Can we be aware that our unpaid but hard working Hedgehogs are looking for Winter quarters and we need to do all we can in helping to provide some cosy and safe accommodation for them. Not necessarily specially purchased hedgehog abodes, but just an extra pile of leaves or a wood pile they can call home. The Hedgehog Trust recommends making a small hole in any boundary fence for easy access for our prickly friends so they can travel to search for a suitable hibernation location. Is this something your neighbour would agree to?
Preparations need to be made now for the three month garden (not gardener!) sleep of December, January and February.
Don’t just leave leaves
Tidy them into plastic bags with some small holes in to prepare valuable leaf mould to be used as soil improver, one of the best along with compost and manure.
Dig excess leaves into the soil surface to avoid them being blown around. Worms will work hard processing them for soil improvement, and you don’t even have to pay them.
Remove leaves from lawns to avoid damaging the grass, by restricting air circulation and photosynthesis, which will turn the grass yellow Don’t forget to clear the pond surface of leaves with a rake!
Give all tools the brush off and rub them over with an oily cloth. The lawn mower and other electrical items will require a good clean, so they will be ready for use next season. Bring in portable garden lights to save batteries being damaged and switch them off.
Some border perennials and shrubs require a bit of protection with bubble wrap and mulching over the root area. Remove Dahlia and Begonia tubers and store in a cool dry frost free place.Dust with sulphur if any infection is seen
Group containers together against severe weather conditions and bubble wrap to protect against frost. Containers are rarely truly ‘frost-free’ and are expensive to replace .
Enjoy your garden and countryside
Autumn has been particularly good for colour this year for leaves and bark. Not just the species trees found in parks and larger gardens, such as Nyssa –Cornus (Tupalo), Parotia (persian ironwood), the Maples (Acers with attractive snake bark) and Prunus serrula (with shiny copper bark) but also the smaller trees and shrubs such as Amelankier and Cotinus (smoke bush). For brilliant gold colour plant a Cercyd with the fragrant smell of burned sugar !They have all provided a spectacular show as they complete their final leaf striptease before taking a well-earned rest.
Berry shrubs are now taking centre stage – Ilex (Holly), Calicarpa (the purple beauty berry), Cotoneaster, Skimmia, Pyracantha, Mahonia and so many more. There are many different coloured berries to brighten up our gardens and hedgerows and you will see birds devouring them for weeks as they are a vital winter food source.
Grasses also produce autumn gold colour, look out for tall Stipa (pheasants tail), Pennisetum (fountain grass) and Miscanthus zebrinus (zebra grass). Leave them as they are over winter, up to March, for colour and a bird seed source and sometimes protection for smaller plants from severe wind and frost.
Plant bare root plants (Roses, Fruit bushes) now before the ground gets too cold and Tulip bulbs right away but on course grit and well drained soil is a must. This is vital as ALL bulbs hate sitting in water especially when it freezes in Jan/Feb which will destroy them.
Choose winter plants on sale in garden centres such as red or yellow bare stemmed Cornus, lush red berry Pyracantha, brilliant red or yellow Salix (willow), again for their superb stems. My favourite small trees to plant now would be Vibernum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ for great pink fragrant flowers on dark leafless branches – a very strong plant . For winter blossom the Prunus x subhirtilla tree takes some beating for the toughest winter months – again a suitable species for average size gardens.
Prune autumn shrubs after flowering and check that all climbers and new shrubs are secured against wind rock either with twine or a stake if they have a long stem.
Kitchen – lift parsnips, harvest brussels sprouts, and net over brassicas (cabbages etc) against hungry pigeons. Have a really good dig over as the soil is tired and needs oxygen to respirate the nitrogen (nutrient) producing microbes and hopefully rid some pathogens.
Lots to do – this is one of the busiest months!!
Always take a pocket tree book out with you before you go on a walk – it makes it easier to identify a particular tree and it’s always good to learn something new. (Refer to Resources page for pocket books).
Tony Arnold MCIHort Hort
www.scienceforthgardener.com a Secondary Science Recourse to the RHS