Dan cutting back the longest growth on rush roses

Keeping trim: Dan cuts back the longest growth on bush roses. Photograph: Jason Ingram for the Observer


As soon as the leaves fall, think about lifting woody material for planting. The warmth held in the ground from the growing season will promote root growth even if nothing is visible above ground, so aim to plant bare-root and root-balled trees and shrubs before the year is out. Plants in the ground this side of Christmas invariably do better. Exceptions are evergreens, which can desiccate if their roots have not made good contact with the ground before the freeze.


If you are in an area where freeze sits in the ground, lift dahlias and cannas as soon as frost has blackened their foliage. Store in just-damp compost in a frost-free shed. In milder areas, leave them where they are, and mulch with a 6in layer of compost.


Pot up “Paperwhite” narcissus and hippeastrum bulbs and start them off on a cool windowsill in bright conditions to prevent them from becoming drawn. You will appreciate their presence in the dark months.


Tulips prefer to be planted late after most other bulbs, but get them into the ground this month to allow their roots to get established before winter. They do best in bright, free-draining conditions, but it is worth planting a few in the shade of dappled trees to uplift shadowy places. Try to rotate where you plant them to diminish the chances of tulip fire, a bacterial disease, which can lie latent in the soil for up to three years.


Now is a good time to empty compost heaps to make room for the first clear-up of the autumn. Spread compost on vegetable beds and start to turn it in on heavy ground to give frost the opportunity to help in breaking clay soils down. Leave it on the top with lighter soils that are prone to leaching from winter rains and are best dug in spring. The earthworms will help to pull it into the ground.


Rake leaves that have fallen on grass to keep lawns in good condition. Lawns stop growing when temperatures fall beneath 5C so its best not to cut too late and leave turf short and vulnerable to wear. Mediterranean herbs and alpines are prone to rotting in damp conditions so rake foliage from plants that like air around their growth in winter.


Tip out the longest growth on bush roses by a third to prevent them from succumbing to wind rock over the coming months. Try to restrain yourself with the perennials, taking back only those plants that are looking shabby. Ornamental grasses, fennel and sea hollies make fine winter skeletons, food for birds and resting places for beneficial insects.