You will be familiar with the British Rail logo of parallel arrows pointing in different directions. When asked what the logo meant, I once heard someone say that it meant that BR didn’t know whether they were coming or going. The logo also serves as a theme for this month’s activity in the garden as it is a time for looking in two directions; dealing with the aftermath of the year that has gone and looking forward to the months to come through winter and on to spring …Clearing up from the autumn leaf fall will be a major task this month and make sure that you use the dead leaves profitably. Sweep them off paths and rake them off lawns and put them in black plastic bags to make leaf mould for compost or a sowing medium after a couple of year’ storage. Stab the bags liberally to allow air in and put them away out of sight. When the leaf fall is not heavy it’s a good idea to combine leaf clearance with mowing the lawn so that the mixture of leaves and grass can be used in the compost bin. Leaves in a pond are a problem as they enrich the water, encouraging the growth of algae, and contribute to the build up of sludge at the bottom of the pond. That means netting the pond and keeping the net on until all leaves have fallen. Easy for a small pond but a large one will need canes or long pieces of wood to keep the net off the water. Remove leaves that weigh the net down on to the water.
You may want to keep dead perennial stems and seed heads for winter interest but floppy and untidy growth can be cut back. Roses and other shrubs may benefit from light pruning before the time comes for major pruning in spring. There will probably be some ground in a vegetable patch that is clear of growth and this can be cleared of weeds and dug over or hoed and raked if you are following a no dig routine. Manure or compost can be dug into the soil or used as mulch on top of it. When you make your own compost it is best to have two bins. This means that, at this time of year, you can transfer the top material from one bin to the other one and keep going until you reach well- rotted compost lower down. This is the best time for cleaning the glass in a greenhouse or frame.
Preparing for winter involves giving protection to tender plants that will be killed or damaged by frost. Plants in containers should be moved into a greenhouse or conservatory. Plants in the ground, such as dahlias, perennial begonia or pelargoniums (non-hardy geraniums) will need to be stored in dry compost or soil in pots or boxes in a frost-free place. Dahlias can be left in the ground until their foliage has been blackened by frost. Then, cut the stems back to a few inches above ground level, dig up the clump of tubers carefully and store upside down for a while to dry out before storing. Tie labels firmly on to named varieties. Alternatively, leave plants in the ground after cutting back and mulch heavily to a depth of several inches. Both methods may involve some loss of plants so I generally use both on a fifty/fifty basis. Tender plants that are too big to move inside should be well wrapped in horticultural fleece or other protective material.
Looking ahead to next spring there are plenty of things to be done. You may have home -grown spring bedding ready to plant out and it will also be available in garden centres and nurseries. Pansies or wallflowers are probably the most popular and readily available. If you have grown biennials or perennials from seed now is the time to plant them out in their permanent positions. Broad beans can be sown directly into the ground for an early crop next year and a popular variety is Aquadulce. You do need to use a variety bred for autumn sowing. You will get the longest flowering season from sweet peas if you sow them now in a greenhouse or cold frame. Heat is not needed. When seedling have four or five leaves nip out the tip to encourage the growth of side shoots. From now and on into the winter months plant new fruit trees, canes and bushes and ornamental trees and shrubs. Where bare-rooted plants are available they will establish well and be cheaper than container-grown plants. Wherever possible, collection will save delivery costs but advance ordering may be necessary, especially in the case of roses.