If you have been organised enough to order bare-rooted trees or shrubs (local nurseries may have some, although the varieties will be limited), they should be delivered sometime this month. Plant them out as soon as possible – it is essential the roots don't dry out, so if you have to keep them for a few days, wrap them in some old sacking or something similar, and (very important) keep them out of the wind.
Prune established apple and pear trees; this can be done any time between leaf fall and buds bursting but early winter days are more likely to be mild and pleasant. Aim for an open, wine-glass shape, to allow air to circulate and fruit to form where it will receive maximum light.
Many perennials should now be cut down to ground level, although you can leave those with attractive seeds-heads if they’ve not been made tatty by the wind – grasses can be particularly effective for a few more weeks, especially if they get frosted, and seed-heads can attract birds.
Lawns may still need occasional mowing; keep them clear of fallen leaves and rake out worm-casts. You can also lightly trim hedges to keep them tidy, but don't overdo it otherwise you'll be looking at bare patches all winter.
Sow over-wintering vegetables – cabbages, broad beans and peas are just some that will grow much faster in spring if they’ve had the chance to develop roots beforehand.
Outside containers should be insulated before it gets consistently cold, by wrapping in bubble-wrap. Do this when it’s mild and not frosty, otherwise you’ll just seal in the frost.
Continue to check any bare soil for germinating weeds and deal with them; it's normally easier to get out all of a dandelion root out if the soil is wet. Digging over vegetable patches can be quite pleasant if the weather is good, with the possible added bonus of a robin watching to see if you turn up any worms. But try to avoid walking on wet soil, as this will compact it, then you'll need to dig it again.
If the birds have left you any holly berries which you want for Christmas decorations, protect them with fleece or a loosely fixed bag.
If you have birdfeeders, keep them topped up (and provide fresh water as well); encouraging foraging birds, especially tits, will help deal with over-wintering pests and their eggs, as well as being great fun to watch.
Mostly the colder months are about planning for next year, looking at catalogues and ordering seeds. No-one can predict what the weather will be like next week, let alone next year, so you'll have to assume it will be a normal summer – if only we knew what that was any more.
Words: Inspire Community Garden
Pictures: Robert Nixon Betts