Winter is on its way and the leaves are falling rapidly, and wind and rain are on the increase. Judging by the rain we've had over the past few days and the reports of flooding that we've heard about then that's certainly the case.
Despite all of that there are still a number of jobs that we need to think about, and that will keep us busy.
1. Put away your lawn mower.
By November, the weather should be cold enough for the lawn not to need regular cutting. Clean the underside of your mower by scraping off dried clippings and make sure the collecting bag is empty. If it's a petrol mower, drain off the fuel, as unleaded petrol doesn't store well.
Or do what we do and get someone else to do that and service your mower at the same time. We’re taking ours to our local specialist – and whilst we’re there we’ll ask them to service the rest of our kit too. Doing that now means that we’ll avoid the last minute rush in the New Year and then, when we need to start using it again in the spring, we’ll be good to go.
2. Collect your leaves.
The main reason that you might want to collect leaves is if you want to create your own leaf mould – a great idea if you have the space.
However there’s no need to go over the top with collecting autumn leaves as worms will pull any that fall onto the ground back into the soil and help improve it. The exception to that would be around your roses where leaves with black spot should be collected and then burnt. Try to clear leaves away from paths and patios, though, as they can form a slippery layer.
3. Sharpen your secateurs.
It's a busy time of year for tidying up, so make the job easier by sharpening your secateurs. Begin by cleaning off any hardened sap with wire wool. Then, use a fine-grade sharpening stone, hold the secateurs firmly in your hand and sharpen both edges of the cutting blade on anvil secateurs, and only the outer edges of the blades on bypass secateurs.
Some manufacturers offer a sharpening service – we use Felco Number 2 secateurs and we know that they do. However there’s not a lot to it so we’ll be taking ours apart shortly and giving them a clean and sharpen.
4. Prune your apple and pear trees, and roses to prevent windrock.
The general rule is to remove dead or weak growth and any crossing branches. Shorten this year’s growth on main branches by a third, to a bud facing the direction you want it to grow in.
We’ll be at the allotment shortly looking carefully at our Bramley and Katy and we’ll start to prune them both during the month. We’ll also take a good look at our pear trees that we’re training as espaliers.
Different types of rose benefit from being pruned at different times of the year but if you look after your roses now, they will get safely through the winter, coming back healthy, vigorous and full of flowers next year.
5. Mulch your bare soil.
As you clear summer crops on the veg patch, increase the bed’s fertility for next year by mulching with organic matter, such as garden compost or spent mushroom compost. Apply a 2 inch deep layer and leave the worms to drag it into the soil.
We’re also mulching flower beds and borders. We’re amazed at how few gardeners do that. We give the beds a good weed and then source some good quality compost from a local supplier that we then apply to the beds. That not only keeps the weeds at bay but also helps feed the soil and conserve moisture.
6. Turn your compost heap.
Turn heaps of compost made since late summer to speed up the breakdown of your ingredients and improve quality. It’s hard work – and explains why we rarely do it - but it makes a worthwhile difference as it speeds up decomposition.
It only needs to be done once and is a way of introducing oxygen to the heap. This feeds the bacteria, which promotes further decomposition. It’s also a good opportunity to break up any lumps you find and mix the ingredients.
The easiest way to do it is to dig out the whole heap with a fork and move it into an empty neighbouring bin. We’ve got two bins at the allotment that are both partially filled. We’ll follow our own advice and get up there one weekend and empty them both onto a tarpaulin sheet, mix it all together and then put it back into one bin. And then we’ll turn it again and do it properly.
2022 will be the year when the plot becomes a show plot!
7. Sow your broad beans, onion and garlic.
The soil is still warm enough from the summer to enable us to sow some veg now that should reward us with an earlier and better crop next year. Sowing broad beans, onions and garlic now allows the plants to develop a root system that little bit earlier. And this means that they’ll be in good shape to get really growing in the spring.
If we get a very hard winter and the autumn-sown plants fail, you can always sow more in February so apart from the cost of the seeds there’s not really anything to lose. And don’t forget that a few cloves of garlic can be planted in a pot at home – you don’t necessarily need a veg bed or an allotment to grow your own.
8. Plant your tulips.
Some say that planting tulips in November helps avoid the fungal disease tulip fire. Some say it doesn’t! However, now is a good time to plant tulips, as they enjoy the cool, moist conditions that are associated with this time of year. You can get them from specialist online suppliers – great if you’re after something special – or from garden centres, DIY stores and even some supermarkets. Look for bulbs that have intact skins and don't show signs of mould. Tulips should be planted three times the depth of the bulb.
We’ve got ours in – all planted up in our collection of various galvanised tanks, tubs and bins - and all have been topped off with some winter bedding plants. The thing is we can’t resist an offer so when we were offered with 30% off another order, we found ourselves buying another 20 bulbs from the Suffragette Collection!
9. Plant out your winter bedding.
Bedding plants can range from fancy public gardens in the local park to the smallest front garden. They provide a temporary decorative seasonal display for beds, borders, containers and hanging baskets. At the appropriate time during the season, they can be grown from seed, bought as young seedlings – plugs - or purchased in multi-packs and cellular trays, ready for planting.
We bought some Erysimum – wallflowers - the other day to top off our tulips. They’re hardy biennials which means they’ll complete their life-cycle in two seasons – although in the past we’ve had wallflowers that seemed to come back year after year.
10. Order your bare-root plants.
There are several reasons to consider buying bare rooted plants such as roses, hedging, shrubs and fruit trees. Not only do they tend to be cheaper than the pot-grown equivalents but, certainly in the case of fruit trees, you also tend to get a greater choice of variety and rootstock.
They are though only available in the dormant season – now - so you need to be quick. Buying bare-root plants is also good for the environment as the plants are grown in the ground so no peat is used.
Try to plant them as soon as they arrive. Otherwise, give them a good soak in a bucket of water then roughly plant – “heel them in” - in a corner of the garden until you're ready to put them in properly.