What to do in the garden in November

The winter months are quiet in the garden and mostly a time to catch up, clear up and tackle the weeds. I find after being shut indoors in bad winter weather it is lovely to get outside into the garden on milder days.  There are lots of studies around the links between good mental well being and gardening and I always feel better after time in the garden;  I confess I  find weeding therapeutic.

Lawn Care

If you like your lawn, it is worth taking the time to rake up the leaves. This task can seem pointless, especially as there are often more leaves to come, but piles of leaves spoil the lawn. They cut out the light and will cause the grass underneath to go brown and unsightly.

If you rake up the leaves, it is worth saving the leaves to make leaf mould, which is a great garden mulch. It is easy to make a pen, put 4 corner stakes into the ground and just use chicken wire and wrap it around the stakes. Rake up and pile the leaves in, they will rot down over the gardening year ready to spread on borders as mulch following winter/spring. You can tell when the leaf mould is ready to use as it becomes well-rotted,  and crumbly. If you have no space for a leaf mould bin, you can store leaves in bin bags but it is essential to put holes in to allow the air and drainage otherwise it can become a slimy mess.

Pond Care

Winter leaves in pond

Just as it does not benefit the lawn to have winter leaves on it, leaves are not good for ponds either.

This is because the leaves will rot down and add to the slurry at the bottom of the pond, but more importantly, rotted leaves will add nitrates to the water.  Nitrates enrich the pond water and can upset the natural balance, which in turn will make algae more likely and increase the chances of having a green pond in the spring. If these are a problem for you with your pond, consider skimming off the leaves. Similarly, cut off any decaying vegetation which may die back at this time of year.

It is the process of decomposition from either leaves or plants, which raises the nitrate level and reduces the oxygen, which is also not ideal if you have fish in the pond.

More information about Green ponds.

Winter berries bring birds into the garden

These are all easy to grow garden shrubs and trees which produce berries in late autumn and early winter, a big attraction for birds and wildlife. The mild spells in autumn and winter are a good time to plant trees and shrubs which will benefit from the high levels of rainfall. Our various garden birds eat a variety of different berries and seeds, and so by growing a few different berry producing shrubs you are providing food for a wide range of birds.

Cut back Perennials

The summer flowers are winding down and if you are a tidy sort of gardener, you will want to cut them down and make the borders neat. Nothing wrong in that - equally leave the borders as they are and it will give some small protection from frosts and provide cover for wildlife. If cutting back perennials use pruning shears to trim down close to the ground, but take care with some perennials as already by early November some perennials will have new shoots forming and emerging at the plant base.  It is important when cutting back not to damage the new growth.

One advantage of clearing the borders is to see the weeds lurking below and to clear them out before the winter, especially if you are mulching the borders as you do not want to mulch in the weeds. I am usually shocked to find just how many weeds have found a home in the border once I start to clear away the dead and brown foliage of the summer plants. Autumn is a good time to weed, as it always seems to me the weeds give way easier after a few frosts. 

Tree Washing

Bark on white birch tree

Some trees are grown for their attractive bark, such as illustrated which is Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis) and which can become dirty or prone to green moss, spoiling the appearance of the bark. 

The bark can be cleaned just using warm water and soft cloth to remove any accumulated grime and bring back the bright whiteness of the bark. Just like you would in the house, dust off the bark first and then wipe down with a wet cloth, no soap.

Plant Tulips

Lovely pink tulip

November is the best time for planting Tulips. Daffodils need to go in first in September and October; Tulips later in November. The correct planting depth is very important to ensure the bulb flowers.

One of the most common reasons why a bulb fails to flower is that it was planted too shallow and they will not flower after year one.  An easy rule of thumb is to plant the bulb 3 times its own depth and if unsure, plant deeper, and not shallow.

More detailed information about growing spring bulbs.

Check out Pinterest for inspiring spring bulb planting ideas 

Don't forget the tender plants

Overwintering plants can be a good way to save money and to have a more established plant for next spring. Some plants are not hardy enough to survive the winter outside and need frost protection. For more information about what "hardy " means check out the guide to frost hardy.

Some plants need frost protection to survive and which means they need to overwinter in a conservatory or unheated porch for the winter, other plants, the more tender, will only survive under glass if the greenhouse is heated or require the extra frost free environment of a conservatory. These are frost tender and include Pelargoniums (known as Geraniums) Fuchsias, Cannas and Dahlias. Other plants are more hardy but need some protection, particularly if your plot is exposed and will survive in an unheated greenhouse such as Chrysanthemums, lemons and other citrus, Bays, Olive, Salvias, Agapanthus and French Lavenders.  

If you are overwintering plants such as Pelargonium and fuchsias in the greenhouse, open the doors and vents on mild days to try and reduce the incidence of (Grey mould) Botrytis which often arises in airless, damp conditions.  A good tip is to raise the plants up on a simple trestle made from bricks to increase the airflow around the plants.  Most important with the cold damp air is to water plants sparingly less is more over the winter.

Winter Prune Roses

From now until early winter is a good time to prune roses especially climbing roses. This is a general prune reducing the size of the shrub by about a third to prevent wind rock. Wind rock is caused by the longer stems of the rose being caught by the wind, causing the plant to rock or move around in the wind, which in turn loosens its footing and roots. Over time, the entry point of the trunk into the soil widens and allows water and ice in thus damaging the plant and its roots.

November in the veg plot

Clear the Veg plot

Clear the veg plot

November is a good time,  if your plot has finished and you are not growing any veg over winter to clear the veg plot weeding, removing stones and debris from the year.

After clearing spread the plot with well-rotted manure or organic matter for the winter.

In early spring you can cover the plot with plastic to prevent any weed growth after the hard work of clearing it and this will serve to warm the soil up a little in the spring when you are ready to plant again.

Ripen Tomatoes

Tomatoes have fairly well stopped now, and it's time to cut your losses and bring them in to ripen. There are lots of ways suggested to ripen green tomatoes and much comment on which are successful ways to get the tomatoes to turn red. One fool-proof way to ripen tomatoes and it is to cut them on the vine, bring in and place on warm window sill, sunny porch or conservatory in dish or on cardboard and leave to ripen; they will.

I have used this method for years to ripen tomatoes and it does work; say goodbye to green tomato chutney for ever - more information on ripening tomatoes.

Plant Autumn Garlic

You can plant Autumn Garlic now and it is a very easy crop to grow indicated by the Green wheelbarrow : Garlic planted in the Autumn has the benefit of cold months which is said to improve the bulb formation and a longer growing season. If your plot is on the wet side, or particularly cold or exposed, you may find it better to plant Autumn Garlic under glass or in a greenhouse.

Tips and hints about growing Autumn Garlic 

Types of Garlic suitable for Autumn planting are  ‘Lautrec Wight’: but note it is not suitable for heavy soils or very cold plots, 'Early Wight’  and Elephant garlic, which garlic which produces a smaller number of large cloves of mild flavour. It is suitable for Autumn planting as it needs a long and warm growing season and is not suited to cold wet conditions.  Garlic Bella Italiano, a hard neck variety is suitable for Autumn planting and Garlic Provence Wight.

There are good number of Garlic bulbs now sold as suitable for planting at this time of year, but more important is whether your veg plot is suitable for autumn plant. If it is too wet or too cold better, to plant into containers or leave to the spring.

Updated 21.10.2021