Digging beds and borders

Posted: Monday 10 November 2014
by Adam Pasco

I’m a fan of feeding the soil rather than the plants, and I regularly sow green manure crops in empty spaces to make the most of this homegrown resource for improving my soil.

November is a real turning point in the gardening calendar. The first hard frosts and gusty winds loosen leaves, finally bringing summer displays to an end.

I've resolved to complete as much preparation for 2015 as possible this side of Christmas. Spent crops have been composted, dead sweet peas untwisted from supports, and old perennials cleared from borders. Bright winter displays have replaced summer ones in patio pots, and spring bulbs should now be rooting and growing unseen below ground.

With mower blades set high I’ve sucked up and shredded fallen leaves from my lawn, packing them into old compost bags to rot down into beautiful leaf mould.

Visiting Gardeners’ World presenter Arthur Billitt at Clack’s Farm many years ago I remember how he always tried to complete winter digging and soil preparations before Christmas. Arthur was an ‘old school’ gardener, enjoying the routine and physical activity of gardening.

He proudly proclaimed how he would personally turn every spit of soil in his large garden by hand – a job he loved – clearing beds and borders, and bringing the season to a natural conclusion.

My visits to Arthur always left me feeling guilty that I didn’t follow his enthusiastic approach to digging. Like many others, I’ve questioned the need for such rigorous cultivation every year. Some have explored the ‘no dig’ approach, and I’ll admit several areas of my garden haven’t been deeply cultivated for many years. They were dug at the start, with generous loads of compost forked down deeply into lower levels of the ground to improve drainage and fertility. Once planted, these beds were left to their own devices, aside from regular applications of compost, left on the surface for worms to take down.

In the December 2013 issue of Gardeners' World Magazine, Monty outlined his 'low maintenance' approach to digging at Longmeadow. That certainly made me feel better! I’m a fan of feeding the soil rather than the plants, and I regularly sow green manure crops in empty spaces to make the most of this homegrown resource for improving my soil.

Like Monty, I don’t like leaving areas of bare soil, and while it’s really too late to sow any winter green manures in November, I would recommend spreading a deep mulch of compost or manure over any bare areas.

Will you be digging deeply this month or leaving soil well alone? As with everything in gardening there are pros and cons to both approaches. But, whatever you decide, I hope the rain stays away and you can enjoy some time outside this week, preparing for spring!

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dianet 13/11/2014 at 18:06

After planting green manure I resolved never to do it again! It grew strongly and was very difficult to 'dig in' and was indistinguishable from weed growth. I dug it all up and left on the surface of the bed but it became fibrous and woody- too difficult to dig in ( I am a mature female allotmenteer). By spring planting time the bed was in a complete mess so I removed the whole lot. These days I prefer home made compost or manure and I'll tackle the weeds in spring!

Verdun 13/11/2014 at 18:50

I tend to agree with you dianet.  Produces weeds.  Prefer compost.

Dordogne Damsel 13/11/2014 at 20:00

So glad to hear these comments, have been thinking about green manure but was not convinced as I wondered how on earth you know the difference between that and weeds. Seems that you don't. Will stick with compost and my endless free supply of manure - how's that for a bargain Verdun? 

Verdun 13/11/2014 at 20:13

Impressive DD.    think you're on right track 

Dordogne Damsel 13/11/2014 at 20:29


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