What to Do – Nov

Things To Do In The Autumn Garden – Preparing For Freezing Weather

What to do if you haven’t much time

  • Prepare for possible very cold weather.  See below for advice on helping your plants survive.
  • Clean up your mower and get it serviced if necessary.  It’ll be easier, and maybe cheaper, now rather than in the spring when everyone wants theirs serviced.
  • Mow the grass one more time if it needs it, and edge it nicely so it looks good for weeks.

Preparing for extreme cold

You can start by understanding what kills plants. I believe there are several reasons so many died in 2011.  Yes, very low temperatures which lasted for a long time.  But also, the plants weren’t ready for it – one moment it was warm and they were growing vigorously and then next moment the snow arrived. So what can you do?  Take a leaf from our book:

  • Insulate pots that are too big to take indoors – wrap bubblewrap around the pots to help protect the roots but never around the plants themselves as that will lead to mould and rot.
  • Buy horticultural fleece so you’re ready to wrap it around key plants just before extreme cold.  It will save a couple of degrees of frost and reduce the drying effects of cold winds.  It allows the plant to breathe a bit, but if possible, remove it whenever there’s no frost so that excess moisture can evaporate.
  • Keep ventilating greenhouses well during the day and night for as long as possible. The aim is to let the colder weather induce your plants to prepare themselves for winter.  Their stems will toughen up and they’ll do better when freezing weather arrives.
    • Only shut the doors when there might be temperatures that will kill the most tender of your plants. Open them again as soon as possible.
    • The most dangerous situation for plants is when their roots are frozen but the air is warm (e.g. in a greenhouse in early morning).  The warmth dries out the plant, which can’t replace that moisture through its frozen roots.  Result?  Death.
    • Water as little as possible so that compost and soil is drier.  This helps slow down growth and means that if we get very wet weather the soil won’t get waterlogged so soon. Soggy soil in winter encourages root rotting.
    • Only bring plants into the house if absolutely essential to avoid them dying from freezing. And get them outside again as soon as possible because warm temperatures will encourage growth, which will be leggy and poor in quality due to low light conditions.
    • When tidying your borders, don’t cut back slightly tender plants like fuchsias, penstemons and caryopteris.


Other jobs

Trees, Shrubs & Hedges

  • Check tree ties – are they firm but not pinching?
  • Plant bare-root trees and hedging plants
  • Tie in long, whippy shoots of climbers to avoid winter damage


  • Cut back dying growth to tidy, unless you want to provide protection for small creatures (including slugs and snails, but also beneficial creatures)
  • Plant tulips
  • Divide existing clumps of hardy perennials, cutting back the foliage hard
  • Lift dahlias


  • Keep off the lawn during wet weather. In dry weather rake up fallen leaves


Fruit & Veg

  • Press on with winter digging
  • Lift root crops, begin harvesting Brussel sprouts
  • Net all brassicas
  • Harvest the last apples and start winter pruning of apple and pear trees
  • Cut out older shoots of blackcurrant, gooseberries and redcurrants
  • Plant fruit trees and bushes
  • Plant out seedlings of spring cabbages; plant garlic and winter onion sets.  Sow broad beans (but protect from mice with wire, if you can).


  • Plant baskets and pots with flowers and evergreens for winter interest. Evergreens can include colourful heucheras and herbs like sage. Violas have smaller flowers than pansies but will flower better in cold weather and don’t need deadheading to keep them looking good.

Copyright 2011 Alexia Ballance