November 18: Burn or compost; plant garlic; water houseplants sparingly

Martyn Davey, Head of Horticulture and Design, Easton College
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
11:20 AM

The gloom of winter seems to be pushing its way ever-closer. Not the best time to be out in the garden you may think, but actually there is still a lot to be done. Down on the allotment it is time to take down the canes that have supported my runner beans through the summer. The top growth will pull away from the canes easily and this will make good compost. If any material is showing signs of disease it is best to burn it rather than compost it, as I did with tomatoes that got blight earlier in the year. Winter is a good time to clear the plot and burn any excessive waste. Annual weeds can be dug into the base of trenches when preparing ground for next year. Add compost and improve the soil too.

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• Plant garlic outdoors around now. Set individual cloves, either in single holes or in a drill, so that the tips just show. Choose a sunny position, and ideally in soil that has been previously manured. The bulbs will be ready for lifting next summer. It is also a very good time for planting rhubarb. Set good quality crowns in well-manured ground, and mulch them in the spring. The rhubarb plant will be able to stay in this position for around five years.This is an ideal time of year to lift and divide overgrown crowns too. You should do this every four years or so. When dividing ensure you have a growing point on each section and only divide into a maximum of four to avoid making the plants too small. Plant out in well-prepared and rich soil.

• The tops of herbaceous perennials should be removed and shredded to make good compost, as they die off. Only remove the tops from plants that do not have a value in retaining their top growth or seedheads over winter. Sometimes the seedheads can be attractive covered in frost during the colder months, and top growth can help protect the plant from the severest weather.

• Water houseplants sparingly as their growth should be slowing down. The best way to water small plants is to plunge their pots into tepid water in the bath or kitchen sink. Allow them to soak for an hour and then remove and set them down to drain before returning them to their display position. Repeat this every two to three weeks, as necessary. Mist the foliage with rainwater or distilled water to prevent plants scorching from central heating.

• Sweet peas are always popular. Most are sown in spring under cover, or directly into soil where they are to flower in the garden, but starting the seed off now will result in better root systems and stronger plants. Autumn-sown sweet peas need to be grown slowly, under cool glass you’ll get stocky plants and if the seedlings are potted individually they’ll develop a big root system for rapid establishment. Try soaking the seeds before sowing, or mixing them with moist vermiculite or peat where they can sprout or ‘chit’ before potting singly in small pots. After germination keep the young in a cool frost-free greenhouse or cold frame and pinch out the growing tip when they have made four to five leaves. This will encourage them to sprout from the base to make stronger plants next year.