Sowing and planting

seed tray under glassAlpines can be sown from seed this month. They need a period of cold to break the seed dormancy. A sheet of glass can be positioned over the sown area to protect it from excessive wet. Alternatively, the seeds can be stratified in the fridge, for sowing next spring.

over-wintering ladybirdsCutting back, pruning and dividing

Continue to cut back faded herbaceous perennials and add them to the compost heap or alternatively leave these until spring so that they can be used as winter homes for insects.

In mild areas, and during dry spells, you can still lift and divide herbaceous perennials. This will increase stocks, and revive tired or poorly flowering clumps.

Papaver orientale 'Beauty Queen'Propagation

Root cuttings can be taken from now. Papaver (perennial poppies), Verbascum(mullein) and Phlox are suitable examples.

Helleborus nigerGeneral maintenance

Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) blooms can look unsightly when splashed with muddy raindrops. Bark chip mulchwill reduce this splashing effect, and cloches can always be used where practical.

Clear up weedy beds ready for spring mulching. Order bulky organic matter (e.g. well-rotted farmyard manure or mushroom compost) for use as a soil improver or mulch.

Protect for the winter

Check on tender plants outdoors to ensure winter protection is still in place, especially after storms. Raise patio containers onto feet or bricks to avoid them sitting in the winter wet.

Large tubs that are at risk of cracking in the frost should be covered with bubblewrap, hessian or fleece, to insulate them over the winter. Tender plants and pots can be brought into the greenhouse or conservatory if not done so already. Even in mild areas, the winter usually gets much harder after December.

Apply a mulch to protect plants that are borderline hardy.

Tidying up

Finish the autumn tidy-up of leaves from beds and borders if you have not already done so. It is especially important to clear leaves and debris from alpines, as they will die off if covered in damp for any length of time. Bare patches can be covered with gritty compost to encourage the re-growth of surrounding clumps into that area.

Keep tubs and containers tidy too, cutting back and removing debris regularly. They can be mulched with compost.

diggingPlanning ahead

Improve the drainage of heavy clay soils by working in plenty of bulky organic matter, such as composted bark.

Order seed catalogues, if you have not done so already, to select next year’s bedding and perennial choices. You will have more chance of finding all your choices in stock if you order well before the spring.

Members can order seed from the RHS Seed Scheme between 1 November and 31 March.

pansy leaf spotPest and disease watch

Look out for Botrytis (grey mould) on spent herbaceous plants, and remove affected growth. Otherwise there is a risk that fungal problems could spread to healthy plants.

Hellebores can be at risk of diseases such as hellebore leaf spot.

Watch out for downy mildew and leaf spot on winter pansies.

Sometimes daffodils can come up very early, even before Christmas. Enjoy them, but be aware that they too can succumb to fungal problems, such as narcissus leaf scorch.

Look out for crown rot and brown rots (sclerotinia) on died down perennials, especially if you are on a clay or poorly drained soil.

Antirrhinum rust and delphinium black blotch, as well as sclerotinia, will lay dormant and re-infect plants when they come up the following year. It may be necessary to replant new specimens in another place if the problem is severe.

Be aware that many diseases will overwinter in the soil, or on plant debris.


common frog in icy pondBeware ice

Use pond heaters to keep ponds from freezing over, as this can be fatal for fish and other pond life. There are other precautions you can take to prevent your pond freezing over, if you do not have a heater. To make a hole in frozen ponds, hold a saucepan of hot water on the surface until melted through. Do not crack the ice, as this is harmful to fish.

You may wish to make your pond more wildlife-friendly.

Deter hungry herons from fishing using nylon strings strung across the edges of the pond, at least 15cm (6in) from the ground and 15cm (6in) in from the edge of the pond.

Continue to rake out fallen leaves or shake off those that have gathered on protective netting.

This may also be a good time to repair any leaks in your pond.


building a coldframeDecember DIY

Make a cold frame as a winter DIY project - you can save lots of money, as good cold frames are very expensive to buy.

In dry spells, you can treat timber structures with wood preservative and stain. Make sure you use appropriate products - it is now illegal creosote cannot be used.

Take action to remove algae from paths if they start to become slippery.


Consider installing water collection equipment, water pipes and drainage during winter.

Ensure all stand pipes and irrigation lines are drained to avoid damage from freezing. Put lagging around outdoor taps to enable use throughout the winter.


Add lights and power points to sheds and outhouses, so that you can garden on wet days and in the evenings. Consider wildlife when using lighting in the garden.

Garden equipment

lawn mower

When putting lawnmowers and hedge-trimmers away for the winter, ensure that they are clean and dry before storing. Drain out any fuel first, as unleaded petrol doesn't keep, and may cause problems next year when trying to start up the machines.

Clean and sharpen secateurs and loppers ready for pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs over the winter. Special small ceramic tools are available to allow awkwardly shaped and angled blades to be sharpened with ease. Spare springs and replacement blades can also be purchased for more expensive models.

Get help

You may want to send garden machinery in for a service while it is not in frequent use.

Garden contractors are often short of work in winter and therefore available to do major tasks such as paving, fence building and pond digging.