Winter is here but there are some things left to do before hanging your trowel up just yet. There is still time to plant bulbs, in fact you can keep planting up until early December, and tulips should be planted now. If you are planting in pots, it looks good to put small winter bedding plants at the top for the bulbs to grow through. Violas are perfect for this, and cyclamen look good all winter but you will need to plant the bulbs around these, not directly underneath.
Planting time is still in full swing in November with the rootball season continuing and bareroot plants starting to become available. We have cherry laurel, Portuguese laurel and yew rootball hedging in stock, and can order in a wide range of bareroot trees and shrubs.
The autumn season has been late and short this year, but once the green has gone from the leaves, it reveals the beautiful colours underneath, and you can see your garden in a whole new way. If you wanted to plan a colourful autumn display for next year. Aside from Acers, some of the best trees for yellow leaves are birches (Betula pendula Laciniata) and hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and large shrubs such as the fragrant early flowering wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), stagshorn sumach (Rhus typhina), or a Magnolia stellata.
For red leaves, the best small trees are ornamental cherries such as Prunus incisa ‘The Bride’ or one of the ornamental rowans, such as Sorbus ‘Copper Kettle’ which has orange/red autumn colour followed by copper coloured berries. There are many large shrubs which turn beautiful shades of red in the autumn, such as the snowball tree (Viburnum opulus Roseum), Cotinus (Cotinus ‘Grace’) and the oak leaved hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) really comes into its own in autumn. Smaller shrubs such as Cornus alba ‘Gouchaulti’ have red autumn leaves which drop to leave a display of red winter stems, or deciduous azaleas which will then have bright fragrant flowers on bare stems in spring (Rhododendron ‘Klondyke’ or ‘Firecracker’).
To prepare the garden for winter cold, you should try to raise any pots off the ground on pot feet or bricks to prevent water collecting in the base and freezing. Anything which is borderline tender in a pot should be moved to a sheltered position, and you can wrap the pot itself in bubblewrap or fleece. The roots are less protected than they would be in the ground.
Once the foliage from dahlias has been cut down by the first frost, you can tidy up the rest of the foliage and mulch the tubers with mushroom compost, composted manure or a layer of bark chips. The compost and manure will enrich the soil and the bark chips will just add protection. Make sure you check in March/April when the new shoots start showing though, because slugs enjoy hiding in the mulch then too.
As you are tidying up the beds, it’s a good time to mulch them in general, especially on heavier soils before the soil cools down too much over the winter. A 5cm deep mulch of organic matter like compost (tree and shrub conditioner) or bark (landscape bark mulch) will encourage root growth of new planting and inhibit new weed growth in the spring. The earthworms will gradually incorporate the material in the top layers of your soil to improve the structure of heavy soils and water retention of light soils. Mulching is a bit like putting a blanket on the garden: if the soil is damp and warm it will keep it that way longer, but if it is cold or dry it will stay that way too. So make sure the conditions are right before you put it down.
Vicky is based at The Otter Nursery every Monday & Tuesday and is always happy to provide expert advice and tips.