November is always a tricky month for gardeners. It is often a mild month bringing with it the optimism of spring, and easy for gardeners to forget that winter is coming.
If you have a balcony or roof garden, this gentle lull of deception can make you feel like there is plenty of time left before much work needs to be done. However, taking care of your plants now will have long-term benefits.
It is best to prune back any permanent planted containers this month before the winds of winter cause any damage, or root rot (which can kill) sets in. Make sure any climbers are properly supported and remove any tired, damaged or brown growth; it is good for the plant and also reduces its the weight over winter.
If possible lift containers housing more tropical or tender planting up with ‘pot feet’ to allow the water to drain faster. It is often the combination of wet soil and cold which kills more plants in containers than cold alone. Olives really benefit from having a soil covered with sheets of slate, or another material, which severely reduces the amount of water passing through the pot. If you don’t have slate try using plastic covered with hessian, which is not only practical but will look attractive.
Seasonal containers and pots should emptied and scrubbed clean with a stiff brush before being replanted with spring bulbs. The choice of spring bulbs available is incredible but for me, easy to grow bulbs such as richly coloured tulips or smaller flowering narcissus are winners. Both bulbs produce beautiful flower, which will stand up well to exposed sites. However, if your garden suffers with strong winds coming up the Thames then you might want to consider Scilla or alpine bulbs, which are used to windy conditions.
Further into the capital where taller buildings reduce the amount of natural light, be sure to give everything a last autumn feed, I prefer a high potassium feed, which will encourage the roots to develop ready for next year.
Cut back ferns and other shade loving plants where foliage looks tired, but if it is looking healthy my advice is to leave it. In shaded lower ground flower locations consider planting cyclamen, wood anemones and other smaller woodland bulbs in borders or containers, as the conditions you have are ideal for these little spring flowers.
In larger city gardens aside from the routine tidying, which is needed this season, be sure to aerate and feed any lawns you have. Scarifying the lawn by dragging a rake over to remove debris and old brown grass, will also help keep it in top condition and for most of us if the winter isn’t mild then this is the last mow also.
London’s soil is full of heavy metals, a mixture of historical air pollution and continual habitation, which when combined with soil compaction can be a bit tough going for older shrubs and trees. If you have noticed over the summer and autumn months that some of your mature plants have suffered, now is the time to apply biochar. Biochar is soil improver, which is readily available online, this ultra-high heated form of charcoal has been proven once dug into the soil to increase aeration, attract beneficial fungus and improve the overall structure of the soil therefore restoring the health of mature plants.
Lastly if you have the luxury of being able to place a container by your door or entrance into the garden then plant up a container with winter flowering box, Sarcoccoa humilis or Skimmia ‘Kew Green’ and enjoy both a delicious scent and glorious little flowers over the next few months until spring appears.