Before lighting your bonfire, remember the hedgehog who thinks that the pile of brushwood is his ideal hibernation spot. If the pile has been up for a while, undo it to check that he’s not sleeping underneath. Woody prunings that are less than 1in thick can be shredded and composted; anything larger can be used for firewood. If your bonfire was made mostly of wood, then the residual ash can be put on flowering plants that benefit from potash.
Help the honey bees
The plight of bees is making headlines, but we can do something now to give them a helping hand. As we steal the honey in the summer their supplies for winter we should help them replenish their stores from late September. We give them a sugar syrup until they stop taking it, and hope this will tide them over in the winter. As the queen may start laying eggs as early as February, their food can soon run out as they feed the young larvae. On mild days, they will leave the hive to forage for nectar. If you plant plenty of early flowering crocuses now, they’ll find sustenance in March. Any garden with fruit trees should be bee-friendly; plant spring-blooming flowers and bulbs now, that will coincide with the flowering of your fruit trees, to encourage the bees to pollinate around the orchard.
Mulch fruit trees
Young fruit trees don’t like weeds or grass growing around their stems, so remove them now. Mulching with garden compost or well-rotted manure will keep them protected, as well as feeding the soil around the roots. This will keep in the moisture, too. Avoid placing the mulch against the stem of young trees to help prevent the risk of damage, which could lead to diseases, such as canker, attacking the tree. Quinces in store Make sure you pick your quinces now, if they haven’t already fallen or been blown off the tree. Store them until their strong and unique scent is fully developed: it can be overpowering in a small space, so keep them away from your other stored fruit. Some people like to have a bowl of them in the house to scent the rooms. We’ve had success with the variety known as Portugal, even though it can be susceptible to leaf blight in wet summers. Vranja, which has good-sized fruit, is less prone to blight.
Indoor grape vines
Once the leaves have fallen, you can prune this year’s lateral branches back to the main stem or rod. Cut each back as close as possible to a bud that will become next year’s lateral shoot. The rods can be extended by pruning and tying the leading lateral to the length that suits you best. The stem is best connected to a pulley system, which can be lowered from the greenhouse roof, making it easier to work on both the vine or the glass roof. Rub off loose bark by hand to expose over-wintering insects, which can be dealt with by using an insecticidal soap, such as Savona (from The Organic Gardening Catalogue, www.organiccatalog.com).
Philip Maddison is head gardener at Harrington Hall, Lincolnshire, www.harringtonhallgardens.co.uk