Tidewater Gardening - November 2009


November Chores


K. Marc Teffeau

   Although the landscape is starting to look winter drab there are plants and trees that provide color and interest in the month of November. They include camellia, nandina, pyracantha, red twig dogwood, birches, coral bark maple and Harry Lauder’s walking stick. Since November is still an excellent time to plant trees and shrubs in the landscape, consider adding one of these plants to add color and interest in your yard.
    Do not prune azaleas, rhododendrons and other spring flowering shrubs like forsythia and spirea now because they have already set their flower buds for next year’s blooms. If you feel these shrubs do need to be pruned, however, you can prune them now, but you will sacrifice next spring’s flowers.
    Winter is a time when most people think that all plants are dormant, but there are many plants that provide winter interest through their foliage. Here are a few perennials for your shade garden that are hardy in our zone. Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) has a height of 4 to 8 inches. It will form a dense groundcover throughout the year with white, blue, or violet spring flowers. Bugleweed is such a vigorous grower that some people consider it invasive. This ground cover prefers a well-drained soil.
    Italian Arum (Arum italicum ‘Pictum’) grows to a height of 12 to 20 inches and forms clumps of white and green leaves. It produces showy red berries in the summer and prefers a deep, moist soil.
    Wild Ginger (Asarum europaeum) is good to use in an open woods setting since it grows best in a moist, humusy soil. It is a low growing, under 6 inches, dense spreading ground cover with heart-shaped foliage.
    Heartleaf Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia) grows 1½ to 2 feet tall and presents a thick, bold foliage throughout the year. The foliage will turn bronze in the winter and exhibits rose-colored flowers in the spring. This ground cover will tolerate a wide range of soils.
    Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis) has leathery, evergreen foliage year around. It reaches a height of 1½ to 2 feet and produces pale green, white, pink to maroon flowers in the early spring. It is one of the groundcovers that prefers a neutral (pH7) to alkaline soil. Other ground covers can be dug and transplanted but you shouldn’t do this with Lenten Rose. Once it is established, leave it there.
    Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon ‘Variagatum’) is another spreading ground cover that grows to a height of 1 to 2 feet. It has silver-patterned evergreen foliage with yellow flowers in the summer. Yellow Archangel grows best in well-drained, moist soil, but tolerates even dry shade and root competition.
    If you are looking for a low mounding ground cover, consider Bethlehem Sage (Pulmonaria saccarata). This plant grows 9 to 18 inches in height. It has large, silver-spotted leaves with pink buds gradually opening to blue flowers. Bethlehem Sage grows best in a well-drained, moist soil.
    Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) is a stoloniferous ground cover. That means it spreads by stolons or a type of spreading root. It grows best in a very organic, moist soil. In the spring, stary flowers rise in foamy masses about the Heuchera-like leaves.
    Possibly the tallest growing ground cover in this group is the Fingerleaf Rodgersia (Rodgersia aesculifolia). This plant grows 3 to 5 feet forming clumps of handsome horse chestnut-like leaves topped by large, creamy flower clusters in early summer. This is a good plant for rich, boggy, or streamside soils. If you are fortunate enough to have a woodland stream running through your property, you might consider planting this ground cover.
    There are still lots of activities to do in the home landscape. 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. Be sure to also clean up any leaf debris around the rose plants to reduce black spot disease problems for next year.
    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 a thick mulch over the soil to add some additional storage time for the crops.    Continue to clean up any old debris left in the garden and compost them. If your garden is not subject to soil erosion, you can still turn over the soil and let it lay fallow to help kill any overwintering adult insects.
    If you are more into a “no till” garden approach and you haven’t sown a green cover, then apply a compost mulch to a depth of 3 inches. You can turn it under next spring to add additional organic matter to the soil.
    Like ornamental plants, strawberries benefit from mulch protection, especially when snow cover is shallow or non-existent during winter. Clean straw is superior to hay as a mulch because it doesn’t add weed seeds to the garden.
    Other possible mulch materials include chopped corn stalks, ground corn cobs, bark chips and pine needles. Apply it to a depth of two inches when it settles. Be careful not to smother the crowns of the plants. Apply after a hard frost and the strawberry leaves are lying flat on the ground, usually mid to late November, to protect crowns and roots against cold injury and drying out.
    A light layer of mulch protects plants from severe winter temperatures. It also helps keep the soil at an even temperature which prevents the alternate freezing and thawing of the soil. This temperature change can cause the strawberry plants to “heave” out of the soil resulting in crown and root death. Mulching is especially important where plants are being grown through a black polyethylene covering.
    If you delay removal of the mulch in the spring the plants will remain dormant later into the season. This often delays blossoming past the critical frost period. In this area, you can remove the mulch in early or mid April if it is a normal spring.
    If you have fruit trees, November is the time to rake up leaves from around them to help control insect populations and remove disease-causing organisms that overwinter on leaf debris. You will help reduce rodent populations by removing all fruit remaining on the tree or on the ground. Applying mulch near fruit trees is not recommended as it increases the likelihood of rodent damage during winter.
    Other activities for November include potting and forcing tulip bulbs for winter bloom, pruning out the old canes out of raspberry bushes, and start paperwhites in late November for Christmas flowering. After chrysanthemums have stopped blooming, cut stems back close to the ground and dispose of stems and all dropped and dried leaves and branches.
    Happy gardening!!!