November gardening advice 2017
I have to admit that I nearly cried when I had to buy tomatoes in the grocery store. It made me realize that summer is truly over, and I am doomed to have tasteless tomatoes for months and months. This is what is truly saddest about summer ending.
While no consolation for the end of summer, The Old Farmer’s Almanac is saying that winter will be warmer than usual, with slightly above normal precipitation. However, they are also saying that early December will be one of the coldest periods of the winter, so don’t delay for too long in getting your outdoor chores done, or you could be doing them in the freezing cold!
November is a great month to talk about burlap because this is a great time to put it to good use in our yards. The main use for burlap at this time of year is to protect plants from the cold, but burlap has other uses as well. First, about that winter protection. Have you ever seen evergreens wrapped up in burlap during the winter? The reason people do that is to help keep them from drying out.
Plants lose moisture through their leaves all the time, and when the ground isn’t frozen, the moisture is replenished through the soil (either from rain that Mother Nature supplies, or from watering you provide). However, when the ground is frozen, plant roots can’t take up moisture to replenish what they lose through their leaves. Deciduous trees and shrubs minimize the effects of this problem by shedding their leaves in the fall, but evergreens retain their foliage, and are more susceptible to drying out in the winter.
Giving your evergreens some protection from the wind and sun during the winter can help them survive with minimal
damage. I don’t recommend wrapping them up though, as the burlap can get weighted down with snow and ice and
cause even worse damage in the form of broken branches. Providing a burlap screen is a much better solution.
There’s a link below in the Tree & Shrub section to an article on how to put up a screen.
Burlap is a good product for this purpose for a few reasons: it helps cut the wind, it helps shade the sun, but it also
allows the plants get some sun and to breathe – both of which are very important for your plants, even in the winter.
A side benefit of using a burlap screen to protect your trees and shrubs in winter is that it can also keep deer and
rabbits away from them, and turning them into a late-winter snack.
Burlap also comes in handy in the garden in the summer. It can be used as a mulch, to protect newly sown seeds
from drying out or being washed away; as a shade for plants that do better with a little protection from the harsh late-
afternoon summer sun; as a frost cover in the early spring, when suddenly cold nighttime temps can threaten young
seedlings; as root protection for plants you are transplanting – there are so many uses for burlap in the garden!
Since it looks like gardening season has mostly come to an end, it’s time for cleaning up and packing up … and
maybe a little bit of gardening, too! For a number of weeks, I was telling people to hold off on getting their bulbs
planted, because it was still just too warm. That’s no longer a problem. I now have to get my bulbs in the ground as
well – both flowers and garlic. I also still have a bit of clean-up to do in my veggie garden. Here’s what else needs to
be doing this month:
Pull weeds. Pulling weeds out of the garden now will help cut down on what you have to pull in the spring.
If you’re like me, and have been putting off the chore of cleaning up your veggie garden, it’s time for both of us to get that task done. It’s better to do it now, when there’s some chance that it won’t be freezing cold. Pull any plants that are left and compost those that are disease-free. Trash plants that had signs of disease.
You can leave root crops such as carrots, radishes, turnips, etc. in the ground over the winter, as long as you give them a really deep layer of mulch (such as straw or leaves) before the ground freezes. When you’re ready to use them, pull back the mulch and harvest what you need, then cover the rest back up again.
Plant garlic. Varieties that are planted in the fall do best in our region – the overwintering helps them get bigger. When you plant them, be sure to work in some fertilizer that is higher in phosphorous, which helps promote root growth as the bulbs get started putting down roots in the fall. Cover your planting bed with a light layer of straw mulch to help keep moisture in. Then, once the ground is frozen, pile on a thick layer of straw – 6 to 10 inches is good. This helps keep the soil temperature consistent throughout the winter.
You can also plant peas and spinach at this time, to take advantage of the tendency of both of these to come up early in the spring. It’s harder to plant them early enough in the spring, because the ground is still so wet. Planting them in fall means you can get a much earlier harvest. Again, mulch them really well once the ground is frozen.
If you haven’t yet, it really is time to pull out any left-over summer annuals. The freezing overnight temps we’ve seen recently mean they’re pretty much done. Compost them, as long as they are not showing any signs of disease.
Once you’ve cleaned out containers, store them somewhere where they will be out of the weather for the winter. You can leave them outside over the winter, if you take some precautions to keep them from filling up with water, freezing and cracking. You can move them to under a covered porch, or cover them with tarps, if they’re too big to move.
Most mums are pretty well finished now too, and can be composted if you didn’t plant them in the ground in hopes of getting them to come back next year.
Just as with the veggie garden, remove weeds from your flower beds to give you a head-start on next spring.
Once the soil has cooled down, add a layer of fresh mulch to your perennial flower beds to help protect the plants’ roots from frost heave this winter.
Plant spring-blooming bulbs. Daffodils, tulips, alliums, hyacinths, crocus, can be planted all the way up until the ground is frozen, but doing it now gives them a chance to get some good root growth gong while the soil still has some warmth. It also means it might be warmer for you, so you aren’t freezing while you’re out there planting. I recently came across a great article from MSU about planting tulips – written in 1982, but the information in it is still relevant
If you’ve had problems with creatures digging up your bulbs in the past, try mixing them up with some baby powder in a bag (think “Shake-n- Bake”) before you plant them. Squirrels and such don’t like the smell of baby powder, so it might deter them.
Trees and Shrubs:
The only pruning of trees and shrubs that should be done between now and about February is to remove dead or damaged branches, so avoid the temptation of trimming back unruly stuff. It can and should wait.
While the ground is still soft, put up stakes to use to attach burlap to for wind barriers around evergreen trees and shrubs (see above). You can wait a little bit to put the burlap up, but having the stakes in place now means you aren’t trying to pound them into the frozen ground.
Evergreens, as well as deciduous trees and shrubs, will do better with some protection from a number of things they can encounter in the cold months. The University of Minnesota Extension Service offers a great resource for information on what issues trees and shrubs may face over the winter, and how to deal with them.
While Mother Nature seems to have been determined lately to make up for the lack of rain all summer, that could easily change again, so keep hoses handy while the temperatures are still above freezing, so that you can water your trees and shrubs if we aren’t getting at least an inch of rain each week. This will help to prevent damage caused by the drying winds we get all winter. Be sure to fully empty hoses after each use at this time of year so that you don’t risk having the water in them freeze and expand, causing the hose to crack when temperatures dip below freezing at night.
As with your flower beds, add a layer of fresh mulch to trees and shrubs, once the soil has cooled, to help them get through the winter.
Lawn and Leaves:
Lawns are probably about done growing for the season, with the onset of colder temperatures. If you haven’t mowed recently though, you might want to do one final mow before you put away the equipment. It’s not a good idea to leave the grass too long going into winter, as this can promote disease in your lawn.
It’s also not a great idea to leave whole leaves on your lawn all winter long. So, while you’re doing that last mowing, use your mower to shred the leaves and mulch them into the lawn, instead of raking them up – it’s better for your lawn, and for your back!
When you’re all done with your garden clean-up, there’s still a little bit more to be done: clean, dry, sharpen, and lubricate your garden tools before you put them away so they’ll be ready to get right to work in the spring. Sharpen your shovels, too. A sharp shovel makes digging so much easier.
Empty your hoses, roll them up, and tie them before hanging them up for the winter. I like to connect the ends of each hose to keep spiders from using them as nesting places. I also like to put my sprinkler heads and wands all in one place, so I don’t have to remember what I did with them come spring. A small trug (one of my favorite garden tools!) or bucket works well for this. If you have rain barrels, empty them and put them away, too, or consider bringing one or more of them into your basement to use the rain water over the winter. It’s not an easy task – you’ll need some real muscle and, at minimum, a hand truck, but if you can do it, it’s a great way to save water, and using rain water – as opposed to treated water – is much better for your plants.
Leave your birdbaths out and filled as long as possible. Many birdbaths can’t take being out in freezing temperatures, but you can still fill your birdbaths up during the day, and dump them out in the evening, until daytime temps start going below freezing. If you have a birdbath that can stand up to the freezing temps, consider putting in a de-icer. De-icers allow you to provide a vital source of water for your birds all through the winter, without risking damaging your birdbath. Another option is a heated birdbath, like the one we carry, that has a built-in heater with temperature control that only heats up when the temps dip below freezing.
If you don’t feed your birds year-round, from now to next spring is the best time to do so. While birds rely mainly on insects during the summer, seeds and berries become the main source of food in the winter for most birds. Providing an easy source of food for them will help them get through the cold days and nights of winter, and lets you enjoy their antics at the feeders, too. Just remember to clean the feeders regularly to help prevent the spread of disease.