What to do in the garden in November

There have only been a few signs during October that autumn is on the way, as temperatures have generally held up well and rainfall has been low.  The soil still feels warm, which means that onion sets, shallots and garlic planted recently should get off to a good start – and the same goes for October sowings of hardy annuals to provide plenty of colour from early summer onwards next year, which is something to look forward to.

The trial grounds have now been cleared of this summer’s flowers and vegetables, and all varieties of both have been assessed by our horticultural team, who can now make use of the information when they start to decide which new strains we should consider listing for the future.  One of the main functions of our trials is to decide whether new strains of flowers and vegetables are improvements on those we already offer.

The trials team will soon start preparing and improving the soil during the autumn to make sure it is in as good condition as possible for next year’s sowings.  Our soil here at Kentford is light and rather stony, but trials manager Brian Talman does a superb job in getting it into shape to produce plants of outstanding quality.  His knowledge and expertise is the result of 50 years spent in horticulture – and it shows!

Pumpkings on the trial field at Kentford

Now the clocks have been turned back, it really does seem that summer is over and that we are heading into winter.  As the nights draw in, the best type of gardening is sitting in a comfy armchair armed with a plant and seed catalogue or browsing the website before deciding what to grow next year.  Do try and grow one or two of our new introductions to see how they compare with your favourite varieties.  We go to great lengths to select only those varieties which we feel are improvements on older strains and those which we feel will perform well in our uncertain climate but we are always happy to hear feedback from our customers on how seeds perform around the UK.


Jobs in the flower garden in November

Tulip Prinses IreneAny remaining spring-flowering bulbs still to be set should go in the ground or containers this month.  Ideally, daffodils and hyacinths should already be planted in the garden in October, but tulips are usually planted later than these.  Unlike daffodils, they do not root until the weather turns colder.  Tulips originate from Turkey’s mountain slopes, where they experience cold winters, wet springs and roasting hot summers.  The closer we get to these conditions, the happier our tulips should be!

There are 15 ‘divisions’ or types of tulips, so we really are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing which sorts to grow.  The so-called botanical tulips (divisions 12-15) include the compact growing Tulipa kaufmanniana and Tulipa greigii, which are just the job for planting in containers or at the front of beds and borders.  For sheer exuberance it is difficult to beat the Rembrandts (division 9), which includes the ‘broken’ colours, which were so sought after at the height of ‘Tulipmania’ in the Netherlands.  For large-headed, tall tulips, look out for the Darwin Hybrids (division 4); these look particularly effective in massed plantings, where they make a great splash of colour in late April and early May.

Tulip Couleur CardinalAnd so, November is the ideal time to plant tulip bulbs.  They do best in well-drained soil and in full sun.   Plant them deep – with 4-6in of soil above the top of the bulb.  Try tulip varieties such as Prinses Irene, Couleur Cardinal and Abu Hassan in the garden in November for some strong and vibrant extra colour in your spring beds next year.

Gladiolus corms can now be lifted ready for drying and storing for next year.  Carefully fork them out of the ground, removing all soil from round them before cutting off the dying stems about 5cm above the top of the corms.  Dry them in trays in the greenhouse or shed before removing the final piece of stem and storing the corms somewhere dry, cool, but frost-free until the time comes to plant them again next spring.

Beds and borders can now be given an autumn overhaul, removing leaves and other debris.  Falling leaves from deciduous trees are best swept up from lawns and borders as soon as possible to help prevent the build-up of pests and diseases.  Some people cram them into black binbags, spike them liberally with a fork and put them somewhere out of sight and mind for a year or so, after which they should have magically transformed into rich, crumbly leafmould, which makes a very good soil improver.

Any remaining annuals can also go on to the compost heap and perennials trimmed back to about half their full height.  Remember to remove any supports which were assisting taller types and store these in the shed until required again next summer.

Winter and spring bedding plants, such as polyanthus, primrose, pansy, bellis (double daisy) and forget-me-nots can now be planted out to the garden or to patio pots and containers.  They should be hardy and come through even tough winters relatively unscathed to provide us with some welcome early colour in the weeks and months ahead.

There is still just time to lift, divide and re-plant Iris reticulata, before they start to flower again in late winter and early spring.  They do best in full sun or partial shade, and are also well suited to pot culture thanks to their neat, compact habit.  The pale blue and yellow Katharine Hodgkin is deservedly one of the most popular of this type, and is widely available.

Gardener's fleeceBefore winter really arrives, wrap tender container plants with plastic bubble-wrap, fleece or hessian sacking, taking care to protect the stems well.  Alternatively, move the pots into a greenhouse or outhouse, if space allows.  Most of these tender plants will require only minimal watering in the months ahead as they pass into their dormant stage.

If you have any Begonia semperflorens still flowering in the garden, and in our experience they often flower into November in mild autumns, why not pot up one or two of the better looking specimens and bring them indoors to provide you with some ‘free’ house plants for a few more weeks?  They should do well on a warm windowsill.

If you have shrubs such as Deutzia, Buddleia, Forsythia and Viburnum growing in the garden and wish to increase your stock, why not try taking hardwood cuttings of these?

Once they have lost their leaves and start to become dormant, it is easy to choose healthy shoots from this year’s growth.  Remove any soft growth at the very tip and then cut into 15cm sections.  Make a sloping cut just above a bud at the top and a horizontal cut just below a bud at the base – so you will know how to plant them.  Fill a large pot with a gritty potting mixture (half coarse grit and half multi-purpose compost is good) and plant the cuttings so just a third of their length is above the surface.  Next spring they should make leaf growth, keep them well watered during the summer and next autumn you will have young plants for potting on or planting out.

As autumn winds increase, prune back hybrid tea and floribunda roses to at least half their height to prevent them becoming loose in the soil.  Final pruning, when they are cut back harder ahead of next year’s new growth, can be delayed until next February or March.

Wild birds love holly, pyracantha and cotoneaster berries at this time of year, but if you want to save some to use as part of your Christmas decorations in a few weeks’ time it is a good idea to net a branch or two now so you still have some left!  Many people feed the birds all-year-round, and they certainly need help during the winter.  Sunflower hearts are a superb (if rather expensive!) high energy food much loved by goldfinches, blue tits and a host of other birds.  Finely diced hard cheese, chopped up apples and mealworms (which can now be bought in dried form) are other treats which will ensure a wide range of feathered visitors call regularly at your bird table.  Place your feeding station in an open position, where predators will have no cover in which to lurk, and ideally somewhere it can be seen from your windows to provide you with a little entertainment.

If you are looking for shrubs which provide fragrant flowers at this darkening time of year, consider planting Daphne odora, viburnum and chimonanthus (wintersweet) close to a door or path which is used regularly and where you will be able to appreciate their wonderful scents.  They will make you feel spring cannot really be that far away!

It is becoming rather trendy to leave the skeletal forms of herbaceous perennials in place, as they can sometimes look good when frosted.  On the other hand, do not feel guilty if you like to have the garden ‘put to bed’ by the end of the year by cutting them down to ground level during November!


Jobs in the vegetable garden in November

EnviromeshPigeons can often be a nuisance on brassicas at this time of year, stripping the leaves and leaving the plants struggling to survive.  A netting or fleece cover should help to protect your winter crops from these damaging marauders.

Check that Brussels sprout plants are still firm in the ground.  If they are becoming loose, heel them back into the soil to prevent them being blown over by strengthening autumn winds.  Pick up any yellowed leaves they have shed to prevent them harbouring any pests or diseases.

When conditions allow, start digging over any fallow sections of the vegetable plot or allotment. If you can incorporate well-rotted farmyard manure or home-made compost so much the better, as this will improve the fertility and structure of your soil. When you are clearing runner bean plants from the vegetable plot or allotment, why not just cut off the stalks at ground level, leaving their roots in the ground?  These provide a good source of nitrogen, which will be of benefit to subsequent crops planted in the ground.

Keep an eye on maincrop carrots and swede still to be harvested. If cold weather threatens, they may benefit from a mulch of compost or straw to protect them.  Alternatively, lift them and, if space allows, store them in boxes of dry sand until  required later in the season.

If parsley is still looking green and healthy in the garden, cover it with fleece or a cloche to keep it going for as long as possibly.  With a little luck, you should be able to keep a supply going through the winter and into next spring.  It makes a great addition, finely chopped, to home-made vegetable soup using leeks, potatoes, carrot, swede and parsnip, plus a stock cube or two.

Tomato,  aubergine and pepper plants can now be cleared out of the greenhouse and composted, along with the contents of any growing bags.  If the greenhouse is now empty, this is the ideal time to clean the panes inside and outside and to give it a thorough clean with a solution of Jeyes Fluid or similar to ensure it is as clean as possible for your next crops.  Seed trays and pots will also benefit from similar treatment, if you can find the time.

Staying in the greenhouse, there is a still time to make sowings of salad leaves in troughs or other containers.  Sow the seed thinly, and in just a few weeks you will be cutting tender ‘baby leaves’ for early winter salads.  Most are suitable for ‘cutting and coming again’ to give you more than one harvest.  Rocket, winter lettuce and mizuna are just some of the leaves you can sow.

salad leavesWhy not make sowings of salad leaves such as mixed lettuce or rocket in half-size seed trays and grow them indoors if you don’t have a greenhouse?  Placed on the kitchen windowsill, they will provide plenty of baby leaves for winter salads, sandwiches or simply as an attractive garnish to other dishes.  It is also worth sowing a pot or two of basil to grow alongside the leaves, if you love its Mediterranean flavour in your dishes through the autumn.  Even the very young leaves have that characteristic smell and taste!


Jobs in the fruit garden in November

November is usually a good month in which to plant bare-root fruit trees.  The soil is not yet hard and still retains some warmth, giving roots a chance to get established before winter really begins.  So if you have always wanted to create an orchard in your garden, or wish to expand the number of trees you already have, then now is the time to think about what you would like to plant.

Victoria Plum tree

We dispatch our fruit trees from late November onwards and offer a fine selection of both old favourites, such as Victoria Plum and Egremont Russet apple, and top-class modern varieties such as apricots Tomcot and Flavourcot.

Established fruit trees will benefit from an autumn mulch with well rotted organic matter.  This will not only help the soil to retain moisture and suppress weeds, but it will be drawn down into the soil to enrich it as autumn progresses into winter.

Trim out dead wood on summer fruiting raspberry canes if you have not already done so and either add the canes to the bonfire or chop into a compost heap for slow decomposition.  As the first hard frosts come in November you will find your autumn fruiting raspberries will suddenly stop fruiting and so keep on picking until this happens as they will not keep on fruiting forever!

japanese wineberry

Fancy growing some melt-in-the-mouth, juicy raspberries next summer?  We start despatch our top-quality canes this month as it is now also the perfect time to plant new soft fruits such as raspberry canes, gooseberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants or lift and divide (or lift and donate to friends!) any canes that have run out of their beds to help keep them in check.

Specially selected and grown from certified stock, our raspberry canes have a well developed root system and will start cropping as early as next summer.  Why not place an order for early season Malling Minerva, main season Glen Fyne or later cropping Tadmor?  Better still, order all three to ensure as long a season as possible.  You can never have too many raspberries!

Remember you will need strong posts at either end of the row, with thick wire running between them at regular intervals.  The canes can then be tied on to the wires as they grow next spring.  When planting the canes, spread the roots out carefully and plant at the same depth as the soil mark on the stems.

If you are looking for some unusual soft fruit to plant this autumn, our boysenberry, LingonberryJapanese wineberry and tummelberry may just take your fancy.  They need only the minimum of care and will reward you with good crops for many years to come.

Check stored apples and pears regularly to ensure they remain sound.  Remove and discard any which are starting to rot before they start causing those close to them to deteriorate.  Moving them around a little as you check also improves air flow round the fruit.

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