MY MANTRA FOR NOVEMBER: “Leave the garden in autumn the way you wish to find it in spring.” Every weed pulled and every clean-up operation completed before snow counts against the inevitable April bedlam (and April, at least for me, is always pure bedlam). What to do first? I follow this list of chores:
Leaves. Gather, shred, and compost these, and you won’t have to buy expensive soil amendments in the spring. I can tell you that shredded leaves turned the hard, dead soil on my property into rich, worm-filled loam.
Tulips & Other Dutch Bulbs. It’s not quite too late to plant these out. I set mine at least 8 inches deep, and then water them well to hasten root development before the soil freezes solidly. If squirrels are inclined to dig up your tulip bulbs, outwit them. Or, just focus on daffodils, which are (generally) not bothered by pests.
Garlic. Be sure to plant this bulb, too. I plant individual cloves 3 inches deep and about 6 inches apart. For more details, visit my Garlic Sowing & Growing Guide.
Iris. Lightly mulch first year plantings after a hard freeze. Mature plantings don’t require protection.
Hellebores. Dig in a little cottonseed- or alfalfa-meal around the plants. Also, give them a top dressing of compost or shredded leaves.
Hostas. Cut the faded foliage back to the ground. Refrain, however, from dividing or transplanting at this time; you’ll have better success if you wait until spring.
Hoses, Faucets and Gutters. Store hoses in cellar or garage; drain faucets and clean out leaves from gutters. I hire out the gutter-job.
Driveways and Parking Areas. Insert markers while you can still pound them into the ground. Sturdy stakes with reflectors make good guides for snow removal, and keep most though not all thoughtless guests from parking on lawns and beds.
Boxwood. If new plantings are of dubious hardiness, either cover them with burlap or spray them with WiltPruf. WiltPruf, an anti-transpirant, protects against both sun- and wind-burn. Hardy varieties like ‘Winter Gem’ (pictured above, in my rose garden) need no protection at all. How I and care for and propagate this great shrub.
Roses. If you live in zone 5 or colder, like I do, be prepared to work. Once the top two or three inches of soil has frozen, mound shredded leaves (aren’t you glad you have these?) up a foot or more around plants. Cut only the most exuberant canes back to keep them from whipping around in the wind. Otherwise, do not attempt any pruning until spring.
Veggie Garden. If soil has settled in raised beds, replenish now with compost, shredded leaves, or a mixture of equal parts manure, top soil and sand. Don’t dig the new material in; just leave it on top for further composting over winter.
Winter-Sowing. Want to plant your summer garden at the wrong time of the year? Better start collecting gallon-size milk and water jugs now. These will become the miniature greenhouses you’ll use for seed sowing in the snow. Proceed this way.
African Violets. Give plants in windows a quarter turn every other day to keep them shapely. Plants under fluorescent lights do not require turning, but they do need more food and water. Be sure to read my always-in-bloom program for African violets.
Amaryllis. Why not treat yourself to some of the gorgeous, big-flowered King’s Court varieties? Pink-brushed white ‘Appleblossom,’ above, is just one of several Hippeastrum that bloomed in my parlor last Christmas. Start bulbs out in a warm, dim spot, and water sparingly until growth is about 6 inches along. Then move to a cool, sunny place. Be sure to read my Amaryllis Growing Guide.
Boston Fern. If your plant is too large, or if its leaves are withering, simply divide it into several smaller plants. These youngsters will be easy to manage, and they won’t shed foliage all over the floor. As you can see in the photo above, I display them on glass shelves in my music room window garden. My profile of this graceful Nephrolepsis exaltata .
Dutch Bulbs. Placed in cold storage (this means the spare refrigerator for me, at least until temperatures in my cellar drop appreciably) these potted bulbs need weekly checking for water. Don’t let roots dry out!
Thanksgiving Cacti.Mine decided they were Halloween cacti this year, for they are now fully in flower. Water and feed this Schlumbergera truncate weekly while it blooms. More cultural details here.
English Ivy. Shower foliage weekly to avoid attacks of red spider and aphids. More beautiful vines you can grow in your window garden.
Kalanchoe. For Christmas bloom, provide twelve to fourteen hours of darkness for three weeks before Christmas. I put this short-day plant in the dark guestroom closet from 8PM until 8AM. My kalanchoe growing guide.
Rabbits-foot Fern. If leaves are turning brown at an alarming rate, I’m afraid that surgery is the only cure. But here’s the good news: you’ll obtain many, many new Rabbits-foot ferns! Proceed this way.
Narcissus Paperwhites. Plant at mid-month for Christmas flowers. To avoid overly-tall flowering stalks, I give mine a shot of gin.
Chinese Sacred Lily. For a yellow and white New Year’s bouquet, plant bulbs at mid-month. Like all tropical Narcissi, this “good luck” flower does not require chilling.
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