By Tony Arnold
RHS Schools Science Resource
Author Science for the Gardener Book
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? Please check before lighting bonfires for hibernating hedgehogs to avoid disaster .Clean up bird feeders after the long summer and add winter seed ready for frosty nights especially for the small birds Wrens and Robins and late september fledgelings
Preparations need to be made now for the three months from Nov Dec and January ,Feb seems to get going much earlier with bulbs and wonderful Snowdrops and Crocuses and early Narcissus .The small tete a tetes are proving popular as they don’t get broken in severe wind.Pots should be insulated with bubble wrap ,as they are becoming very expensive to replace .
Autumn Soil improvement following heat wave.
This is a valuable opportunity to allow winter to repair the damage done this summer such as dried out rock hard mixture of poor nutrient deficient clay ,ash ,and organic matter drained by plants desperate to take up depleted nitrogen ,potassium and calcium during the heatwave with whatever moisture was available during the long hot summer .Add as much compost ,manure ,sea weed ,leaf mold and fresh top soil as you can .This will ‘soften’ up the soil ,replenish nutrients and break up hard compacted clay.
Tidy leaves especially from lawns into plastic bags with some small holes to prepare valuable leaf mould to be used as soil improver, one of the best along with compost and manure. If you have patience and energy dig the leaves into the soil surface while its still soft .Worms will work hard processing them for soil improvement, and you don’t even have to pay them.
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. Remove pumps from ponds and get qualified electrician if cabling looks in doubtful condition and that applies to any electrical garden equipment .!!
Some border perennials and shrubs require a bit of protection with bubble wrap and mulching over the root area. Remove tender Dahlia and Begonia tubers and store in a cool dry frost free place.Dust with sulphur if any infection is seen. Last chance to plant bare root Roses and pruning but care with spring flowering plants that are budding right now such as Magnolia ,Chamelia ,Forsythia .Prunus tree do not require pruning unless showing disease or crossing branches .
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 .
Plant Spring Bulbs now !
This should be an enjoyable time of the year for the final chance to take up those special offers of bags of bulbs. You have some wonderful individual choices of Crocus ,Iris varieties . Feb Tete a tete Narcissus ,Muscaris Blue and White Anemone. March Leucojum April and early Summer Alliums and very special taller Camassias I find very special .
My favourites in early Summer are the wonderfully deep fragrant Fritillaria imperialis but plant them all minimum 10”deep with plenty of grit and good drainage is a must so they don’t topple over
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.
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.
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 in colder very windy weather !!
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 website scienceforthe gardener Resources page for pocket books).
Tony Arnold MCIHort