Clearing paths, terraces and the lawn of leaves will make the disarray in the beds look intended. Leave what you can of the perennials for their skeletons. Birds will comb the verbena for seed and insects will use the stems as winter hibernacula. Where they are not smothering other plants, piles of leaves can be left. Worms will pull them in to the earth to complete the cycle. Herbs and Mediterranean plants that like dry winter conditions should be cleared to encourage air movement. Make a separate pile for leaf mould, bag it up in bin liners punctured to allow the air in to aid rotting and you will have a mulch for woodlanders and lilies in a year’s time.
If you have not planted lily bulbs, do so now. Add leaf mould to the compost and a cushion of sharp sand to aid drainage and keep the slugs at bay.
Grass will continue to grow in temperatures above 5C, but the last cut of the year should be on the high side to enable grass to take in winter light. It is too late to sow grass, but there is still time to put down turf.
In from the cold
Check pots so they do not sit wet in winter, and bring anything tender inside or under cover. If you are going to leave dahlias outside, cut back top growth straight after the frost and mulch with compost or straw. Lift and store in just-damp compost if you live in a cold area. Protect borderline tender perennials, such as agapanthus, with straw.
Freezing winds can be lethal to newly planted evergreens, so put up wind protection for the first year. Wind-rock will loosen shrubs that are prone, so prune repeat-flowering roses and buddleia by roughly a third. More precise pruning can be saved for climbing roses, which should be renovated and tied back to their supports. Remove a third of old wood where possible. Shorten all laterals to three or four buds.
Jerusalem artichokes, sprouts and brassicas can all be harvested. Celeriac is better left another month in the ground, but protect roots with a layer of straw. Chicory can be blanched. Earth up plants or cover with a bucket to promote growth.
Plant broad beans and garlic in mild areas. It isn’t too late if you are prepared to put cloches over plants should the weather turn nasty.
Planting tulips is best left until November to diminish the risk of tulip fire. If you haven’t planted a few pots of paperwhite narcissus for the house, do so now and you might time it perfectly for Christmas.
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