November Gardening Calendar
This month, you can feel winter coming on. Unless you are close to the ocean or Humboldt Bay, nights are occasionally frosty, and most garden growth is slowing down. Rain, and even some snowflakes in the surrounding hills, begin to be seen. It's a good time to start settling in for the winter.
Use November's sunny days to finish your yard and garden cleanup, plant the last bulbs, divide some perennials, and mulch your garden beds. On those cold, gray days, stay warm indoors with a cup of tea and delve into your garden books. Because, as all gardeners know, it's never too soon to start planning what you're going to do in the garden next spring.
In most parts of the country gardeners are busily concentrating on putting away their gardening tools and making plans for next year's garden. Their gardens are shutting down and the only thing they have to look forward to is the arrival of the seed catalogs with all those promising and optimistic pictures. Of course, we're making plans for next spring also, but your perennial gardens can still be full of colorful flowers - if you grow the right plants.
The local nurseries and propagators carry a large number of these late blooming plants. Some bloom practically non-stop from spring to fall and others put on their best show when the days get shorter and cooler. They can be planted anytime you find them available but are best planted in early fall so they will be able to establish a healthy root system. Deadhead (clip off spent blooms) regularly to prolong flowering.
Try these perennials for next year's fall color:
SOCIETY GARLIC (Tulbaghia violacea). It looks like an untidy clump of grass, but it has many rosy pink-lavender flower clusters on one to two foot-long stems. It's easy, likes sun, and regular watering. The clumps can be cut apart when they get bigger and you will have lots more to plant. There are variegated forms available with white or creamy lines on the leaves. If you enjoy the smell of garlic use them as cut flowers. You can use the leaves as seasoning.
SAGE (Salvia). Over the last few years breeders have been concentrating on this plant and many species are now available. This perennial is easy, colorful, pest resistant and drought tolerant. Plant these in the sun. Heights and flower colors vary.Here are three North Coast favorite sages for fall color:
- AUTUMN SAGE (Salvia greggii), 3 to 4 feet, flowers in many colors summer and fall.
- SALVIA CHAMAEDRYOIDES, a low mound of silvery foliage with bright blue flowers.
- MEXICAN BUSH SAGE (Salvia leucantha). This plant has graceful, arching, grayish-green foliage and three to four foot long velvety purple spikes set with small white flowers. It puts on a show that starts in late summer and continues until frost.
JAPANESE ANEMONE (Anemone hybrida). This plant is indispensable for fall color in partial shade. It looks very nice in clumps in front of tall background shrubs. This perennial bears loose sprays of white to rose pink flowers resembling wild roses on graceful stems about two to four feet high. It has attractive clumps of good-looking foliage. It needs regular watering, will burn in the hot sun.
COREOPSIS. A member of the sunflower family, this tough and easy plant will yield profuse numbers of bright yellow flowers summer and fall. This plant likes full sun and will survive on very little water once it is established. Cut back the waves of dead flowers with hedge shears to bring on successive bloom. Coreopsis grows one to two feet tall and spreads to three feet. Did I mention it will tolerate hot and dry? Three excellent varieties for the North Coast are 'EARLY SUNRISE', 'SUNBURST', and 'MOONBEAM'. Replace every three or four years or when they begin to burn out.
ASTERS. Native to the area, these are the blue flowers you see along the roadside in October and November. There are more than 600 species of true asters, ranging in size from six inches to six feet. Most garden varieties require fertile soil, full sun, regular watering and a little work since they will need to be divided and replanted yearly in late fall or early spring. The ones most often seen in local nurseries are varieties of the hybrid Aster frikartii, a two foot high open spreading plant with flowers lavender to violet blue with yellow centers.
CHRYSANTHEMUMS. Where would we be without these favorites? Every nursery had these on sale last month in four inch packs for less than a dollar. The flowers came in many colors and forms. It's easy to grow chrysanthemums, not so easy to grow prize- winning chrysanthemums. The latter need constant watering, fertilizing and pruning, starting in early spring.
OK, that's a good start. Of course, there are many more plants for fall color, including annuals, shrubs and trees. The first chills of winter bring a glorious display of colorful foliage and berries to the North Coast. All this beauty (except the poison oak, maybe) can be brought inside and put on display. Keep your eyes open as you travel around town and if you see a plant that you like, march up to the front door, ring the bell and ask, "What is it, and where can I get one"? Almost all gardeners will be thrilled to share this information with you (and divisions or cuttings), plus you'll probably even get the grand tour!
If you hurry, there's still time in your VEGETABLE GARDEN to set out young plants of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, and Swiss chard and sow vegetable seeds, including carrots, lettuce, peas, radishes, and spinach. Start seeds indoors if the weather is cold or wet.
Plant GARLIC cloves. Make sure your soil is sunny and well- drained or plant in a raised bed (a mound of earth will do, as long as the rain water drains away) and mix in plenty of compost.
This month is the last chance for setting out cool-weather bedding plants such as African daisies, calendulas, English and fairy primroses, Iceland poppies, snapdragons, and stock. Also start seeds of spring-blooming flowers; bachelor's button, clarkia, and sweet alyssum.
Continue to plant BULBS. Plant hyacinths and tulips near the end of November.
Plant PERENNIALS. There are still six-packs, four-inch and gallon size plants available. It's not too late to plant most evergreen ground covers, shrubs, and trees, sod lawns.
The nurseries will soon have bare-root ROSES, trees, and small fruits. Plan ahead so you will be able to get the variety you want. Make sure the tree will fit the space. If you can, dig the holes and store the dry soil under a tarp.
If you purchase LILY bulbs, plant them as soon as possible, since they never go truly dormant. They have two serious enemies: excess moisture around the roots, and gophers. Raised beds assure fast drainage and hardware cloth baskets are the best rodent preventative; make them tall enough to extend an inch above the soil surface.
Just like last month, clean, clean, clean. Make it a priority this month. Insect pests, fungi, and diseases over winter in garden refuse and spent fruits. Rake fallen leaves and remove old fruits from nectarine and peach trees, then spray the trees thoroughly with fixed copper or lime sulfur if you have had problems with blight and leaf curl. Pull weeds, pick up pots, flats, boards, anything that could shelter pests.
Start a compost bin by bending a four foot high piece of fencing into a cylinder about four feet across. Alternate garden debris with soil, occasionally adding a little fertilizer. Keep the pile moist and turn it every two weeks or so. If you can't, don't worry about it, just let it sit and it will still turn out soil food. Stay tuned for a file on easy composting.
Feed a high-nitrogen fertilizer to cool-season annuals and vegetables planted last month and to evergreen ground covers, shrubs, and trees that did poorly this past summer.
Go on snail patrol. Fill a couple of coffee cans halfway with water, add some liquid soap (or liquid wax, oil products, whatever you have that you can use up), put on a lid, and set them in strategic places in the garden area. Whenever you come across a snail, drop it into the liquid. Bury the contents when full. Snails are laying their eggs now (they look like small pearls), and each one dispatched this month will mean fewer numbers in the spring. Alternatively set out bait or traps. Granular snail bait is more resistant to moisture. Hide from pets under a low cover.
Lift and divide overgrown perennial clumps. Add organic matter to the soil and replant the young starts. After the dahlias have gone dormant dig them carefully, brush off the soil and allow them to dry and cool for a few hours before storing. The clumps look like a bunch of potatoes attached to a single stem. Dividing is best done just before planting; however, if you have to do it now, use a sharp knife to cut each clump into sections; include an inch-high vertical section of stem above each tuber since it is here where an eye is located. Discard soft or diseased tubers or those with no stem attached. Label and store in a dry, cool place in perlite, vermiculite, peat moss or dry sand.
Tuberous begonias need to be dried for several weeks (until the stems pull off easily) before being labeled and stored in an open box or bag in a cool and dry place. If they were in a hanging basket and had good growth you can dry off the entire basket and start it again next spring, but you will then need to add weekly liquid feedings or use slow release applications of Osmocote.
Gladiolus (the name is both singular and plural, so you can use it to refer to one or many) corms can be left in the ground, but they are apt to rot, or if they endure, become too crowded to bloom well. Dig up when the foliage turns brown and cut, don't pull off the tops just above the "bulb", which is actually the stem. Dry in an airy, shaded place for a couple of weeks. The small cormels can also be saved to plant. Remove old shrunken corms and the roots. Label and store loose in open trays or in paper sacks in a dark, cool place.
The lawn, if you didn't fertilize it last month, could use some nitrogen now so it will go into the winter months with a healthy system. The grass has slowed its growth considerably, so use a slow release fertilizer. Don't use Weed-N-Feed, instead put a squirt of Roundup on the weeds that stick out and scratch some grass seed into these bare areas later. Rake up the big tree leaves that are suffocating the grass and layer them into the compost pile. If you didn't enjoy the raking make a note to yourself to plant only small-leaved trees next time.
To protect roots and the soil's micro-life, retain moisture in the soil, and keep down weeds, nothing is better for your garden than a blanket of organic mulch over the soil. In addition to their practical attributes, some kinds of mulch (such as wood chips or ground bark) spread around shrubs and other plants lend visual appeal to an otherwise bare winter garden bed. Gardeners have used almost every organic material as mulch: ground bark, wood chips, sawdust, straw, grass clippings, leaves, pine needles, compost, animal manure--even shredded newspaper. Most organic mulches should be dug into the soil every year or two and a new layer added. This month, spade the old mulch under and add a new layer right away, before winter comes; you'll have a jump on winter weed control.
If you're using a fine-textured mulch such as ground bark, put down a layer 1 to 2 inches deep. For coarse or fluffy mulches such as leaves or pine needles, use twice as much. Be sure to keep mulch away from the plant's trunk to prevent rot due to excess moisture. If necessary, replenish the mulch in the spring.
There are two perfect partners this month. The first is the association between daffodils and daylilies. Daffodils are unattractive after flowering when their leaves have to ripen. Daylilies, planted in the same area, will hide the daffodil leaves and deliver a nice show of flowers later in the year.
The second is the combination of Coreopsis 'Early Sunrise" (see above), and Gaillardia "Goblin". These two easy and terrific plants are available in all the local nurseries and their flowers create a warm yellow-gold-brown analogous color scheme. I generally plant them two feet apart, with the Goblins toward the front. They tolerate most soils, bloom from late spring to fall, and won't mind a bit if you don't have the time to water them occasionally. Keep the dead flowers cut off, and your neighbors will beg for your secrets. I've really set these off by planting lemon-yellow Halimium occimoides behind them.