Gardening Tips for November & December
Even though temperatures are dropping and snow is starting to fly in northern areas, the gardening season isn’t over – not until the ground freezes! As long as you can get a spade in the ground, the ground can still be worked.
Screen and protect – Newly planted broad-leaf evergreens such as azaleas, boxwood and hollies benefit from a burlap screen for winter wind protection. Set screen stakes in place before the ground freezes. And spray an antidessicant before the weather turns consistently to below-freezing temperatures.
Safeguard garden ponds – You don’t want your garden pond to freeze solid in winter. Cover it with an insulating material (even bubble wrap will work) or place a floating water heater in the pond to lessen the chance of ice damage. Cover your garden pond with bird netting to prevent leaves from fouling the water. As organic matter (such as leaves) rot in the water, they use up oxygen; this lack of oxygen can kill pond fish.
Prevent fruit tree injury – Rodents love the bark of fruit trees. Pull back any mulch several inches from the base of fruit trees and consider using a tree guard or protective collar to prevent tree trunk injury from rabbits, mice, voles and other rodents.
Remove old fruit – Pick up and dispose of any fallen, spoiled or mummified fruit. Do not compost it. Place it in a plastic bag and throw it in the trash.
Harvest root crops – Root crops, such as carrots, radishes, turnips and Jerusalem artichokes can survive the winter underground if they’re protected with a deep layer of leaves, straw or mulch before the ground freezes. You can even harvest them throughout the winter. But… if you live in an area where the ground freezes hard in winter, you’re better off harvesting root crops this month – even mulch won’t stop the ground from freezing around your carrots and turnips (and then what would you eat for Thanksgiving dinner?).
Remove diseased material – If you’ve had any problems with diseases in the garden this season, be especially thorough in your fall clean up. Don’t compost any infected plant material. Most home compost piles don’t get hot enough to fully kill pathogens. Instead, put the debris in plastic bags and throw it away.
Let the lawn go dormant – Mow it low and then take the time to clean your lawn mower, sharpen the blade, and change the oil and air filter
Turn off the water – Shut off and drain any outdoor water pipes or irrigation systems that may freeze during cold weather. Empty all hoses, coil them neatly, and put them away for the winter.
Stop fertilizing houseplants – They’ll be just fine without fertilizer until spring.
Finish planting – Early November is still a good time to plant trees and shrubs. Apply a 2-3 inch mulch layer, but stay several inches away from the trunk. Keep the soil moist, not wet, to the depth of the roots and keep watering until the ground is frozen hard.
Finish planting bulbs – As long as the ground can be worked and isn’t too wet, you can still plant spring-flowering bulbs. You might even get a late season discount.
Mulch – Flower beds will benefit from a thick layer of mulch after the ground freezes to prevent injury to plants from frost heaving.
Winterize roses – After a heavy frost, place a 6 to 10-inch deep layer of mulch (topsoil works well) over each plant. This is typically done for hybrid tea roses but not necessarily for hardier varieties, such as shrub roses. Prune sparingly, just enough to shorten overly long canes. Don’t prune climbers.
Clean and store garden tools – This is something many gardeners (myself included) neglect to do. But a little preventive maintenance now will make for an easier start in spring. Brush off any soil, remove rust with steel wool, sharpen if necessary, and oil exposed metal. See our article on preparing garden tools for winter and how to winterize your lawnmower.
Make a compost or leaf mold pile – Something as simple as chicken wire bent into a circle will work well for storing leaves. Just leave it until next year and you’ll have a pile of “black gold” to use in the garden. Just don’t use leaves from black walnut or horse chestnut as they produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants.
Nice To Do
Tidy the garden – This one depends on your preferences. I tend to leave most plants (those without signs of disease or infestation) standing through the winter to provide interest and trap snow (it’s a good insulator for the plants below). Plus, it provides protection, food and a safer over-wintering spot for many types of wildlife. But not everyone likes that look so if you prefer a “tidy” garden, remove the spent flowers and foliage of perennials after they are damaged by frost.
Test your soil – Now is a good time to collect soil samples to test for pH and nutritional levels. If you know that your soil needs to be adjusted, apply amendments according to the soil test recommendations. These amendments will work into the soil over the winter and things should look much better in the spring.
Set up bird feeders – Birds also appreciate a source of unfrozen drinking water during the winter. If you’re using a bird bath, put a heater in it and keep the water shallow.
Prepare garden beds for next year – Add organic matter, such as chopped leaves or compost, to improve the soil’s structure, draining, and nutrient holding capacity. In established beds, work the organic matter into the first few inches of soil around existing plants.
Plant indoor bulbs – Amaryllis, paperwhites and calla lilies can all be started in November for a beautiful show by year end.
Start an indoor herb garden – If you’re craving the flavor of fresh herbs, try growing some in a sunny window (meaning that it gets at least 6 hours of sun a day). Try rosemary, basil, mint, parsley, thyme or chives.
Note: The gardening tasks described here are for gardeners in zone 6. Tasks may be done earlier, or later, if you live in warmer or colder areas.
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