Jo’s Garden Corner – November
Soggy, brown, collapsed plants are an eyesore and deserve nothing better than cutting back and a decent burial on the compost heap. Cut down herbaceous stems and clear the tatty remains of annuals, but do leave a little cover of the perennials that fade relatively elegantly (sedum, astilbes and grasses for example). They will provide winter interest as well as some much needed wildlife shelter – ladybirds especially appreciate winter quarters and will repay your hospitality by disposing of aphids in industrial quantities next year. Leaving sodden debris and fallen leaves around plants will only encourage pests and disease. Clear out the greenhouse, wash pots and trays, clean, mend and oil your tools and throw away anything that is beyond hope or reasonable repair! Cleaning your greenhouse thoroughly will prevent pests from hibernating and leaping into action next spring. Wash the windows inside and out to allow maximum light in over the winter and scrub benches, fixtures and glazing bars with disinfectant, making sure you hose the whole place down really well, especially dark and dusty corners. Save yourself untold irritation and expense by draining and lagging standpipes, outdoor taps, irrigation lines and water pumps in advance of sudden hard frosts. For beds that lie bare in winter, carry on with the winter digging until the soil is too hard – use compost, manure, leaf mould – in fact as much organic matter as you can lay your hands on to replace the goodness in it. It can be left in a pretty rough state over the winter when the elements will break the clods down, making spring planting infinitely easier! For text book soil improvement, you should add a layer of organic matter and dig it in by turning over spadefuls so it is buried below the surface. If this seems too much like hard work, just mulch the bed and leave the rest to the worms! If your soil is thin or heavy clay, just fork it over now; too much digging on the former will bring up infertile matter from below whilst great chunks of wet clay will remain rock solid over the winter and become nigh on impossible to break up next year. Plant bare-rooted trees, shrubs, hedging and roses as well as fruittrees and bushes (see later). Soak the roots in a bucket of water for an hour first and protect against frost and wind if exposed. Fallen leaves prevent light and air getting to plants and lawns and these dark, damp conditions are also heaven on earth for slugs, snails and an unwholesome array of fungal diseases. However, don’t waste these tumbled treasures – given time they will decompose into fabulously rich leaf mould – aka ‘nature’s soil conditioner of choice’! Rake them up and throw into a simple frame made of chicken wire or wood. Failing that, black bin liners spiked with air holes will do if you can bear the sight, but remember to dampen the leaves first should they be dry (some hope!). Leaf mould takes about a year to mature (2 in the case of oak leaves), makes a great top dressing for woodland plants such as rhododendrons and is an excellent and FREE home-grown substitute for peat.