November gardening checklist
Your outdoor and indoor plants need some TLC before winter arrives next month. Here's what to do to get them ready for harsh weather.
Winter is around the corner, and as the year draws to a close, so do many gardening tasks. But wait — the season isn't over yet. Your garden needs some pampering to help it through the cold and stormy months ahead and get it in good shape for next spring. (Don't we all?) And believe it or not, you can still plant bulbs for spring flowers, as long as the ground isn't frozen. (Bing: Which natural fertilizer works best?)
Depending on where you live, November may be "last call" for perennials.
- If the ground hasn't frozen yet, plant spring-flowering bulbs such as crocuses, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths as soon as possible to beat the odds.
- As perennials die, cut them back, and add them to compost.
Trees and shrubs
Gardening wisdom holds that pruning is best saved for later, as winter starts its long, cold wink. But planting is more fun anyway, right?
- Keep moving in those trees and shrubs. The roots love late-autumn planting, which lets them overwinter before they have to call up the strength demanded by spring leafing.
- Fertilizing should be stopped, unless leaves have been smaller than usual or displayed fall coloring too early, both signs of stress.
- Roses can be mulched now.
- Be sure roses, raspberries and crawling vines are securely staked; winter wind can wreak havoc on fragile or top-heavy plants.
- Late in the month, use paper tree wrap around the trunks of saplings and other tender trees to protect them from the dramatic temperature changes ahead.
Plants, trees and shrubs are in their dormant cycle. At last, it's safe to transplant. Think azaleas, rhododendrons and even peonies.
- Dig up a large root ball, including as much of the root system as possible.
- Dig a new hole with enough room to give the root ball lots of good new soil to tempt growth.
- Replant quickly, before the roots have a chance to air dry.
- When you replant, use a mix of existing soil with plenty of peat moss and compost or processed manure, as well as some transplanting fertilizer.
- Protect taller plants and trees from being whipped around by winter winds: Stake them until their roots are well-enough established to stabilize them.
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Three words: Fall means fertilizing. And one or two last kisses from the lawn mower.
- Apply slow-release winter fertilizer now, if you didn't do so in September or October, with a lime additive if necessary.
- Keep up with mowing until your grass stops growing, and then give it one final shot to reduce the risk of winter disease and make it less inviting to rodents.
Even if you're not wild about braving the vagaries of November, you don't want to put this one off: Get started now on protecting tender plants, as well as pipes, planters and tools, from winter surprises.
- Insulate outdoor water connections so that indoor pipes don't freeze or — you really don't want this to happen — burst.
- After the ground has frozen 1 to 2 inches deep, mound straw, bark or sawdust around exposed roots and plant bases, particularly of strawberries and roses.
- Lighten your load in the spring by turning over the soil in vegetable beds now.
- After leaves drop from deciduous plants — including trees and fruit-bearers of all types — a dose of dormant spray will help protect them from diseases and insects. You'll want to give them a second dose in December and a final one in February.
- Before you put flower boxes and other planters in winter storage (yes, that's a good idea), empty them out and bathe them with a mild solution of soap and bleach.
- Drain and store hoses to prevent cracking.
- Garden tools should be cleaned and oiled. Fill a bucket with a mixture of sand and oil, and glide your tools through the mixture with a sawing motion; the sand will revive their edges and the oil residue will help keep them rust-free.
November brings a welcome relief from watering chores — for the most part — but evergreens need one last bit of care.
● The winter elements can spell "winter burn," or even death, to evergreens if they don't have enough water. Give them a final soak this month.
Even on the cusp of winter, the need to weed continues. Think of it this way: If you don't deal with them now, they'll be happy hosts for diseases and insects, as well as make seed showers for future populations.
- Take a look around the garden to find problem areas of crabgrass, and make a note to treat these spots in the spring with a pre-emergent herbicide.
Imagine having your own fresh vegetables at Thanksgiving — but then again, you may not have to.
- If you planted pumpkins in July or August, they should be ready to be harvested right about now, when their shells are hardened and the plant has been killed by the first frost — just in time for pie.
- Cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale in the ground actually grow sweeter with the arrival of frost. Take advantage by harvesting them on the late side.
- Extend the harvest season of root crops such as carrots, leeks and beets (being underground, they're protected from frost) by giving them a healthy layer of mulch.
By now, houseplants are easy roommates. Help them along by paying attention without overdoing it.
- The time for fertilizing has come and gone. The reduced light of winter means they don't need as many nutrients, or as much water.
- Flowering cactuses should be kept well-watered, and these especially should be kept away from drafts.
- Give plants a misting now and then to help replenish moisture lost by indoor winter heating.
How about my herb garden? They are in big, big patio pots so that they are kept on the deck away from all the creatures that love to eat them. I live in the northeast and they are still thriving outside. Can I take them in with a good chance of survival? I don't think they will make it through our cold, long winters.