep cutting the grass as necessary but on a high setting.