As this year draws near to its end we are seeing a repeat of last year’s weather; a long period of drought followed by a wet October. There is a difference though, as the period of drought was neither as prolonged or as hot as last year and particularly noticeable is the fact that lawns have recovered really quickly. After last year’s damage when the traditional advice of not watering the lawn in a dry period as it will quickly recover after rain proved wrong, not watering has been the right thing to do this time …Another gardening tradition is that any ground in the vegetable area which has been cleared should now be prepared for next year by digging it over, preferably with the addition of well-rotted manure or compost. The back-breaking task of double digging (turning over the soil to a depth of two spade lengths) has largely been abandoned, but many gardeners, including me, still do a one spade length turnover with the addition of compost. People who grow vegetables in raised beds will be used to the idea of not doing any winter digging and, this October, I have been interested to see major article in the magazine of the Royal Horticultural Society on the benefit of non- digging in open ground. It is increasingly thought that the more soil is disturbed the more weed growth will be encouraged and therefore, without digging, productivity can be maintained provided manure or compost is still added. With non-digging, compost can be added as a mulch. When the time comes for sowing the ground can be raked over and any weeds removed by hoeing. Not digging the soil sounds attractive so I will try it this winter.
November is the time for preparing for next year’s gardening and it is the best time for making changes in the position of shrubs and for dividing or moving perennial plants. With shrubs, try to dig up as much as possible of the root ball. With young shrubs this isn’t difficult but more mature specimens should be moved by cutting a trench round the circumference of the branch spread and then, from the bottom of the trench, cutting underneath the shrub. Try to ease the root ball out on to plastic sheeting so that the plant can be slid out and dragged to its new home where a hole has already been prepared, incorporating compost. Divide perennials by digging up a clump and prising it apart with two forks held back-to-back. Many perennials benefit from having a worn-out centre discarded with just the outer growth re-used.
From November onwards during the winter months many new plants can be put in. Roses, raspberry canes, fruit bushes and trees are cheaper now, bought as bare root plants rather than in containers.
Having recently been at their best, dahlias will soon need to be prepared for the winter. Once the plants have been blackened by frost, cut down the stems down to a few inches above ground level. Chop the stems up and compost them. If you plan to leave the plants in the ground cover them with a thick layer of compost (up to 9 inches deep if you can spare it). Alternatively, lift the tubers carefully and store in a frost free garage or shed. I think the best way to do this is to bury them in dry compost in a pot or box and leave them unwatered until the spring, when watering will get them to start sprouting. If you want to increase the number of dahlias, use the new shoots for cuttings. Otherwise thin them to not more than three shoots when planting them out in late May.
Tulip bulbs should be planted now, either in containers or in the open ground. Many tulips give their best show in the first spring after planting and need to be replaced for the next year. If you want to naturalise them from one year to another, say in grass, Darwin tulips are the best.
From now on through the winter months shrubs and trees can be pruned or cut back, although evergreens are best left until nearer the spring. Avoid pruning in frosty weather and, if you have access to a shredder, shred and bag up the off-cuts for mixing with grass cuttings and other green material in the compost heap.