November 2010 - Tidewater Gardening


Getting the Garden Ready for Winter
K. Marc Teffeau

For a while there I was very concerned that we were going into the late fall in a drought condition. The week of heavy rains that we experienced in late September and early October brought much needed moisture to the ground and the landscape. Hopefully, timely rains in November and December (no snow please!) will continue to fall to help make up for the soil moisture deficit.
Unfortunately, the damage has been done to some plants in the landscape. The result of a couple of years of summer droughts is starting to manifest itself on large mature trees, especially those which were already suffering from some type of root disease issue. So, if it starts to get dry again, be sure to water broad and narrow leafed evergreens into the late fall before the ground starts to freeze.
There are lots of activities to do in the garden and landscape this month. If you have vining plants like climbing roses or other perennial vines such as clematis, make sure that they are securely fastened to their supports. Winter winds can whip and severely damage unprotected plants. Don’t tie them so tightly that the string or twist-ties cut into the stem.
You can use a length of an old nylon stocking to tie back the plants as it will stretch as the plant grows. Another alternative is the plastic wire ties that you can buy at the hardware store. These are the ones that you use to pull a group of electrical wires together into a bunch. A small can of various plastic wire tie lengths is handy to use in the garden.
After your chrysanthemums have finished blooming and begin to die back, cut the stems down to a height of 2 to 3 inches from the soil surface. Also clean up the spent blooms and dropped leaves around the plants for good disease control. Wait until after the second or third hard frost to mulch the plants. After that you can mulch to about 2 inches for the winter.
In the perennial flower bed, reduce peony botrytis blight and hollyhock rust by removing and disposing of all old stems this fall. This will reduce the carryover of diseases during the winter and you will have less trouble next year.
Clean up your rose beds. Be sure all diseased leaves and flower petals are raked up and disposed. Remove any spent flower buds and hips from the plants.
Now is the time to inspect trees and shrubs for bagworm capsules. Remove and destroy them to reduce next year’s pest population.
As soon as the leaves fall from fruit, shade or flowering trees, raspberries and other deciduous plants, they can be sprayed with a dormant spray. This spray application helps control over-wintering insects and diseases. Be sure to apply the material according to label instructions.
It is also very important at this time to completely clean up any dropped leaves, branches and remove all mummified fruit from your fruit plantings. Good sanitation practices in November will reduce reinfestation of insects and diseases the following season. A number of insect and disease organisms overwinter on debris left on the ground around the trees.
If you had disease problems on the fruit plantings, do not place the debris materials in the compost pile but dispose of them in the landfill or trash. After the second hard frost, cover your strawberry planting with two inches of hay or straw. Secure your raspberry canes to stakes to protect them from wind whipping.
A good sanitary cleaning is also in order for the vegetable garden. Clean up and remove dead plants, leaves and vegetable remains. Cut the tops off your asparagus plants and add a winter dressing of a couple of inches of aged manure to the bed.
We can still have some fairly warm days in November so continue to watch for insects, slugs and snails or disease damage throughout the garden, and take necessary steps to control the problem. Be sure that you do not leave old pots, sections of wooden boards or other materials around or in the garden. Snails and slugs will hide on the undersides of these materials.
Prepare your vegetable garden soil now for next spring’s planting. Lime if needed according to the soil test recommendations. After cleaning up any diseased crop residues, plow the remaining plant material into the soil.
On your existing garden site, or if you want to prepare a new plot, try sheet composting this fall. Spread overlapping sections of newspaper or unwaxed cardboard over the new garden area and cover with an 8-12-inch layer of compost and shredded leaves. By spring you’ll be ready to plant.
Give your lawn a good raking to lift away accumulations of debris. Keep leaves raked from the lawn. They should be composted. Alternatively, you can just mow over them, turning them into a mulch which adds important nutrients back to the lawn.
November is an excellent time to lime the lawn if your soil test results indicate that you need to raise the soil pH. I like to recommend granulated lime as it is easier to spread than powdered lime, even though the powdered lime will react quicker in the soil.
When you have finished your last lawn mowing of the year, make sure that the mower is properly stored according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Run the mower until it is out of fuel ... old gas can turn to varnish and severely damage the engine. I would also suggest changing the spark plug if needed, draining the old oil and adding fresh and sharpening the blade.
Check out your bird feeders and prepare them for the winter feedings if you haven’t been feeding the birds over the summer. Make sure that the feeders are clean and sanitary. If you have plastic or glass feeders it might be worth while to run them through the dishwasher for a thorough clean before setting them back out and restocking the seed supply.
As we move into the winter the birds’ natural food sources have pretty much dried up by this time of year. For only a few dollars you can feed an enormous number of birds. Also make sure that you clean up the ground around the feeders as you don’t want to attract rodents with the seed remains. Remember to provide fresh water for the birds.
Clean and oil your garden tools for winter storage. Place some sand and some oil in a large bucket, then slide your garden tools in and out of the sand. This will do an excellent job of cleaning them, as well as applying a light coating of oil to prevent rusting. This is also a good month to restock any tools that have seen better days. The prices are lower at the end-of-season sales.
At the garden center you will now see sales of plant materials shift to holiday plants, flowering hose and foliage plants. If you buy an African violet, they do well when potted in rather small pots. A good general rule is to use a pot one third the diameter of the plant.
Encourage African violets to bloom by giving them plenty of light. They can be in a south window during dark winter months. They bloom beautifully under fluorescent lights. In fact, they seem to prefer it. You can start forcing bulbs like paperwhites, hyacinth and amaryllis for the holidays.
Start checking out the possibilities for holiday gifts for the gardeners in your family. A little pricey, but a good investment, would be to give that gardener a rain barrel or compost bin for their use next spring. I purchased two rain barrels last summer at the special sale at Chesapeake College and they work great. I found a neat “metal diverter” in the Gardener’s Supply catalog ( that you install in the downspout pipe to divert rainwater to the rain barrel. It’s a simple device that works great.
Happy gardening!