Clear and store leaves

Most leaves will have been blown off or fallen by now, and you should be clearing and storing them for composting. It’s much easier to collect them with a leaf blower and vacuum, depending on the size of your garden; if it’s large, a self-propelled leaf vacuum is essential. Our first such machine had problems with the bag’s zip, which tended to get clogged by muck and dust and so needed replacing frequently. We’ve now found a zipless model, made by Billy Goat (reference number MV650SPH), which has been the most useful so far. It’s best to shred leaves to speed up the rotting process, and these machines pass them through the impeller as they suck them up. Leaf blowers work well with them; they’ll blow leaves out of awkward places and pile them for you. Some blowers will convert into a hand-held vacuum with a collection bag, suitable for smaller gardens. Other models can be used all year round for picking up grass edgings and hedge-trimmings, and even removing gravel from the edges of lawns.

Plant shrubs

Carry on with planting your deciduous shrubs and roses through the winter but make sure that you give them a good start. Use a 50:50 mix of compost and soil; if the soil is poor, add bone-meal fertiliser or, better still, mycorrhizal fungi (as discussed last week). As the ground is now cooling down and there is increasing risk of water-logging, frost and snow, we prefer to delay planting our evergreens until the spring. Protect young evergreens from wind damage with fleece, either draped over them and fastened in the soil, or tied to canes in a circle around the plant. Single-stemmed trees and shrubs should be staked to stop them rocking about in the wind and making a hole around the stem that could cause root damage.  

Decorate with moss

It’s very satisfying to make your own holly wreaths, swags and other decorations for Christmas, but it can be both cold and painful work, depending on your variety of holly. Start looking out for water-retentive moss now, usually to be found in shady woodland or the north side of garden walls; this can be the base into which you arrange the holly. Once you’ve collected the moss, take out any leaves or twigs and lay it out on trays in a cold greenhouse for a week or two to drain out some of the moisture. Then carefully wire it on to metal frames you can get these from florists if you don’t make your own but remember that the finished arrangement may be as much as twice the size of the frame.

Cut cherry stems

If you have a mature tree of Prunus x subhirtella Autumn-alis, cut a few stems to put in water and keep in a warm, light place; in about six weeks’ time they will flower. Do this regularly through the winter, and you will have a constant supply for flower arranging.