Whatever the weather in October, from the beginning of November, temperatures drop and strong winds begin to blow, clearing the leaves from deciduous trees. It’s the time of year to tidy the garden, making sure that tender plants are protected and that everything can withstand the winter blast. Last year came as a surprise; I’m sure you won’t want to be caught out this year, too!
Pots staying outside should be wrapped with several layers of ‘bubble wrap’ or hessian and raised from the ground on bricks or pot feet, to stop water-logging and reduce the chances of cracking. They can also be over-wintered in a frost free glasshouse, a cool spare bedroom, at the base of a sheltered wall, under an evergreen hedge covered with leaves, or under evergreen trees. Move ‘Acer’s’ in pots, where they are protected from cold wind and frost. Make a tripod of canes over borderline hardiness shrubs, cover them horticultural fleece and bind the leaves of ‘Cordyline’ together, holding them in place with twine.
Keep the lawn free of leaves, or they’ll block out the light and the grass becomes yellow. Choose a dry day to pick them up with a rotary mower, chopping the leaves for easier rotting adding lawn clippings to increase the nutrient value and turning them into humus rich soil conditioner. It’s easier to collect leaves on a still day, after a dry period. On windy days, rake in the direction that the wind is blowing and gather them with leaf boards or use a lawn vaccuum. Leaf boards, made of plywood, allow large volumes to be picked up effectively. Put small volumes into a bin liner, moisten them to help them rot, then pierce holes in the bag with a garden fork, tie the top loosely, then stack for at least two years, checking the contents occasionally to ensure they are still moist. Alternatively, make a square or round frame from chicken wire, well supported at the corners or at intervals around the circle with stakes or bamboo canes.
Thick leaves like walnut and evergreens like holly, Aucuba and cherry laurel, are better shredded and added to the compost heap. Composted pine needles produce acidic organic matter, that is ideal for mulching ericaceous plants, like camellia’s and blueberries. They break down very slowly and take up to three years to decay.
Leaf mould usually takes about two years, to rot. Anything less than two years old can be used as mulch, soil improver, autumn top-dressing for lawns and a winter covering for bare soil. Sieved compost over two years old is perfect in seed sowing mixes or mixed equally with sharp sand, garden compost and loam for use as potting compost, as the Victorian’s did.
It is also a good time to plant roses, providing the soil is not waterlogged or frozen and to prune back cluster flowered or ‘hybrid Tea’ roses by on third, particularly on windy sites, to prevent ‘wind rock’. It is also ideal planting conifer’s, too, so there are plenty of activities to keep you busy – and warm. Happy Gardening! Matt