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29 Nov 2021

Gardening with Jo: November tasks for your garden

With Jo McGarry of Caragh Nurseries

Gardening with Jo: November tasks for your garden

Don't forget the birds in your garden this autumn

November is usually a slow month in the garden but this November is much milder than the norm, and lots of my trees are still in leaf.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting finishing the path to my front door, which was relocated slightly earlier this year, but we couldn’t finish the job until my highly-prized magnolia tree was dormant and could be lifted.

This is a tree that I have been willing to do well, and although it has matured nicely there were years when it looked pitiful. But this last year it has been magnificent, and has really come into its own, and so the last thing I wanted to do was to lose the tree.

As most of you will probably know already, a tree can only be moved, with plenty of care, in November through to February, and the earlier the better. But the tree does have to be dormant during the move, and with a specimen such as a magnolia that means when it has lost all its leaves. Typically, my tree is still as green as it was in the summer months, so I’m just going to have to wait a little longer. I did want the job finished before Christmas and hopefully we can still do that.

It will probably coincide with the putting up of the Christmas lights at this stage. I love dressing the driveway with festive lights. This year I’m planning on adding festoon lights through the trees to illuminate the way. I just love Christmas but I’m a traditionalist and certainly won’t be putting up any lights or decorations until December.

Today, before I sat down to write this column, I spent an hour in the garden, clearing up leaves and sweeping up paths, cutting back some of the plants that needed tidying up, including lavender and some herbaceous plants, and also tidying up some of the herbaceous grasses that look untidy.

November is also the best time to plant trees and hedging, both rootballed and bare-rooted.

As soon as you get the plants, give them a good drink in a bucket of water and keep them moist but not wet until you are ready to plant. Normally we’d advise protecting from frost but there is no frost in the current forecast.

Prepare your planting hole, remembering that a wide hole is much better than a deep one, and do not let the roots dry out even for a minute as they will die back very quickly, so keep them damp until the very last minute. Plant firmly, keeping all the stem above soil level, stake if necessary, water well and then always mulch well.

If you haven’t planted your spring bulbs then you need to be doing that now. I would always add to my bulbs under trees and around the beds in spots that are going to look empty, but as well I plants containers and pots and keep them in my glasshouse ready for when they are coming into flower.

I usually plant several similar pots up so that I have a succession of them ready, switching the paper whites and daffodils for tulips when they’re ready and so on. They always look so well and add a splash of colour when I need it most on the terrace.

Feeding the birds is also a good thing to do around now. Seeds and berries are ideal and they have been greedily eating all of ours from the garden, including the grapes remaining on my vines.

In fact I would say that one of the things I most enjoy about winter is watching the birds feed at the table outside our kitchen window. It helps for the food to be as calorific as possible and seeds, nuts and fat are best of all.

Left-over pastry, bread and rice always gets eaten fast and fruit is good, especially for blackbirds and thrushes. Grated cheese is popular but avoid anything salty such as crisps, salted peanuts or bacon. One way of making sure that all the food does not get gobbled up by pigeons and starlings is to find an old log with lots of cracks and crevices and pour seed over it. The smaller birds will extract every last bit from the fissures that bigger ones cannot reach.

Also, always be sure that there is a fresh supply of water for them to drink. I often see the birds drinking from my water feature.

Keep gathering all the fallen leaves from the garden, adding to the compost heap to make lovely mulch for next year and keeping the garden tidy.

Lastly I use the time in November and December to clean the mower and any garden tools, keeping the potting bench and area ready for next year's exploits.

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