My mantra for November: Leave the garden in autumn the way you wish to find it in spring. Every weed pulled, every tool put away, and every clean-up operation completed before snow counts against the inevitable April bedlam. What to do first? Maybe this list will help:
Leaves. Gather and shred these, and trust me — you won’t have to buy expensive soil amendments in spring. Shredded leaves transformed the horrid soil on my property into rich, worm-filled loam. There are lots of ways to shred leaves. Several years ago, I purchased a Flowtron Ultimate Leaf Shredder from this online source. The gadget turns whole leaves into finely-shredded, instantly-usable mulch.
Alternatively, you can stuff leaves into a big bin (such as a garbage can) and attack them with a weed-whacker. Or, if you have a lawn mower equipped with a bag, just mow the leaves to shred them. As you work, dump the contents of the bag into a pile, or empty it directly onto garden beds.
Dutch Bulbs. If you haven’t yet planted your tulips, hyacinths, crocus, and other cold-hardy bulbs, you’d better get hopping. Bulbs always perform better when they are allowed to make roots before the ground freezes solidly.
Garlic. Be sure to plant this bulb, too. I plant individual cloves 3 inches deep and about 6 inches apart. For more details, check out my garlic-growing tutorial.
Iris. Lightly mulch first year plantings after a hard freeze. Mature plantings don’t require protection. (Pictured above, in my Serpentine Garden: pale blue irises, and pinkish-red Weigela ‘Wine and Roses.’)
Hellebores. Dig in a little cottonseed meal or alfalfa meal around the plants. Also, give them a top dressing of compost or shredded leaves. Wait until flower buds emerge in late winter to remove old foliage.
Hostas. Cut 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. (Pictured above: Hosta ‘Wide Brim’ in the Woodland Garden.)
Hoses, Faucets and Gutters. Store hoses in cellar or garage; drain faucets, and clean out leaves from gutters. I hire out the gutter-job.
Boxwood. If new plantings are of dubious hardiness, either cover them with burlap or spray them with WiltPruf. WiltPruf, an anti-transpirant, protects against wind-burn. Hardy varieties like ‘Winter Gem’ (pictured above, in my backyard) need no protection whatsoever. How I propagate and grow this great shrub.
Roses. If you live in zone 5 or colder, as 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.
Winter-Sowing. Wanna start your summer garden at the wrong time of the year? Then do what I do, and gather some gallon-size milk and water jugs. These “miniature greenhouses” are perfect for seed sowing in the snow. The details.
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. More details here.
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! Click here for more details.
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.
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. I plant mine in pebbles and water. And to avoid overly-tall flowering stalks, I give them a nip of gin. More details in this fun post.
Red Bell Pepper Soup. This soup was inspired by late-summer produce from my garden. It’s a healthful puree of ripe, Vitamin C-rich bell peppers, plus zingy garlic, fragrant thyme, and creamy russet potatoes. And Lawd A-Mighty — it’s delicious! Here’s the recipe.
Turkey-Carrot-Bacon Loaf. This tastes like a dream. Besides the usual eggs and bread crumbs, I added shredded carrots, chopped parsley, sharp cheddar cheese, and fragrant Worcestershire sauce to the ground poultry. Then I topped the loaf with rich tomato paste and ribbons of sweet, smokey bacon. Here’s the recipe.
Rustic Apple Cake. Don’t pretend you don’t want to try this simple dessert. It’s rich, fragrant, and perfect for devouring after a leaf-raking session. Here’s the step-by-step.
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