Professional Gardener - Odd weather, Christmas and slip hazards

Unusual weather patterns this autumn have confused plants, birds and tadpoles, Sally Drury finds.

This autumn has been most peculiar. With days that felt more like summer than the weather we had in July and August, plus a lack of crisp frosty nights, a lot of plants are confused. I have seen hellebores and azaleas in flower and in the Walled Garden at Cannington Clematis armandii 'Apple Blossom' has large sprays of whitish pink, vanilla-scented flowers.

Just as odd, despite this being autumn rather than April, I have seen birds busy gathering material for nesting and heard of tadpoles wriggling out of the way when one gardener removed the pump from her pond.

Christmas displays

It has been a fantastic year for berries in most parts of the country, with hollies performing extremely well. Wreaths, garlands and other decorations needed for estate properties should look particularly good this Christmas. Plan the collection of material earmarked last month for Christmas decoration. Make ready a clean bench in a roomy, cool shed and ensure moss, wreath rings, floristry wire and ribbons are at hand.

Paths and hard surfaces

Moss and algae covered hard surfaces, paths, patios and terraces can become slippery in wet weather. Take advantage of a sunny day, preferably one with a drying breeze, to clean such areas with a pressure washer. A blower can be used to dry hard surfaces quickly where public access has to be maintained.

If infestations are particularly bad, consider a control such as MMC Pro - a broad-spectrum anti-bacterial disinfectant, fungicide, algaecide and detergent. MMC Pro contains no bleach or acids and is biodegradable to EC/OECD standards. It targets green/black mould, algae and moss on all exterior hard surfaces. Consider investing in a block-paving cleaning tool if there are lots of joints between paving material on terraces and patios.

Greenhouse and conservatory

Check insulation is in place and monitor heating systems. Consider sowing round carrots, summer cabbages, cauliflowers, spinach and salad onions so they are ready for putting out under cloches in early spring. Sow pelargonium seed.

Walled garden

Except when wet, continue cultivation in vegetable areas and improve soils by adding garden compost or leaf mould if needed. Cut back asparagus and Jerusalem artichoke stems. Winter prune apple and pear trees and complete the pruning of currants and gooseberries. Take hardwood cuttings of currants and gooseberries.

Trees and shrubs

Check health and shape and prune accordingly. Continue to plant trees, shrubs and climbers while the soil is neither frozen nor waterlogged and regularly inspect recently planted items. Take hardwood cutting of deciduous subjects, especially deciduous hedge material if there are plans for new hedges in the future. Cut down honeysuckle to promote new growth.

Herbaceous border

Many plants are still waiting for a cold snap to knock them back but continue to tidy plants, removing material for shredding and composting. Divide plants as appropriate.


If the weather turns bad, spend some time cleaning, sharpening and greasing tools and equipment.

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