Gardening Advice for Mid-November to Mid-December

I love the autumn, the colourful falling leaves and burnished tones add to the romance and beauty of the garden.  Make the most of the autumn planting opportunities available now, order seed catalogues, and create a beautiful garden to enjoy all year round.  There’s still lots to do in the garden or at your allotment now!

Mycorrhizal fungi are species of fungi that occur naturally in the soil.  These fungi have a special growing relationships with plants, they effectively work together to create a stronger, wider reaching root system for the plant.  The extensive root systems that result from plants’ symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi, help their host plants to be more able to withstand drought and stress and to obtain nutrients in greater quantities.  You can purchase a concentrated amount of these beneficial, UK grown fungi at nurseries and garden centres.  Mycorrhizal fungi are ideal to use when planting bare root roses, trees, shrubs, fruit trees and bushes, and now is the ideal time to plant these.

This is a good time to assess and re-evaluate your garden.  As long as the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged, you can move plants that have become too big for their current situation.  Using a fork, always lift as large a root ball as is possible, it’s worth applying some mycorrhizal fungi to your plant’s roots, to help the plant establish itself in a new position, and stake if necessary.  Cover your plant’s roots with soil, water if necessary, then apply a mulch of home-made or peat-free compost to add goodness to the soil, conserve moisture, and help suppress weed growth.  It’s often good to have a rearrange, you could improve your garden, and the view from your house or flat, so it’s worthwhile taking time out for a cup of tea, to check whether you’re making the most of your plants and garden.

Prune gooseberries and redcurrants now.  Remove any dead, dying or diseased wood first, then remove any very low shoots that sometimes appear close to the ground, next remove any central growth coming from the centre of the plant, and any crossing shoots, to leave an open goblet shape.  This open shape will allow good air circulation, which is really beneficial to the health of your plants, and helps to deter pests such as gooseberry sawfly.

Hardwood cuttings of redcurrants, whitecurrants, pinkcurrants, blackcurrants, and gooseberries, can be taken now.

It’s the perfect time to divide mint.  This is a great job to do now for the best mint next year.  Pot up a few roots to bring indoors for a fresh supply of fragrant leaves.

Wash up pots and trays.  It’s a boring job, but not only will you feel virtuous afterwards, you’ll be ready for seed sowing in the spring.  If you want to sow Sweet Pea seeds now use deep pots like Rootrainers, which allow for their long roots.

Hardy broad bean varieties such as ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ can be sown outside now.  Make sure you protect your sowings from pigeons, or they will eat your crops.  As the weather gets colder it is worth protecting the crop with fleece or Enviromesh, which will provide extra protection from the elements, as well as any cheeky pigeons!

Think ahead and select a site to grow your runner beans next summer, choose an area with deep soil, in a sunny, but sheltered spot.  Runner beans produce their own nitrogen in nodules that grow on their roots, these nodules add to the soils fertility, enabling the runner beans to grow in the same spot each year.  Runner beans really benefit from a traditionally prepared trench, which which increase your soil’s water holding capacity and provide additional nutrients.

To prepare bean trenches: dig a trench about 18” (45cm) deep, loosening the soil at the bottom with your fork, then mix in vegetable peelings, tea bags, comfrey leaves, pelleted poultry manure, compost, and shredded plain unprinted paper, that has been soaked in buckets of water in with the soil, and cover with additional soil or compost.  Runner beans can’t be sown now, you’ll have to wait until the weather warms up in mid-May, but preparing your trench now will give you a water retentive bed, and the best possible start for your beans.

If your ivy is not flowering, this is probably the best time to cut back overgrown ivy.  Ivy is such a great plant to have in your garden, it provides food and shelter for so many creatures.  Bees, butterflies, and birds, all benefit hugely from ivy.  Ivy is a wonderful plant to enjoy all year round, but it’s wise to remove it from guttering, and anywhere else it has got, or is getting out of hand now.  Although, if your ivy is flowering it is best to delay pruning your plants, as ivy flowers are such a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects.

Clean out bird boxes and put food out for the birds. If you’re using fat or suet balls, do make sure you remove any plastic netting before positioning them the garden, as the netting can get tangled around the bird’s tongues resulting in injury or a painful death.  Special feeders are available, or you can make your own with half a coconut and some twine.  Regularly clean bird feeders and bird baths; always do this outside, wearing gloves and using separate cleaning utensils.

Plant indoor Hippeastrum – sometimes mistakenly known as Amaryllis, Lily, Fritillaria meleagris, Narcissus, and Tulips now.

If you’re going to lift your Dahlias, and they have already been blackened by frost, then now is the time to do it.  Lift your plants on a dry day, storing them in a tray of peat-free compost or sand, positioned in a dry, cool, frost-free place.

Check stakes and ties on trees, removing any ties that are too tight, or have weathered, and replace as necessary.

Regularly clear leaves from lawns and around plants, remove worm casts from lawns.  In sheltered, quiet areas of the garden, leave piles of leaves for hibernating animals like hedgehogs.

Cut back Asparagus foliage to the ground, remove and burn the foliage, to help prevent any Asparagus Beetles over-wintering.  Thoroughly weed the bed, and then apply a mulch of well-rotted manure or garden compost.

Carefully hoe areas where spring bulbs are planted, this will help keep the weeds in check – once the bulbs start emerging this will be harder to do, so it’s worth spending a few minutes on this now – to save time and energy in the long run.

If you are planning a bonfire, thoroughly check before lighting to spare any hedgehogs.  A good idea is to move your bonfire pile to a new site to light.  It may take extra time and effort, but it is more than worth it to know you haven’t killed a lovely hedgehog!

Service and sharpen lawnmowers and secateurs.

Plant garlic and elephant garlic.

Lift and divide rhubarb crowns.

Avoid walking on lawns in frosty weather.

Order seed catalogues.

Prune vines in the greenhouse.

Put up new fences and repair old ones or plant hedges.

Insulate outdoor pots with bubble wrap or hessian.

Winter prune apple and pear trees.

Remove yellowing leaves or any showing signs of infection from salad crops and brassicas.

Apply slow acting fertilisers, like bone-meal.

Ventilate greenhouses and cold frames on dry days, to increase air circulation and prevent disease.

Place a ball on the surface of your pond to stop it freezing over completely.

This article was first published in the mid-November 2012 edition of The Surrey and Hants News.

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