November gardening tips
Bulbs, flowers and containers
Bulbs - plant tulip bulbs now, the cooler soil helps avoid the fungal disease 'tulip fire'. Plant plump firm bulbs in containers or in a sunny spot at 2 - 3 times their own depth and double their width apart. Use them to fill gaps in beds and borders, in formal gardens, in pots and containers, under shrubs and trees or naturalised in grass or woodland. If you are planting them in borders, groups of 10 - 25 between perennials give the best effect. Try smaller flowered species tulips at the front of borders or in rock gardens - unlike the more familiar larger flowered hybrids which are best replaced each year, these little gems can be left in the ground to flower year after year. Remember that tulips like good drainage and ideally should lie on a thin layer of grit if your soil is heavy to prevent their rotting.
Pot up amaryllis bulbs, water, keep them in a warm place (near a radiator is ideal) and cross your fingers that they will flower in time for Christmas.
Finish planting spring bulbs such as narcissi, crocuses and those elegant alliums - theoretically they should be in the ground by now, but they are fairly forgiving if you have left it late!
Make your life easier by investing in a strong good quality dibber and if you have a bad back, a long handled bulb planter.
For a natural look, throw handfuls of bulbs in the air and plant them where they land.
Move tender plants into the greenhouse
Heavy frosts may well be on the agenda this month. Either move tender plants inside or keep a supply of fleece, bubble wrap or similar to protect them from freezing conditions - this is especially important for recently planted hardy annuals.
Raise containers off the ground
Containers can become waterlogged if left on the ground so raise them where possible on feet, tiles or even bricks. If cold weather looks likely try and lag pots and containers as even if the plant is hardy, root systems above ground may not survive.
Brighten your borders, hanging baskets and containers with winter bedding such as pansies, violas, primroses and cyclamen.
Divide hearty perennials such as daylilies, Michaelmas daisies and golden rod. Cut them down to 4", dig them up and divide carefully. If your soil is heavy clay, leave this job until springtime. All other perennials are also best left until the spring, especially peonies which dislike being split in cold weather and grasses.
Cut back ornamental grasses and bamboos; if the latter are thick enough, the canes can be used as supports next season.
Hellebores, despite their moniker of Christmas roses, are sadly rarely in flower for Christmas itself, but will be available in flower at the centre in December. Try potting up a few plants and keeping them in a gentle heat; it may encourage them to bloom a little earlier than they naturally would.
Dahlias - wait until a couple of good frosts have blackened them then cut stems back to approximately 10cm from the ground and label each plant as you lift it - it is amazingly easy to forget which is which! Be careful not to damage the tubers as you dig around them, remove all the soil and store for a couple of weeks in a dry, cool place upside down to allow any residual moisture in the stem to drain out. Once completely dry, puff sulphur on any damaged surfaces and bury them in peat free compost so the top of the tuber is above the compost level. Keep them somewhere frost free over the winter.
Less hardy perennials - do not cut back the less hardy perennials such as penstemoms and hardy fuchsias more than a third - the dead stems should afford some protection for the crowns in severe weather. In colder areas, mulch with composted bark or something similar and leave cutting them back fully until they begin to shoot from the base in spring.