November Garden Chores
Most landscape and garden plants require a period of dormancy in order to rest. This dormancy is gradual, and usually brought on by cooler weather. It is very important for garden plants such as roses and perennials to enter a resting phase with controlled moisture and no fertilization in order to be long-lived. Several light frosts… those that nip the tops of the foliage of perennials deemed tender in your area… generally precede what is termed the first killing frost of the season. As light frosts begin in many areas, it’s time to prepare the perennial bed for winter.
As a rule, remove dead and diseased stalks, stems and leaves first; then trim the remaining foliage to 4 inches. Pull weeds and discard trimmings to prevent overwintering pests; otherwise they will reemerge in greater numbers come spring.
A winter mulch can be applied after the first freeze, carefully avoiding the rosettes of perennials such as gerbera daisies that will rot if deeply mulched while dormant.
- Tools and Equipment
- Growing Food
- Perennials, Annuals and Bulbs
- Trees, Shrubs and Ground Covers
- Indoor Gardening
Tools and Equipment for November
- To winterize your mower, first disconnect the spark plug wire. Drain out all the gasoline and oil, and replace the old oil with fresh oil. (Take the old oil to a recycling center.) Clean out grass from underneath the mower. Spray paint under the clean deck to prevent rust in the future. Remove and clean the air filter or replace paper filters. Inspect wheels, and replace excessively worn wheels to ensure a level cut next spring. Remove blades, and sharpen them before storing.
- Remember to pull the spark plug before storing your lawn mower for the winter. Check for carbon build-up, and replace if needed.
- Keep your shears and loppers in good working order. Wipe them with a rag dipped in paint thinner to remove sticky resins. Sharpen and oil thoroughly.
- Just like your home, car, and tools, lawns and gardens need maintenance. Investing a few dollars now in a soil test can save you money next year. Call your Extension agent for details.
- To clean garden tools, put warm water and a tablespoon of dishwasher detergent into a bucket. The detergent helps detach soil clumps from metal blades. When clean and dry, use a broad file to sharpen shovels and hoes for next season.
- Tools sharpened on a power grinder heat up and lose their tempering, making the metal prone to breaking. To make your tools last longer, get a broad file and learn the age-old art of blade sharpening this winter.
- Outdoor water pipes, faucets, and hoses should be drained before cold weather occurs to prevent damage by freezing.
- In preparation for storage, hoses and sprinklers should be drained and lubricated. Replace washers where needed.
- Rubber gloves don’t absorb moisture, so for chores involving wet materials, they will keep your hands warmer than cloth gloves.
- Drive support poles for burlap snow screens into the ground before it freezes.
- Be sure to thoroughly clean sprayers and dusters before putting them away for the winter. Clean garden tools, and apply a coating of rustproof grease.
- Treat your lawn mower right this winter, and it will treat you right next spring. Run the gas out of the tank, remove the spark plug, and squirt a tablespoon of oil into the cylinder head. Give the engine a turn or two to coat the cylinder walls with oil, then replace the plug. Disconnect the spark plug wire, and clean any accumulated grass from under the mower. Then store it in a dry place until spring. Consider having the blades sharpened now so you won’t have to put off mowing in the spring because the blades are in the shop being sharpened.
- Clean power tools of all plant material and dirt. Replace worn spark plugs, oil all necessary parts, and sharpen blades. Store all tools in their proper place indoors, never outdoors where they will rust over the winter.
- Clean, oil, and mend all hand tools. Repaint handles or identification marks that have faded over the summer. Sharpen all blades and remove any rust.
- Protect concrete pools by covering them or by floating logs in the water. Drain the water before freezing weather. A few boards or logs on the pool bottom will keep the freezing expansion of any water that might accumulate from damaging the pool.
- Before storing your stakes and trellises, be sure they are thoroughly cleaned of remnants of plant materials and dirt. Hose down all particularly dirty places. Put stakes in bundles, and stack them so they won’t get lost over the winter. Roll up trellises, and tie them securely.
- As soon as seed flats are emptied of fall transplants, clean and disinfect seedling trays before storage so they are ready when you need them in spring.
Growing Food in November
Vegetable, Fruit, and Herb Gardening in November
- If you run out of sage or just want a different flavor, substitute savory or rosemary in your turkey dressing recipe.
- And if you didn’t get to it last month, remember…. Many disease-causing viruses overwinter in the roots of perennial weeds. Tomato mosaic virus overwinters in the roots of ground cherry, horsenettle, jimson weed, nightshade, and bittersweet; cucumber mosaic virus lives in the roots of milkweed, catnip, and pokeweed; bean mosaic overwinters in white sweet clover roots; and many cabbage diseases spread from wild members of the cole family. A good fall cleanup is essential. Don’t wait!
- If you are itching to get fresh greens and don’t have a greenhouse, grow sprouts and winter garden salad indoors.
- Cut back raspberry canes that have grown too long, to prevent damage caused by winter winds.
- If you are using the ground as a root cellar for carrots, leeks, parsnips, or beets be sure to mulch them with leaves or straw. This will keep them insulated after a hard freeze hits.
- Mulch strawberries with 4-6 inches of straw or hay for the winter. Apply this after the top half inch of soil is frozen. (usually after the temperature starts hovering around 25°F) Using tree leaves here is counterproductive unless you shred them… they will mat down when they get wet. The leaves will trap moisture and do not provide good insulation.
Lawns and Landscaping in November
- Take a walk through your garden as the fall season winds down. Take time to reflect on the successes and failures of your gardens this year. Make notes in your gardening notebook for new things to try, and things to fix, next spring.
- The average family’s needs and activities change in cycles of six to seven years. The smaller the property, the greater the landscape planning challenge. Design outdoor areas and facilities to be modified easily with your changing needs.
- Add pine needle mulch to the rock garden to reduce erosion, conserve soil moisture, provide humus, and protect plants from heaving out of the ground by alternate freezing and thawing during winter.
- Mulch used in spring and summer to control weed growth is different from the mulch used in winter. Winter mulch to protect perennial plants should not be dense and heavy. Put down shredded tree branches, pine boughs, or small leaves when the ground freezes in your region. In spring, rake away the mulch material and add it to the compost pile.
- When placing plants around the home, remember as a general rule, plants with thick leaves can take lower light levels than those with thin leaves.
- If needed, apply dolomitic limestone to the lawn so that fall rain and winter snow can wash it into the soil. Your soil pH test will give guidelines for the amount needed.
- A November application of fertilizer is very beneficial to a lawn of cool-season grasses. It promotes root development without excessive top growth. With a strong root system, your lawn will be better able to withstand drought conditions next summer.
- Small low spots in the lawn can be raised by carefully removing the turf and filling in the low spot with good topsoil. Remove the turf by cutting 2 inches deep into the lawn with a flat-bladed spade, then angle the blade under the sod to cut it free, keeping at least 2 inches deep to get most of the roots. After filling the low spot, replace the sod, and keep it well watered until it is reestablished.
Perennials, Annuals, and Bulbs for November
- Looking for a new perennial in your garden? Try Puschkinia (Puschkinia scilloides), a member of the lily family. This fascinating plant has a star-shaped flower with six points. Flowers appear in mid-March, and the bloom lasts for several weeks. Puschkinia is an excellent plant choice for rock gardens, planted 3 inches deep in a sunny or lightly shaded spot.
- If you have a spot in your garden that has wet soil (especially bog-type areas), then pitcher plants (Sarracenia hybrids) are perfect for you! Pitcher plants have flowers in red or yellow, but the pitcher-shaped leaf display is outstanding in August through October. These plants are hardy, having survived exposure to -6F, but can be overwintered in pots in an unheated greenhouse as long as the plants are not allowed to dry out completely. Next spring, plant a few Sarracenia and watch your neighbors drool!
- After several killing frosts have occurred this fall, cut back dormant perennials to about 3 inches above ground. After the ground is frozen, plants can be mulched to guard against displacement due to soil heaving. These steps ensure a successful show of plant foliage and color next season.
- Dense planting in containers works best for small bulbs. Plant as many bulbs as fit, as long as they do not touch each other or the pot. For a 6-inch pot, try 6 tulip or 15 crocus bulbs.
- Spring bulbs grow best at approximately 55°F, so keep potted narcissus, tulips, and other bulbs away from vents or other heat sources.
- For best growth, plant spring bulbs where they are out of the direct sun during the middle of the day. Bulbs have a chilling requirement that is satisfied by winter soil temperatures, so avoid planting bulbs near heated basements where the soil may not stay adequately cold.
- Move containers holding live plants to a protected spot, if possible. Protect the roots by covering the soil and the container with a thick layer of straw or leaves. Check the moisture level of the pots every few weeks, and water if needed.
- Some plants are very sensitive to de-icing salts. Use sand or sawdust on walkways near plantings to prevent falls.
- Invert large flowerpots over semi-hardy perennials, such as dusty miller, to protect the plants in winter. Uncover the plants during warm spells.
- Buy commercially prepared lily-of-the-valley pips from your florist or garden center. Plant as many as possible in pots to secure an abundance of fragrant blooms. One bonus of these bulbs is they tolerate more heat than other commonly forced bulbs.
- Tulips and Dutch iris need to be planted in cold soil so they do not send up shoots before roots are established. If tulips are planted deeply, they will produce large, uniform flowers for many years. Deep planting also makes the bulbs less susceptible to mouse and squirrel damage.
- Bulb forcing can be continued through late winter. Garden centers are sure to have the price reduced on any remaining bulbs.
- Still holding bulbs for outdoor planting when a cold spell is predicted? Cover the area where they are to be planted with a thick layer of leaves, straw, or hay secured with boards or branches. This will keep the ground from freezing until it warms enough to get the bulbs in the ground.
- After chrysanthemums are killed by frost, cut them down in preparation for winter. Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of loose mulch, such as leaves, after the ground has frozen.
- As soon as chrysanthemums are through flowering, remove the stalks to within a few inches of the ground. This will help root development and make plants send out vigorous sprouts in the spring. Some may be lifted and heeled into the coldframe. Plants for potting can be propagated from the side sprouts that will develop next May. Dispose of stems and all dropped and dried leaves and branches.
- Prepare a trench and sow sweet peas in late fall for seeds to lie dormant for spring germination.
- Peonies can be planted now in full sun and fertile, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Dig holes 18 inches and fill halfway with a mixture of soil, compost, and a handful of 5-10-10 fertilizer. Add a few more inches of soil, and set the tubers so the buds are 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface. Backfill, firm the soil, and water thoroughly. Peonies do not grow well after being moved and will not bloom for several years.
- Many perennials and rock garden plants may be planted or divided and replanted during the fall. Set them out early enough to establish their roots before the ground freezes.
- Watch for standing water in perennial beds after long periods of rain. Water that collects on the surface during winter will freeze and can damage perennials. Dig shallow trenches to help drain excess water away. Make a note to raise that bed in spring.
- Reduce peony botrytis blight and hollyhock rust by removing and disposing of all old stems this fall. This reduces the carry-over of the diseases during the winter, and you will have less trouble next year.
Trees, Shrubs, and Ground Covers in November
Light pruning of both needle and broadleaf evergreens is recommended in late fall to encourage a strong framework to help the plant overcome any snow damage. Simply remove any weak or crowded branches with a pair of clean sharp pruners.
Indoor Gardening November
- Keep an eye out for spider mites on your houseplants; they thrive in dry air. At the first sign of any insect infestation, isolate your plant. Several thorough washings with plain water may bring them under control. If not, spray leaves with a solution of rosemary oil. Rosemary essential oil is effective against spider mites and does not harm the beneficial predatory mite, Phytoseiulus persimilis.
- Dracaena marginata and spathiphyllum (a lily) do not react well to extreme temperature changes. To protect them from cold temperature blasts, move plants away from doorways. If plants experience chilling, they probably will drop their leaves.
- Potted geraniums grown indoors should be allowed to become somewhat dry before being watered. They need plenty of sun to promote vigorous growth and flowering.
- When grouping potted plants together to give them the benefit of increased humidity, allow the leaves of each plant to lay in a natural position; don’t jam.
- During the cooler temperatures and shorter days of the winter months, the growth rate of most houseplants slows. Unless plants are grown under an artificial light source that is left on 16 hours per day, new growth will be minimal until spring. Reduce fertilization and water until late April or May when new growth resumes.
- If you have a tendency to over-water houseplants, try root protection cushions. Fit these thick, mesh cushions (they look like round pot scrubbers) into the bottom of a pot when re-potting. They let excess water drain away, allowing oxygen to circulate around the roots. When using a pot with drainage holes inside a decorative pot, place a cushion in the bottom of the decorative pot. When watered, the plant won’t sit in the water that gathers in the outer pot.
- Try dwarf varieties of annual flowers to use as houseplants this winter. Asters, calendulas, celosias, and marigolds come in compact, colorful cultivars that can be maintained in the home if sufficient light is provided.
- Amaryllis bulbs may not bloom if they are in too large a pot. There should be no more than one inch of space on each side of the bulb. At least one third of the bulb should be above the soil line.
- Cyclamen is an exception in indoor plants; it should be fed and watered all through the winter.
- Staghorn ferns are epiphytes and should not be planted in ordinary potting soil. Grow on a slab of osmunda or wood. To grow on wood, put a large handful of moist, long-fiber, sphagnum moss on the wood, place the base of the fern on the moss, then tie it all to the wood with fishing line. Water by soaking in a bucket or the sink. As the fern grows, it will attach itself to the wood.
- African Violets do well when potted in rather small pots. A good general rule is to use a pot one-third the diameter of the plant. To humidify African violets, surround the pot with moist peat contained in a second pot. When buying new plants, avoid those with any signs of yellowing leaves.
- Encourage African violets to bloom by giving them plenty of light. They can be in a south window during dark, winter months. They bloom beautifully under fluorescent lights. In fact, they seem to grow better under them. They should be fertilized at every watering, using a one-fourth strength solution. Water from the top, to prevent salt build-up in the soil, but avoid wetting the leaves.
- Explore bonsai – the ancient oriental art of dwarfing and shaping container-grown trees. Many libraries have how-to books on the subject. Plants suitable for bonsai work that can be treated as house plants include pyracantha, common myrtle, gardenia, and small-leaved azaleas. These miniature trees make fascinating displays in all stages of training.
- The miniature jade tree (Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’) makes an excellent, natural bonsai. Pinch the growing tips to encourage branching and keep the plant potbound.
- An indoor garden light can serve more than one purpose. It can be a night light, room light, or safety light, helping to offset the cost attributed to the plants. Also, the lighted garden can be used as furniture, a room divider, or a focal point of home decor.
- Hanging plants look their best when hung at or above eye level.
- If you use plastic pots instead of clay pots for your potted plants, you won’t have to water as often. Be careful not to over-water. Clay pots absorb excess soil moisture, minimizing danger of over-watering.
- Large plants are easier to move if kept on platforms with casters.
- An attractive, inexpensive window garden can be created by rooting plant cuttings in tinted-glass containers.
- Soil pulled away from the pot rim means inadequate watering and resulting root problems. It will be difficult to add sufficient water overhead to re-wet the soil. Soak the pot in a sink full of water, then drain it thoroughly.
- A different way of starting an avocado plant is to remove the pit from the fruit and wrap it in a moist paper towel, then place it in a plastic bag and close the bag. Place this package in a warm place, checking on it every few days to see if the towel needs to be moistened. When roots appear, pot it up.
- Most plants should not be watered until the soil feels dry. Water thoroughly, let the water soak in, then water again until water drains into the saucer. Empty the saucer within an hour.
- Be sure to close shades at night to insulate window plants from cold outdoor temperatures. Slip a newspaper between potted plants and the window pane for extra protection against the chill.
- Remember cacti go dormant during the winter, so be sure to keep them cool (around 50F) and withhold water until they show signs of growth in spring.
- Plant paper-white narcissus in stones in a bulb pan in early November to have blooms for Christmas time.
- Insufficient light will cause a jade plant to lose most of its old, thick leaves and grow thin, new ones on spindly stems. While jade will survive low light, it needs as much direct sunlight as possible to look its best.
- African violets require a day temperature of 70F and a night temperature of 65F. They may die if the air temperature dips below 55°F. African violets do well under fluorescent lights 12 to 14 hours a day; lights should be 8 to 12 inches from the plant.
- For an exotic house plant, try growing a mango tree. Deep within the flesh of the mango fruit, there is a large, hairy husk and within this husk, is the seed. Scrape the fruit from the husk, and allow the seed to dry overnight. The next day, nick the husk and gently pry it open with a dull knife. The seed is very large and is best started in a plastic bag filled with damp sphagnum moss. It will germinate in two to three weeks and will become a slow-growing, leathery-leaved tree.
- Though November brings an end to outdoor gardens, there are many ways to enjoy plants over the winter. Fluorescent lighting makes a collection of African violets or small foliage plants thrive where there is little or no natural light. Commercial grow-lights are available, or you can save money by creating your own setup. You’ll need two fluorescent tubes — one “cool” blue and one “warm” red — with a reflector to focus the light on the plants. Hang the lights 12 to 18 inches above most plants. Be aware that the ends of the tubes give off less light then the center; arrange plants accordingly.
Miscellaneous Gardening Reminders for November
- Insulate Cold Frames
To make sure you protect young plants from extreme winter cold, modern cold frames, made of aluminum and glass, will benefit from having the gap between the glass and aluminum sealed up with an insulating foam such as bubble wrap or other suitable material.
- Be on the lookout for a new, American-grown, snack food and baking ingredient. “Craisins” are sugared, dried cranberries.They already are being sold to food manufacturers for cereals and baked goods.
- If you are planning to lay newspapers as mulch in the spring, glue them end to end this winter and store them as rolls. When needed, the paper mulch unrolls easily and won’t be lifted by the wind before it can be anchored.
- Try using household rubber gloves with a cloth lining or lightweight pair of gloves under them during cold, wet weather for all but the roughest yard work. They don’t absorb moisture, and they insulate your fingers from the cold better than cloth gloves, especially when it’s wet out. But use caution to avoid chilling your hands.
- Fill a cornucopia basket with seasonal produce and preserves for a Thanksgiving centerpiece. If some of the produce is from your orchard and garden, it’s sure to bring gardening into the conversation.
- As with all living things, plants have a life span and eventually will need to be replaced.
- Cities with visitor attractions, such as coach rides and horse-drawn wagons, usually have stables where city-dwelling gardeners can obtain manure, free for the hauling.
- If a soil test shows the need for raising soil pH, apply dolomitic limestone now so fall rain and winter snow can move it into the soil.
- Check house gutters for fallen leaves, needles, and twigs. Heavy, fall rains will quickly overflow clogged gutters, possibly damaging foundation plants below them.
- Make a pretty wreath out of corn husks. Start with a foam wreath base. Cut strips of corn husks three inches wide and eight inches long. Fold them in half crosswise, and wire the ends together. Fasten them to the foam base with thumbtacks, overlapping the folded part of one husk and the wire of the next and hiding the wires and tacks. If the base is narrow, one row of husks will do. Use two or more rows for wider bases. Add a colorful bow and trimmings of nuts, pine cones, or bittersweet to complete the wreath.
- Check attic vents, building joints, and loose siding. Seal any openings that would allow squirrels and mice to enter.
- The watt rating of a bulb or tube indicates the electric power it consumes, not the light intensity it generates. A fluorescent tube produces more lumens (a somewhat arbitrary measure of visible light emitted) than an incandescent bulb of the same wattage.
- Caulk and plug any entrances around the home used by wasps this past summer.
- Keep the compost heap moist to aid in the decay process. Turn the pile to mix in all late, fall additions.
- Weave garlic, onions, or dried chilies together to create holiday wreaths with a gourmet twist.
- Earthworms must remain below frost line to survive. Mulch piled on top of soil raises the frost line. If you want earthworms to help break down organic matter in the upper soil layers, mulch deeply. If you need the subsoil aerated, leave the surface mulch thin; the worms will burrow downward to stay warm.
- Set up an aquarium to display beautiful water plants and fish. Search pet shops for interesting varieties, or try introducing water-loving houseplants, such as Nephthytus. For healthier plants and possible flower production, allow plants to grow out of the water and trail over the sides of the aquarium.
- Order seed catalogs now for garden planning in January. For variety, consider companies that specialize in old and rare varieties or wildflowers.
- In the northern part of the state, the gypsy moth can be found in the egg stage from now until April. Look for tan, fuzzy patches that look like a piece of camel-hair coat, 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide, attached to trees, rocks, fences, lawn furniture, wood piles, and buildings. If you find any, scrape them off and kill them in a jar of alcohol or bleach. To confirm identification of the gypsy moth, bring samples of the egg mass
to your local Extension service.
- Bring out the bird feeders, and stock them with treats for the birds. Remember to provide fresh water for your feathered friends.
If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.
~ Mitchell Burgess