An inexpensive way to add more organic matter and nutrients to the soil is by planting nitrogen-fixing cover crops on beds that are fallow for the winter. Some varieties offered at most Co-op stores include Austrian field peas, crimson clover and hairy vetch. They will also slow down the leaching of nutrients caused by winter rains.
This is a good time to move landscape plants that need to be relocated. Get as large a root ball as possible and replant immediately at the same depth.
If you still want to plant garlic, do it as early in November as possible.
In very sunny windows (six hours of sun a day), grow herbs like rosemary, basil, mint, parsley, thyme and chives.
Plant amaryllis bulbs to bloom for Christmas. Choose a pot an inch or two larger than the diameter of the bulb and leave the top half of the bulb exposed above the soil line.
Plant pansies outdoors now and enjoy the flowers until late spring.
Plant paperwhite narcissus in two week intervals. Grow at least six to a pot for maximum bloom effect.
This is an excellent time to plant most trees and shrubs. Water well and apply a three-inch layer of mulch - being careful to pull the mulch a few inches away from the stem.
When buying shrubs, don’t forget the interest plants with berries can add to the landscape. Pyracantha, all kinds of hollies, nandina and beautyberry are just a few of the choices available for bright, winter interest.
This is a good time to do a soil test. The soil should be easy to dig and results will come back quickly so you can make adjustments needed for spring planting.
Dig in a little cottonseed meal around your hellebore (ex. Lenten rose) plants. Also, give them a top dressing of compost or shredded leaves.
When foliage turns yellow or translucent, cut back hostas to the ground. Refrain, however, from dividing or transplanting at this time; you’ll have better success if you wait until spring.
Do not prune fruit trees until March.
Broken limbs or branches may be pruned now for esthetic purposes, but leave the major pruning of your fruit trees until late winter or very early spring.
Cutting back peonies will prevent next spring’s flowers from getting gray mold.
Leave the chore of cutting ornamental grasses back until late winter or early spring which will provide extra habitat for birds as well as an extra food source in their seed heads.
Cut chrysanthemum stems to two to three inches from the soil once they have begun to die back.
Be sure your lawn and all of your permanent plantings get a good last watering. This will help your plants to be hydrated and healthy as they prepare for the cold and become dormant.
Disconnect and store rain barrels. Do the same for water sprinklers.
Drain water from garden hoses. To prevent kinking, store hoses on reels or coil and place on a flat surface.
Now that the heat is running, check houseplants frequently for water needs until you figure out what their winter schedule will be. They may need watering more frequently, or less frequently, depending on their location and the type of heating system.
Turn off your drip irrigation systems if you haven’t already. However, stay on top of the weather – if rain is elusive in the following weeks, irrigate as the soil becomes dry. Drought-stressed plants are more easily injured by freezing temperatures.
Prepare for winter rainstorms. Dig trenches to divert heavy runoff and add heavy rocks to the base of a raised garden bed to help stabilize it.
Clean and till the garden. Fall clean-up and tillage provide several benefits. Many plant pathogens overwinter in the garden on infected plant debris. Removal and destruction of the diseased plant debris reduces the severity of many diseases. Removal of the plant debris also eliminates hiding places for some insects and helps reduce insect populations. Additionally, a fall-tilled garden dries out and warms up more quickly in the spring, permitting earlier planting of cool-season crops.
Remove any dried up fruit from the orchard as well as fruit and leaves from the ground. Taking the time to practice good sanitation will pay off next year in reduced disease and insect problems.
It is also a good time to apply the first application of dormant spray to fruit trees (the first of three applications needed between now and about Valentine’s Day to get the job done while trees are dormant).
This is a good time to put out a suet feeder. This will keep birds active in your garden where they will continue patrolling for insects that may be overwintering somewhere in your garden.
Check camellias and azaleas for spider mites and treat with insecticidal soap if mites are found.
Plants brought in from outside need to be inspected. Perhaps you missed something in your first inspection. Take quick action if you spot insects to protect all of your other indoor plants.
If squirrels are inclined to dig up your tulip bulbs, sprinkle the area with red pepper flakes or just focus on daffodils, which are generally not bothered by pests.
Protect trunks of fruit trees from rabbit damage with tree wraps.
If the weather allows, hoe weeds before they take hold. Remember, every weed you eliminate now will be many less to have to deal with in spring.
Now, as the nights draw in earlier and temperatures drop, evening gardening becomes a bit unpleasant. Try not to put everything off until the weekend though or it will be sure to rain!
Keep a journal! Fill it with a list of your daily activities, comments and observations along with empty seed packets, plant tags, photographs, magazine articles, scale garden plans on graph paper, wish list, dried blooms, inspiration thoughts, websites you like, recipes, supplier notes, etc.
Kale, collards and turnip greens are even tastier after being exposed to a little frost.
Don’t pull up the broccoli after harvesting the central head. Plants will continue to form side shoots until temperatures dip into the teens.
Lettuce is hardy to about 25 degrees. Lightweight, floating row cover will often extend that to below 20 so you can continue to harvest much of the winter.
Remember to use the herbs still in the garden – parsley, rosemary, sage and chives should still be green.
If you’ve purchased gourds this year as decorations, plan to grow them yourself next year. They make great garden projects for kids.
Prepare beds now to allow for early plantings of English peas before the soil dries out enough to be worked.
Strawberries should be mulched in fall to prevent winter injury. Excellent mulching materials include clean pine straw, wheat straw and chopped cornstalks. Apply two to four inches of material. After settling, the depth of the mulch should be approximately one to two inches.
The seed of many annual, open-pollinated flowers and vegetables can be collected, cleaned from chaff or pulp, dried and stored in airtight container in a cool location. They can then be planted next season. Hybrids can be collected, but chances are they won’t have the same characteristics as their parents.
Before burying beds with mulch, use small bamboo stakes or markers where you’ve planted bulbs or late starting spring plants in the perennial garden to avoid disturbing them when you begin spring soil preparation.
Cover your compost heap or bin with plastic to keep the nutrients from being leached out by winter rain.
Camellias will soon be coming into bloom. First the sasanqua and later the popular camellia japonica. Select new varieties for a winter planting while in flower.
Lift tender bulbs like dahlias and gladiolus if you know they won’t overwinter in your garden.
Lightly mulch first year plantings of irises after a hard freeze. Mature plantings don’t require protection.
Mound soil or leaves around the base of hybrid teas and other grafted roses to protect the graft union from freezing.
Consider the Co-op when buying holiday gifts for your favorite gardeners!
All frost-sensitive plants should now be safely indoors for the season.
Winter heating dries the air out in your home considerably. Help your houseplants survive by misting them or placing the pots on a pebble-filled tray of water to ensure adequate humidity and moisture.
Give African violet plants in windows a quarter turn every couple of days to keep them shapely. Plants under fluorescent lights do not require turning, but they do need more food and water.
If soil has settled in raised beds, replenish now with compost, shredded leaves or a mixture of equal parts aged manure, top soil and compost. Don’t dig the new material in; just leave it on top for further composting over winter.
If annual pots are made of terra cotta (or other material that may freeze and break), it is a good time to clean them out and put them away for winter. Take out the soil and put it in the garden, compost, fill a hole in the yard that the dog dug, or save it in a large container or garbage bag for the spring. Wash the pots out and dip them in a 9:1 bleach solution to kill any hitchhiking critters or diseases.
Keep leaves for compost unless they are from allelopathic trees (producing chemicals that inhibit other species’ growth) like black walnut, hackberry, cottonwood, red oak or horse chestnut.
Proper care of hand tools prolongs their lifetime, prevents costly repairs and improves their performance. In fall, remove caked-on soil from shovels, spades, hoes and rakes with a wire brush or a stiff putty knife. Wash the tools with a strong stream of water then dry. Sharpen the blades of hoes, shovels and spades. Wipe the metal surfaces with an oily rag or spray with WD-40. Sand rough wooden handles, then wipe with furniture polish or linseed oil to prevent drying and cracking. Hang or store the tools in a dry location.
Clean power tools of all plant material and dirt including the underside of the lawn mower. Replace worn spark plugs, oil all necessary parts and sharpen blades. Clean the air filter. Start gas-powered equipment and let them run until out of fuel. Finally, store all tools in their proper place indoors. Store fuel only in approved containers.
With high winds a possible danger at this time of year, check trellises, fences and other garden structures to be sure they are secure.
Remove decaying plants and leaves from ponds. Stop feeding pond fish when temperatures drop below freezing for several consecutive nights.
While tending to the yard clean-up or enjoying a woodland stroll, keep your eye out for interesting seed pods, seed heads and colorful leaves that can be used in holiday decorating.
For only a few dollars you can feed an enormous number of birds. Their natural food sources have pretty much dried up by this time of the year. You don’t have to be a bird watcher to enjoy the feeling you get when you’ve helped out one of God’s creatures.