October 27 - November 3

The leaves are dropping more quickly now and the trees are taking on that stark winter look. The problem is how to collect all these leaves.

For the chop...

The leaves are dropping more quickly now and the trees are taking on that stark winter look. The problem is how to collect all these leaves. It has to be said that the best and quickest way is to use a rotary lawn mower with a grass collection box. This works well as it not only collects the leaves but also chops them up a little at the same time and this helps them break down more quickly in the composting heap. Any grass will help increase the nitrogen levels which will also speed up the decomposition of the leaves. Remember leaves of all healthy plants are worth composting as it makes excellent organic matter.

Storm precautions

There have been a few frosts and when the last flowers have gone over on shrub and bush roses it is a good idea to give them a light prune. This is to help stop them rocking in the strong autumn and winter winds. The long whippy stems get caught in the autumnal gales which throw plants about, loosening the soil around the rootstock. The gap between the rootstock and soil is then often filled with water, which encourages rots and fungal problems. Then, of course the water can freeze which potentially could kill the whole plant. Shorten the long shoots by half to two thirds of their length.

Shaping up

Your trees and shrubs have been growing strongly throughout the summer, and now the leaves are falling off, you'll be able to see the stems, which have been hidden. It's well worth taking a few minutes to look carefully into the crowns to check they haven't grown competing leaders and crossing branches that would rub away the bark and so damage the plant.

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Now's the time to prune out unwanted branches.

Bonfire benefits

With all the prunings from the roses and trees you have been gathering it is fortunate that bonfire night is nearly here. But before you light a massive pile of debris, ask yourself if you really need to burn all of it. Prunings are better shredded and composted, particularly if they contain lots of green leafy material. Dry branches and thick prunings are the best material for burning, and it's a good opportunity to get rid of diseased plant material. Check the pile for wildlife such as hibernating hedgehogs and toads. I usually start the fire with the help of barbecue firelighters and some crumpled newspaper. It is extremely dangerous to use petrol or any flammable liquid. Ash from green, twiggy clippings contains small amounts of potash and is good for top dressing fruit trees in spring. Ash from logs and dead wood contains very little, but still makes a useful slug deterrent.

Indoor bulbs

Pot up some prepared hyacinth bulbs and paperwhite narcissi to force indoors as houseplants. Hyacinths can be potted singly in 7.5cm pots, but they look best when grown in a group of three in a larger container. You can use bulb fibre but multi purpose compost will do just as well and make sure you keep them moist. Put the pots on a cool windowsill to encourage the bulbs to grow strongly. They will become tall and drawn if they are kept too warm.

Remember, remember...

Have you ever made the mistake of digging up a bulb or perennial when they have died down for the winter? If so, nip out now and mark the spots or draw up a plan.

Keep it clean

Now we are having regular rainfalls it is a good time to scrub out the inside of water butts which may have become smelly, containing debris and even algae which could block the drain tap.