Tidewater Gardening: November 2005

November Cleanup

     A general clean up of the landscape is in order this month to prepare for winter. Collect debris left over from the summer and start composting grass clippings, leaves and other organic matter now. Any plastic or trash from this year’s garden should be removed now before it freezes to the ground or is covered by an early snowfall.
      The severity of many disease and insect problems next year can be reduced by good sanitation. Left over weeds and plant debris can harbor disease spores and insect eggs that will hatch next spring and invade the garden if not removed. Inspect trees and shrubs for bagworm capsules and the silvery egg masses of tent caterpillars. Remove and destroy them to reduce next year’s pest population.
      When chrysanthemums are through flowering, remove the stalks at once within a few inches of the ground. This will help root development and make them send out vigorous sprouts in the spring. Some may be lifted and heeled into the coldframe. Plants for potting can be propagated from the side sprouts which will develop next May.
      Raking is one of those fall chores than needs to be done almost continuously in November. Leaves should be raked out of the flower bed and removed. Before raking through the herbaceous perennials, such as lilies and iris, you will need to cut the plant stems and leaves. Avoid pulling the stems or leaves up because that produces holes in the crown of the plant that can lead to rot problems.
      Check your perennial beds after a period of fall rains. Look for standing water that collects on the surface. During the winter this standing water will freeze and may damage the plants. Dig shallow trenches to help drain the excess water away. If you have standing water in a bed, make note of it and be prepared to raise the bed next spring.
      Remember that many perennials may be planted or divided in the fall and replanted. Make sure you get them in the ground early enough to establish their roots before the ground freezes.
      Peonies can be planted now in full sun and fertile, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Dig holes 18 inches deep and fill halfway with a mixture of soil, compost, and a handful of 5-10-10 fertilizer. Add a few more inches of soil, and set the tubers so the buds are 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface. Backfill, firm the soil, and water thoroughly. Peonies do not grow well after being moved and will not bloom for several years.
      Reduce peony botrytis blight and hollyhock rust by removing and disposing of all old stems this fall. This reduces the carry-over of the diseases during the winter, and you will have less trouble next year.
      Thinking about buying a live, balled and burlaped Christmas tree this year? Dig a planting hole now before the soil freezes. Fill the hole with straw or hay to keep it from freezing. Store the soil in a garage or shed so you will have workable soil when you need it for planting the tree after Christmas.
      November is also a good time to do some shrub pruning. Leaf fall makes renovation of overgrown deciduous shrubs easier. Begin by removing all diseased or broken stems. Next, remove 1/3 of all remaining shoots, eliminating the oldest and tallest. If the bush is still too tall, cut the remaining stems to a side bud or branch. Repeat the process next year and the year after to complete renovation.
      Pruning spring flowering shrubs now will mean that you will lose some flowers, but this reduction in floral display will be made up in the next few years with the generation of new wood that is conducive to flower production.
      While pruning, also cut away suckers from the base of lilacs, forsythia, and crape myrtle. You can also trim hollies and other evergreens, such as magnolia, aucuba, boxwood, and pyracantha, to furnish material for Thanksgiving decorations.
      A November application of fertilizer is very beneficial to cool season grasses like turf type tall fescue. It promotes root development without excessive top growth. With a strong root system your lawn will be better able to withstand drought conditions next summer.
      It is best to have the soil tested to determine your lime and fertilizer needs. Without a soil test, the standard fertilizer recommendation is 10 pounds of slow release 10-6-4 or 10-10-10 fertilizer per 1000 square feet of lawn. If needed, apply dolomitic limestone to the lawn so that fall rain and winter snow can wash it into the soil. Your soil pH test will give guidelines for the amount needed.
      After a killing frost, long vigorous shoots of roses may be cut back to 18 to 20 inches so they are not whipped by the winter winds, which may loosen the roots and make the plant more susceptible to winter injury. Mound the canes with 8 inches of soil for winter protection; remove before growth begins in the spring.
      When temperatures start dipping into the 50’s, bring the houseplants that you have set outside for the summer back into the house. Check the houseplant for any insect or disease problems, discard any that are really infested or treat them with an aerosol houseplant insect spray.
      Set the plants in a sunny window or under artificial light. Do not be alarmed if some plants drop quite a few leaves. Leaf drop is a common reaction to the reduced light levels and the dry, heated air of the indoor environment.
      In the vegetable garden, root crops such as beets, carrots, and turnips, can be stored right in the ground through most of the winter. Cover them with a few inches of soil and add thick mulch over the soil to add some additional storage time for the crops.
      If you didn’t plant a cover crop in September, you can still prepare the soil for next spring by rotor-tiling it now. This will loosen the soil, making it more able to absorb moisture from the fall rains. The exception to this would be where your garden has a slope to it and there might be a chance of erosion.
      The alternate freezing and thawing and wetting and drying of the soil during the winter will help to improve the soil structure. Now is also a good time to work organic matter such as compost into the garden soil. Spread an inch or two layer over the garden over the soil and till it in.
      An alternative would be to till the soil and then sheet compost it. Next spring all you will have to do is rake away the compost and till the areas you will plant. The remaining compost will serve as a mulch to control the weeds between the rows. Buy adding organic matter to the soil you will improve the soil structure resulting in better aeration, water percolation and nutrient retention and improved plant growth.
      The other element that you can add to the garden soil now is lime. Spread the recommended amount of lime from your soil test in November and till it under. This will give it a few additional months to react with the soil and adjust the pH before your spring crop goes in.
      Now is not the time to fertilize the garden. Winter rains and snow will leach out most of the fertilizer nutrients in the soil, especially on sandier soils.
      Rinse pesticide spray equipment after each use and before winter storage. Add water and several drops of detergent to fill the spray tank 1/10th full. Shake the tank, and spray the water over the area where the chemical was just applied. Caution: rinsing will not remove herbicides from sprayers. A separate sprayer MUST be used to apply herbicides to prevent the residue from killing plants when pesticides or other chemicals are applied.

     Happy Gardening!