November: The Odd Duck Month of Gardening
By Maureen O’Connell
I see the changing seasons through my gardens. A garden is about a journey through nature and how it can make a person very humble, for along that journey, one can experience new ideas, confidence or thought-provoking mistakes, flexibility, sentimentality, and the need to accept change and move forward. A garden is a dynamic, ever-changing medium that includes both practical considerations—sowing, planting, pruning, maintenance, etc.—and aesthetic elements—light, perfume, balance, structure, textures, and more.
People often ask me where I get my ideas for my garden articles. Sometimes I get inspiration from some article I might read in a newspaper, magazine, or book, but most of the time I find it in my daily walks through my gardens with two faithful Labs, Sam and Tom. Every month uncovers new growth, new plant problems, new colors, new scents, and new ideas, from January with thoughts for the New Year to December with holiday themes and remembrances of gardens past.
November is an odd duck month. The frosts can be killing, but not severe enough to blacken the leaves of the rosemary and lavender plants. A dahlia bloom, a small Knock-Out red rose bud, and a well-hidden Endless Summer bright blue flower head might escape the chilling frost and live for another day. In November, the garden is winding down, getting ready for its annual hibernation, but it is far from desolate. One must retrain one’s eye to see beauty in new forms and textures. With the abundant and extravagant colors of summer gone, trees and shrubs take on a new role; the evergreens, magnolias, and hollies command your undivided attention. Overnight, the once tall and sturdy dahlia stems look like skeletons of their former selves. Sepia tones, grays, and browns replace the vibrant greens of mid-summer and the hot orange, red, and yellow colors of autumn.
Now before you head for the comfy chair by the fireplace, there are November garden chores to take care of.
For those souls who love to mow lawns, now is probably your last chance. Mow to about one and a half inches to two inches in height. Save any of the leaves chopped by the mower. They make great compost or mulch. Every year I spread the chopped leaves on my flower beds. You can also buy bags of Leaf Gro in stores. It is an amazingly good soil additive. Dig up and discard dead annuals. They will not regrow next season and they look quite messy.
Perennials. I treat them all differently. For my roses, I cut back the bush by about a quarter. The goal is to prevent tall stems from whipping around in the winter winds which can weaken the entire bush. Rake up any diseased leaves that have fallen to the ground to stop the spread of any fungal diseases. I cut back to the ground irises, peonies, phlox, coreopsis, lilies, ferns, and hostas. I leave the black seed heads of the Echinacea, Black-eyed Susans, and rose hips for the birds to eat all winter. Unpruned Sedum and hydrangea plants lend an interesting architectural skeleton form to be admired all winter.
Don’t forget about your garden tools which served you so well this past season. Clean the dirt off and spray the exposed metal parts with oil. Felco makes a good product for this purpose.
Weeds have not yet gone into hibernation. Bindweed, chickweed, and creeping Charlie are all out and about in gardens now. Pull them up by hand now so that they don’t get completely out of control.
Disconnect and drain all your outdoor hoses and store in a shed or garage.
It is not too late to start some Paperwhites and amaryllis bulbs for holiday bloom.
If you plan to buy a live tree for Christmas, now is the time to dig a hole for replanting it in your yard before the ground freezes.
If you have access to pine cones, gather some now and store in a warm room. They will soon open up, and then you can paint the tips white for holiday decorations.