November horticultural hints
by Betty Sanders
Welcome the rain and snow. The best news for gardeners following a summer-long drought has been the rains (and even some snow) that arrived late in October. While drought maps still show much of New England as abnormally dry, November should supply sufficient soil moisture to see our plants through the winter. However, hoping for more rain (or snow) before the ground freezes would not be out of order. Finish the clean-up. Those non-woody plants collapsing around your garden need to be cleaned up now and, by ‘cleaned up’, they need to be cut close to the ground, bagged, and evicted from your property. Your garden will look better, and it ensures you are removing any disease or insect eggs that might winter over.
Compost! Leaves and other clean foliage should go into your composter or compost heap. Leaves run over by the lawnmower are a great source of nutrients for new plantings and existing lawns. Spread mulched leaves over old garden beds. The leaves’ nutrients will move toward the roots from the freezing and thawing action of the soil. Time to feed the birds. Winter is tough on the birds that don’t migrate south. If you enjoy the color and antics they bring to your winter garden, welcome them with food and water. Choose the food that will attract the birds you prefer, or be a generous generalist and see who appears. The reward for being a big-hearted host will come next spring as those same birds will repay your hospitality by eating insects and insect eggs that could bedevil your garden. Are your houseplants winter ready? With your home’s heating system now running full time, your house plants will need more water to compensate for much lower indoor humidity. Check them frequently for dry soil. They will also appreciate regular mistings.
Decorating for the holidays? If you plan to put lights on outdoor trees or shrubs, do it now. Why? Because the branches become more prone to breaking as the weather turns colder. After the holidays, leave the lights in place until you have a warm day when you won’t risk damaging branches when you remove the strands.
When you cut greens for indoor or outdoor displays, remember those basic rules for pruning so you do not accidentally transform a handsome tree or shrub into a landscape liability. If you like bright, berry accents among your greens, use artificial ones instead of taking berries from the birds.
Previous years hints:
For bulbs, it’s now or never. Early November is your last call to get spring blooming bulbs in the ground. As a general rule, bulbs are planted three times as deep as their largest dimension (measured from the top of the bulb). Add lime on top of the soil to confound squirrels, chipmunks and others who would dig the bulbs for dinner. The lime also acts to sweeten our generally acidic soil which bulbs prefer. And take photos of the planting areas so you know what you put where your bulbs next spring. Sweet scents for the holidays. Purchase bulbs now that you would like to give as Christmas gifts. Amaryllis and paperwhites are both easy to force. Paperwhites can be planted in soil or in small pebbles just deep to allow the roots to provide a sturdy base for the flowers. Planted by November 14, they should provide flowers for Christmas. Amaryllis take longer to bloom, up to 8 weeks, but also last longer once in bloom. Leave some leaves. Give yourself a break on (some) fall clean up. Stripping the garden bare is not good for the soil. Some plant (clean, not diseased) material left in place helps to hold the soil. A mulch of shredded leaves (from your lawn mowing, for example) will prevent soil erosion in beds. Rose care. Now that your roses have blooms their last for this season, make certain they have a safe winter. Cut back long canes on roses to prevent damage from wind whipping them. Protect the remaining canes with a wire cage filled with leaves. Your roses will thank you next spring! Thanksgiving for your garden. As you prepare for Thanksgiving and winter, remember wildlife needs a place to winter also. If you have room on your property, a brush pile gives birds shelter from both severe weather and predators. Dead flower stalks that have seeds are natural birdfeeders, leaving them in place provides food.
Let them rest. Stop fertilizing houseplants until next February – unless you keep them under lights. With late autumn and winter’s lower light levels, houseplants enter a resting phase. It will also help your houseplants if you keep your home on the cooler side (or place plants in a cooler room) and keep your houseplant’s leaves clean.
Some flower seeds need a winter outside to germinate. Sow seeds of calendulas, cosmos, cleomes and snapdragons outside. If you garden to attract birds and butterflies, also sow Asclepias (butterfly weed) and milkweed seed now.
Your plants may still need water. New England was drenched with water in late October, but soil moisture levels were low from July until mid-month, putting much of the region into a moderate drought as indicated by the Drought Monitor. All woody plants, trees and shrubs, need water now to fill their roots before winter. Once the ground freezes, the plants are in the Sahara as far as access to moisture—no matter how much snow we get over the winter.
You can read more of Betty's horticultural advise on her website, www.BettyOnGardening.com. She is a lifetime Master Gardener.
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