It will come as some relief to know that from now until spring you can leave your evergreen hedges well alone (apart from box and that is for December). But if you have just planted an evergreen hedge do make sure that it is protected from the elements. A really cold and bitter wind is more damaging to foliage than a heavy frost so consider putting up a temporary netting windbreak to get your young plants through the winter.
We are now in the bareroot hedge planting season and both bare root deciduous and evergreen hedges can be planted from now onwards, until spring is sprung next April or May depending on the weather. Older deciduous hedges will be grateful if you prune out any diseased or damaged branches so that they do not act as an entry point for infection over the winter. If you need to really change the shape of a deciduous hedge you are best to hard prune in the winter when the plant is dormant. Don’t be too savage however – remove about one third of a really overgrown deciduous hedge at a time. Our notes on renovating an old beech hedge apply to pretty much every deciduous hedge type (and to yew hedges as well).
Make sure that stakes are sound and firm in the ground and that tree ties are not too tight. If they are, they will strangle the tree as its trunk swells in the spring. Replace any ties that are worn or perishing.
If there is any evidence of scab on your fruit trees, rake up all leaves around the trees and burn them or bin them so that they do not harbour the overwintering spores. Don't compost them.
Once the leaves have all fallen, any frost free day between now and February is an ideal time to prune the fruit trees with pips not stones, i.e. apples, pears, figs etc but not cherries and plums. We have made a range of videos about pruning to help you.
And if you did not do so last month then put grease bands around your fruit trees to catch the wingless female winter moths which climb up from the soil to lay their eggs on the tree. Which hatch into the grubs that eat their way into your fruit and... RUIN IT.
Plant new fruit trees between now and the end of winter.
Yet more raking is called for to prevent the leaves ruining your lawns and to stop slugs and snails making themselves at home. The upside is that it will keep you warm and you can add the leaves to that leaf-mould container we told you how to make in October!
Small trees or shrubs, especially if newly planted, may need a bit of a duvet to get them through winter especially if they are sited on the top of a hill or somewhere windy. Pile up straw or bracken around them and hold it in place with netting. In the spring this can be added to your compost or shredded for mulching.
Nudge, nudge - November to the end of February are the best planting months for ornamental trees.
November is the start of the bare root rose planting season. The ground is usually neither waterlogged nor frozen and so is easy to dig. This means that rose roots have a great basis to establish over the winter. Remember that if you are planting a new rose in a site that contained roses before you must change the soil otherwise your new rose is likely to develop ‘rose sickness’. Dig out the soil, as if you were going to plant the rose, then double the size of the hole and use that soil somewhere else. Replace it with well rotted compost and topsoil mixed together. Hard work, but it is not worth risking your new rose dying on you.
Check that any climbing roses are still tied in to their support structures.
If you have not prepared your new rose bed yet then do so. You can plant roses all through winter as bareroot plants and in our experience they do much better than the pot grown equivalent which comes into its own in spring.
If you did not do so last month then cut the bigger bush roses back by about a third. You are not pruning them, just reducing their windage to stop them rocking and damaging their roots.
Rhubarb crowns that have become overcrowded can be lifted and divided in November and December. Plant new ones before the end of January.
If you are planting blackcurrants, place them so that the crown of the plant is about 10 cm beneath soil level and then cut the stems to about 10 cm above the ground to encourage strong shoots for future fruits. Established plants will need a third of their old shoots removed right at the base of the plant to stimulate new growth there. (The new shoots are much lighter than the old wood so you can tell them apart.) Blackcurrants grow on the previous year’s (and older) wood so you don’t want to remove too much of it, but equally you need to encourage new shoots, hence the pruning. At the same time cut out any diseased or damaged growth as near to the base as you can.
Redcurrants and whitecurrants also need pruning but they differ in that they fruit on the current year’s growth. You are aiming for five to seven main branches per plant, each with plenty of fruiting spurs, to grow into an open framework. In a red/whitecurrant’s first winter after planting the leaders should be cut back by a third to a half to an outward facing bud. This is because inward buds grow inwards... and cross with other branches. This crowds the centre of the plant, prevents air circulating and makes damage from rubbing more likely so that fungal attack and other diseases are more likely. Choose some well-placed shoots to act as the main branches and cut these back by a third to a half as well, again to an outward facing bud. All other side-shoots should be cut to about 10 cm or to 2 to 3 buds. On older bushes, the leaders need to be pruned by a half to an outward facing bud and any laterals hard pruned to about 5 cm.
Gooseberry bushes need pruning differently according to how old they are. For gooseberries up to three years old the leaders should be cut back by one half to a good bud. You are aiming for about eight branches per bush. In the gooseberry’s third year and from there on in, restrict your pruning to removal of dead or damaged branches, and those that cross one another or touch the ground.
You can keep planting container grown climbing plants. Established climbers may need a little pruning where you have a long, stray whippy stem blowing around. Alternatively, if you can find a suitable gap in the framework, tie them in.
That very great gardener the late Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter fame (still well worth a visit if you're in the South East) always maintained that those clematis that you normally prune close to the ground in spring were as happy being cut back hard at the end of November. The certainly look less ugly for the rest of the winter...
Ideally most of your spring bulbs should be in by now……but tulips will still flower if you plant in November and some of the older gardening books will recommend November as the best time to plant them.
Thinking ahead to Christmas….already I know!....you could pot up some Amaryllis bulbs ready to flower for the festive season. Put them on a radiator or in the airing cupboard to start them off but do not forget to keep checking on them! They grow like lightening and their compost needs to be kept just moist.
Olive and Bay
If you keep the compost your olive trees are in relatively dry (just damp) they will be fine in temperatures down to about -10 degrees Centigrade. However, until Bay has been outside for a couple of winters it should be protected from really cold winds and sharp frosts with fleece or by being moved into a sheltered spot if it is in a pot.
Raise containers and pots by placing wood, tiles or bricks underneath. This ensures they do not become waterlogged in wet weather.
Don’t forget wild friends in the garden. Start leaving out food and water for the birds. Now is also the time that berried plants such as Berberis, Hawthorn, Holly, Pyracantha and the Rowans (Sorbus aucuparia varieties) come into their own as a food source.
Find a corner that tidy people do not see too often and make an unsightly pile of logs, branches and leaves. This will be a home for an incredible variety of hibernating wildlife, almost all of which are either pollinators or pest predators in the spring.
Pots that are not frost proof should be protected by wrapping them in hessian, fleece, bubble wrap, something, anything ….And even if the plant in the pot is hardy its roots may not be, so it is worth taking the trouble to do this.
Check any tubers like dahlias or bulbs (corms) like gladioli that you lifted earlier to make sure that none are beginning to rot and infect the others. Keep them dry and frost free.
Try not to walk over frosted grass in your lawn as you crush it. Choose a dry day to rake off any leaves. And now is a really good time to get your lawn mower serviced because everyone else will put it off until spring!
Finally (and left till last so as not to stop you reading the rest of this, the most boring job of all has to be washing and disinfecting the seed trays, pots, canes and other paraphernalia of gardening with something like Jeyes fluid. Greenhouse and cold frame glass will need cleaning and if you are over-wintering tender plants in your green house check that the heater is working and/or insulate the greenhouse with bubble wrap.