November 2020 - putting down roots

Katrina Martin

Find out what you can do to help wildlife in the garden this autumn...
Spinnies Aberogwen

Richard Waliker

The fireworks have gone, the smoke has cleared. Wet footsteps slap on the pavement as people don their coats and drizzle descends. Umbrellas pop up like mushrooms with their brilliant glossy caps bobbing from street to street. Wind howls at doors and buffets the windows trying to pry its way into our homes.

And yet, among the mist, the rain and the wind, there sometimes emerges a moment of stillness. Through the empty branches of trees, emerge crisp blue skies and wisps of cloud. Dew shimmers across every surface until faint warmth turns it into a cool mist. Everything is quiet. Shadows become long, cast into the distance by their makers as the sun basks the world in a honeyed light. These moments stand out from the dark, the wet and the bleak like blazing lighthouses guiding us through the darkest months.

Perhaps there’s a day to be had in the garden after all…

wellies mud

Susan Freeman

Plant bare-root trees

It’s easy to forget our trees at this time of the year. Gone are the coloured costumes of autumn and in their place remain spindly branches that web the sky. And yet, as nature dies back, trees are still hard at work.

That thick with mud that is clogging your boots is just brimming with of moisture. For us that might be a nuisance as mucky prints plaster our floors but, for trees, that is like a spa day treatment for their roots. Beneath the ground, trees are very much alive!

Tree roots autumn

Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

Many garden centres will now be selling bare-rooted trees because the ground is in perfect condition for roots to take hold. Under our feet, small white tendrils are feeling their way through the soil, looking for new pockets of moisture. They won’t need it now but, come summer, these newly formed roots will be the lifeline of any tree when the dry summer comes around.

Take a look here for suggestions on what trees to plant and how you can give them the best start.

Great Tit on branch

Bob Coyle

Take hard-wood cuttings

Now is also the perfect time to take hardwood cuttings of deciduous trees. With the plant no longer bearing any leaves, it becomes dormant meaning all the energy can go into root growth. This is not only a great way to add more greenery to the garden but it also costs very little.

Choose a healthy shoot that has grown within the last year - this should be around the thickness of a pencil. Make a horizontal cut where the shoot meets the branch – this is where new roots will grow. Lightly scrape a few lines in the bark at the base of the cutting to expose some of the green layer beneath as this will encourage more roots to develop.

New planting. English oak

Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

Once you’ve done that, make a diagonal cut at the top of the cutting to remove any soft green parts of the shoot. Aim to make the cutting a length of around 20cm so trim it to size if it is too long.

Now you will need to fill a medium size pot with a coarse sand or coir fibre. You can use a special compost for cuttings; however, please only do so if it is peat-free. Once you’ve prepared your container, simply place the base of the cutting into the potting mix, water it and let nature do the rest!

You should leave your cuttings for at least a year in order to let the roots develop. Keep the soil damp throughout the year and take more cuttings than you need as not all will survive. If all goes to plan, you should have some new saplings to plant this time next year!

hedgehog

tom marshall

Make leaf mould

Right now, most gardens will be littered with slick brown leaves. It may be tempting to put these in the garden waste bin for a quick tidy-up however, you can use them to create a natural fertiliser as well as provide a habitat for wildlife!

Simply gather all your leaves in a pile and secure it with a tarpaulin. Leave the pile for a year, until the leaves turn soft and crumbly. By next autumn, you will have a leaf mulch ready to put onto your flower beds and vegetable patch. Not only that but it will provide a great habitat for hedgehogs, worms and bugs in the meantime!

Jon Hawkins - Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

As a top tip, keep your leaf pile separate from your compost heap. This is because compost heaps rely on bacteria to break down the organic material placed on it. Leaf mould, on the other hand, is formed through fungi decomposing the leaves which is an entirely different natural process. Why not get both working for you in your garden?

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) looking at camera

Peter Cairns/2020VISION

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