A few leaves will just decompose and add to the material in the pond, but large quantities from overhanging trees should be removed.
Continue bulb planting
The second phase of bulb planting can take place this month. Snakeshead fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) should be given a place in short grass or on damp soil where it will flower in mid to late spring. Tulips can also be planted now and will thrive in pots, beds or rockeries. The highly bred garden variety are not as good for insects as the wild tulip (Tulipa sylvestris) which grows naturally under hedges and in woodlands and flowers in mid spring. Summer flowering lilies can be planted in an open position with good drainage. There are hundreds of exotic varieties available but two naturalised species are the tall pink martagon lily (Lilium martagon) and the yellow Pyrennean lily (Lilium pyrenaicum). Both are easy to establish and rich in nectar.
Fritillaria meleagris – PD 10 cm (4”), DA 10 cm (4”)
Lilium martagon – PD 10 cm (4”, DA 23 cm (9”)
Lilium pyreneaicum – PD 13 cm (5”), DA 23 cm (9”)
Tulipa sylvestris – PD 15 cm (6”), DA 10 cm (4”)
PD = planting depth; DA = distance apart
Dealing with autumn leaves
A layer of fallen leaves in a woodland area will break down into an ideal growing medium for trees and should not be removed. However it is sensible to rake or sweep up leaves from paths and grassy areas. There are two useful ways of using the collected leaves. The simplest method is just to pile them under hedges or in a spare corner, where they will provide cover for spiders and a host of insects which in turn will provide food for robins and wrens. Piles of leaves are also useful for hibernating hedgehogs.
Alternatively large quantities of leaves can be converted into leaf mould to use as a mulch or to dig into the soil to improve its condition.
Making Leaf mould – Collect leaves with a spring tined rake or broom – oak and beech make very good leaf mould but any deciduous leaves will do. Pile the leaves into an unused corner of the garden or into a wire netting container. A simple container can be made by driving a single 90 cm post into the ground and attaching netting in a cylinder shape around it. Firm the leaves down as they accumulate – if they are particularly dry, water the pile with a watering can. Leave the pile undisturbed for a year, when it will have produced good crumbly leaf mould.
Cutting back ivy
Mature ivy plants, trained against a building or wall can become overgrown and start to block gutters and downpipes. If this is the case it can be cut back towards the end of this month, once flowering has finished. Cut all stems to a level 90cm (3’) below the gutters and gently pull away excess growth.
As far as wildlife is concerned, bonfires are bad news. Every year thousands of hedgehogs and small mammals meet their death by climbing into inviting looking piles of wood, hoping for an undisturbed hibernation. The tradition of burning prunings and clippings is a great waste of potential sites for overwintering insects, like harvestmen, who actually help by eating smaller flying insects. The whole concept of ‘rubbish’ needs to undergo a re-think. Decaying plant material is vital to the natural cycle of growth and we should resist the temptation to tidy or clean up too meticulously. Starting a compost heap or simply piling unwanted wood and vegetation in a corner is a far better use of resources.
Making winter habitats
Apart from the habitats created by the untidy flower border or hedge bottom, it is possible to create additional overwintering sites specifically to attract wildlife. Choose an area which is rarely used, or some fairly inaccessible spot which can remain undisturbed for years if necessary. This rough corner should be well away from public areas, so that disturbance is kept to a minimum. A pile of logs or old timber will soon be covered in fungi and offer shelter to hedgehogs, wood mice, wrens and possibly foxes.
A pile of rocks, stones or old paving slabs will harbour insects, possibly slow worms and offer shelter to hibernating frogs and toads.
Loosely piled grass clippings or straw will house insects and ground feeding birds. They may also attract field mice and shrews.
A sheet of corrugated iron is an ideal habitat for many types of reptiles and small mammals who will use the tunnels as convenient hiding places.