Garden work, if you must

I shouldn’t wonder if this October will turn out to be one of the warmest on record. Many trees are still in leaf, but the autumn colours have not been as spectacular as in years with freezing nights.  Tree work I had booked to do in early November will be put off until the end of the month, when the trees will finally be naked.

November work can be dismal, and rather than the creativity of spring sowing and planting, I tend to endure rather than enjoy the essential autumn maintenance of pruning, sweeping and generally tidying. We are lucky that in our Somerset climate we can garden pretty much all year round. A friend in Canada has to compress most of her gardening into April and September, as her garden is covered in snow all winter, and summer is just too darned hot for exertion.

I am becoming a lazier gardener as I get older, and will concentrate my efforts on planting garlic and tulips today.  There is no excuse on such a mild and sunny day – housework can wait for foul weather days. I find that once the clocks go back I can find reasons not to garden and there are many jobs that if not completed by now, can jolly well wait until spring.

A autumn wheelbarrow load of soggy cut back perennials  will only be a few wisps of straw by spring, and will have been a good habitat for overwintering insects. Unfortunately it will also be a great habitat for slugs so garden as your conscience and the weather dictates. Splitting perennials can either be done now or in March. Generally the plants won’t mind which, but they will settle much more quickly if you do it now, and the weather is pleasant and soil still warm. I would certainly split crocosmias in November. The corms start shooting quite early and by spring get easily knocked off as they are rather brittle.

Another timely November or December job is to plant bare root and rootballed trees and shrubs. You will have to order bare root trees from a supplier – gone are the days when garden centres always had peat plunge beds with bare root trees for sale (you may find a small plunge bed with bare root beech whips and raspberry canes).  The tree choice in a garden centre may be limited but if you Google ‘tree nursery somerset’ the choice is tremendous. The owners will give you advice on the right tree if you describe your soil, aspect and space.

You get a lot more bang for your bucks compared to containerized stock. Also trees in containers have deep but narrow root systems and if you have soggy soil they will not enjoy sitting with wet bottoms all winter. Bare root trees will grow wide and shallow root systems as nature intended. A small tree is cheaper and establishes better than a large one. Get them in now while the soil is warm and workable, plant shallow, stake low and keep the surrounding soil mulched for at least 2 feet radius, with no mulch piled up the stem – they should grow away a treat.

Nurseries will not generally lift trees in January and early February in frosty years, and trees planted in spring have little time to grow roots before the burden of shoots in April is upon them. Place spiral guards on the trees to protect them from rabbits and spray with Grazers ( to deter deer. Prune out crossing branches in the early years, loosen the ties annually and remove the stake after a few years. Your new trees will be a source of delight for decades and require very little attention.