November in the garden

The garden undergoes a lot of change in November, as its colours begin to fade and it becomes a little less productive than it was in late summer. There's plenty to get on with to prepare for next year, and there's still much produce to savour and enjoy.


The Cutting Garden

Sowing and Growing

  • Start sowing sweet peas for next year – overwinter under cover.
  • Take root cuttings from perennials like anchusa, phlox, verbascum, oriental poppy and acanthus.

Bulbs and Tubers

  • Plant the last of your autumn bulbs, eg tulips. Don't forget to put some in pots as well as in the garden.
  • Plant Paperwhite narcissi for Christmas (by the middle of the month).
  • Continue to plant indoor hyacinths (such as Hyacinth 'White Pearl') to stagger flowering.
  • Check forcing bulbs for roots and shoots. When they have approximately 3cm (1in) growth, bring them in to a cool windowsill.
  • Check stored summer bulbs for any signs of rot.

Harvesting

Lovely things to pick and arrange from your garden in November:

  • Tender perennials: chrysanthemums and the last of the dahlias
  • Hardy annuals: last of Euphorbia oblongata and scabious
  • Half-hardy annuals: cleomes
  • Perennials: gaura, schizostylis, nerines, Chinese lanterns, seed heads eg agapanthus and grasses
  • Shrubs and trees: hydrangeas and plenty of evergreens eg hebes, pittisporums, rosemary, sage, spindle and rhamnus

If you store small squash and pumpkins inside now for about a month, they will dry out well. They won’t be good for eating, but you can varnish their skins and pile them into a bowl for a still-life arrangement that will last through the winter.


Perennials, Shrubs and Trees

Pruning and Tidying

  • Prune your roses. Cut off most of the year's growth and take out large woody stems. Find out about the Sissinghurst method of pruning in our article.
  • Cut peonies back to promote healthy growth next spring.
  • Cut back and tidy borders and make a note of any changes, additions or divisions you wish to make next spring whilst the thought is fresh in your mind, as it's hard to remember back to how it looked once spring comes around.
  • Divide perennials that flower before midsummer’s day, such as oriental poppies, peonies and lupins, as well as spring-flowering hellebores, pulmonarias and Solomon’s seal. Dig up, divide and replant straight away. Perennials that flower after midsummer are best divided in the spring – that’s a good general rule.
  • Check any newly planted shrubs or trees, as if there's been a frost this can sometimes lift them from soil.
  • Add several inches of mushroom compost to your dahlia beds, or lift and store for the winter.
  • Deadhead pansies/violas/primulas regularly to keep the flowers coming.
  • Remove the last of the fallen leaves from around the base of plants to prevent slugs/snails overwintering.
  • Protect tender perennials with a mulch of compost.
  • Tie in long, loose shoots of climbers to prevent them being damaged in high winds.
  • Clear and dispose of any diseased rose leaves – don’t add them to the compost heap. Some roses hang on to their leaves. If these are diseased, try to pick them off. It helps to reduce blackspot next season.

Planting

  • Plant bare-root roses/trees/shrubs.
  • Move any established shrubs or trees when they are dormant. Prepare the new position well before lifting. Take as much of the rootball as you can, wrap in hessian and replant as soon as you can. Firm in well and keep watered. Check after frosts that the roots are still firmly in the ground.

The Kitchen Garden

Veg

Start planning next year’s vegetable crop to allow for a good rotation of crops. Growing the same type of crops on the same ground each year can cause a build up of pests and diseases affecting that type of crop. Crops can be grouped as follows: roots, brassicas, legumes (peas, beans) and everything else (potatoes, onions, tomatoes). Move your crops around each year so that the same group of crops isn’t in the same area for more than one season.

  • Sow pea tips. Sow a box or gutter pipe of pea tips inside, ready for salads, soups or risottos at Christmas. Scatter the seed across the length and width of the compost and put them anywhere cool, but in good light. Sown now, you can pick straight from the gutter pipe – no garden required.
  • Continue to plant garlic, as it likes a period of dormancy and cold prior to growing away in the spring.
  • Sow hardy peas under fleece for an early crop next year.
  • Clear away climbing beans, then pull up, clean and store away canes and supports.
  • Improve soil, digging over bare ground and forking in bulky, well-rotted manure. Digging it now will allow time for cold winter weather to break down clay into a more workable soil.
  • Check stored potatoes for signs of rotting.

Salad and herbs

Fruit

  • Start pruning apple and pear trees. Cut back the leader branches by a third and remove completely any branches that are crossing and rubbing against each other. Mulch after pruning.
  • Plant a fruit tree – an apple or pear. Dig a hole twice the size of the rootball and break up the base, adding plenty of organic matter (leaf mould or manure). Plant the tree to the same level as it was previously. As with roses, this ensures the graft is below soil level.
  • If you have no more space for a fruit tree in the ground, plant one in a pot. Use a 37-litre filled with John Innes No 3, mixed with about a third of tree or shrub compost and some Osmocote (or other slow-release fertiliser), with plenty of crocks in the bottom.
  • Summer-fruiting raspberries and blackberries need cutting back, tying in etc. Leave autumn-fruiting raspberries until later in the winter.
  • Tidy strawberry beds, cutting back old foliage and congested runners and removing weeds.
  • If you have plenty in the garden, you can force some rhubarb inside. Lift a crown of rhubarb, divide it in half and leave it exposed until you’ve had a couple of good frosts. Then bring it inside into a warm cellar or laundry room to plant into spent compost in an old compost bag. Water and place an upturned container or bin over the top to exclude all light. As soon as the stems are big enough to harvest (in about four weeks), pull what you want.
  • Regularly check fruits in storage and remove any showing signs of rot.

Harvesting

Here's what you could be picking and eating this time next year or, if you're an old hand, already are:

  • Brassicas: kale, red and green cabbages and first Brussels sprouts
  • Roots: parsnips (start to lift parsnips after the first frosts have sweetened their flavour), last carrots, beetroot, celeriac (under straw) and Jerusalem artichokes
  • Salad: all hardy salad leaves, eg rocket, winter purslane, mustards and Florence fennel
  • Edible flowers: nasturtiums and violas
  • Leafy greens: chard and spinach
  • Squash: stored pumpkin and squash
  • Stems: leeks
  • Herbs: hardy cut-and-come-again herbs (eg parsley, par-cel, coriander, chervil) plus evergreens (eg rosemary, sage, bay and winter savory)

Discover Sarah's favourite recipes for November, including her favourite toffee apples, chicory and blood orange salad and venison casserole with no-suet dumplings.


Other jobs

  • Water pots outside if you have experienced a very dry spell.
  • Ensure containers are lifted off the ground to prevent waterlogging.
  • Spike lawns and brush sharp sand or grit into the holes to improve drainage.
  • Rake up leaves from all around the garden and pack them, still damp, into string sacks or even black bin liners with a few holes pierced through to ensure at least a little air circulation. Then put the filled sacks somewhere out of the way and forget about them for a year or so. The leaves will slowly rot down into leaf mould, perfect for soil conditioning and mulching the garden this time next year.
  • Avoid walking on the lawn if it is waterlogged to avoid compacting the soil.
  • Wrap insulation around outdoor taps and water pipes.
  • Last sowing of green manures early in the month.
  • Check tree ties and stakes. Make sure the ties are not cutting into the trunks.
  • Clean your tools. Remove soil from metal tools, wash them and allow them to dry thoroughly. Remove dirt and sap from your secateurs using either lubricant or household cleaner and wipe off with a tissue or rag. Once clean, smear lubricant onto the bevelled edge and rub with a scourer.
  • Protect any precious ceramic pots by bringing them under cover. In frosty conditions, small cracks soon become large cracks. Make sure any pots left outside are raised on pot feet or bricks so that water can drain out.
  • Empty the contents of well-composted bins and spread over bare soil.

In the greenhouse

  • If you haven’t already done so, clean and tidy your greenhouse ready for the winter. Insulate your greenhouse with bubble polythene and check your heaters are working. Check your cuttings and remove any spent blooms and dead leaves from overwintering plants to prevent pests and disease. Keep good air circulation around potted chrysanthemums to avoid mildew.
  • Water much more sparingly now conditions are turning cooler.
  • Keep an eye on pelargoniums. Deadhead spent flower heads and remove tatty leaves.

Wildlife and pests

  • Apply glue bands or greasebands to the trunks of fruit trees to prevent wingless female winter moths climbing the trunks and laying their eggs in the branches.
  • Remove fallen leaves and dead foliage from borders and pots to prevent pests overwintering amongst it.
  • Provide bird baths and bird feeders. Leave seed heads on plants in the borders. Birds are vital to have in the garden and will keep pest numbers down.
  • Check your bonfire pile for hibernating wildlife.
  • Clean out nesting boxes so that birds can shelter inside them during the winter.
  • Leave some berries on plants such as holly and rosehips – they are food for wildlife.