1 November 2023

Head Gardeners’ tips
November 2023

Amy Moffett - Head Gardener, Stoke Mandeville

November is when the garden really slows down to rest for the winter.

Thinking ahead for next year, November is the best time to get your bulbs in the ground and there are so many to choose from.

November is when the garden really slows down to rest for the winter. It’s the final month of autumn when the deciduous trees and shrubs lose the last of their leaves and the herbaceous perennials start to die right back. It might be very tempting to go out and tidy everything up, but it’s always good to leave a bit of ‘mess’ for wildlife habitat! If you can leave some leaves on the ground where they are, they will serve as a natural mulch, eventually breaking down and enriching the soil. Even leaving some leaves on the surface of your turf is great for increasing earthworm activity – why not enjoy the spectacle of seeing how the worms pull the leaves down under the turf, and in doing so improve drainage and soil structure below.

If you’re lucky enough to have lots of leaves then leaf mould is a wonderful thing to make – pile them all up in a corner somewhere, or inside a chicken wire frame, and leave them to rot down into a wonderfully crumbly earthy mulch which will be a fantastically nutritious material to add around your favourite plants next year. A huge pile of leaves can rot down to a relatively small amount of leaf mould, so it’s quite an expensive thing to buy for your garden and much more economical to make yourself if you can.

Leaving seed heads standing on herbaceous plants provides a winter food source for wildlife and looks beautiful in a frost, while leaves and twigs provide habitat for bugs and beasties. A small pile of branches or logs is a great place for small mammals and amphibians to hibernate, as well as a good habitat for various wood decay fungi.

You could even build a small pond as a winter project to really encourage more wildlife into your garden. Something like an old Belfast sink can be used to make an effective and attractive mini ecosystem – just make sure it’s well sealed and there is sloping access both inside and outside the pond for wildlife to get in and out. Choose about three water-loving plants for a pond of this size; a mixture of upright and floating plants is ideal and position the water feature somewhere where it ideally gets quite a lot of sun, but also some shade so that it doesn’t get too hot in the summer. Fill it with rainwater and wait for nature to establish itself.

Thinking ahead for next year, November is the best time to get your bulbs in the ground. There are so many to choose from; just pick your favourite colour scheme and think about the time of year you want the bulbs to come up next year. Tulips are a wonderful way to inject a serious amount of colour and joy into your garden and there are so many varieties that will start flowering from late March all the way through until the end of May! There are also a huge variety of daffodils, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, crocus, fritillarias, alliums and more that you can get in the ground now – many of which will come back year after year, so think of it as a long-term investment. Tulips are the only exception to this, and most varieties do need to be replanted each year to ensure a good display the following year.

As a general rule of thumb, plant each bulb two and a half times the depth of the bulb – the deeper the better – and of course make sure you plant them the right way up! Most bulbs have a pointy top which should be pointing upwards in the ground. You can also plant out cheery pansies and wallflowers to add a splash of colour over winter and early spring.

Finally, remember to remove saucers or trays from underneath your pots so they don’t get waterlogged over the winter. Larger pots might benefit from pot feet to raise them off the ground slightly to ensure free drainage. Terracotta pots can be insulated to protect them from the frost – bubble wrap works well although hessian cloth is more attractive and eco-friendly. Tender plants can also be protected with fleece, or moved into a glasshouse or conservatory for the winter if possible.

Happy gardening!

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