November 2011 Garden Tips
With our early rains this year it definitely feels like fall! The ground is moist; the dust has been washed away and it’s time to plant! We still have a long list of chores because we are now in a race with Mother Nature. Once the rainy season begins in earnest we cannot do much digging or working in the beds.
Now is a great time to dig up and divide grasses and perennials – the moist earth, shorter days and cooler weather, combined with the dormancy of the plants, makes this the least stressful time for them to go through this process. Make sure that once you’ve excavated the plant to keep roots moist by keeping the plants in the shade and covering the roots with damp newspaper while you are working.
November is a great time to plant California Native Plants. These hardy species, ideally suited to our climate and ecosystem, need little water once established but need good irrigation to get their roots going – the best irrigation is our winter rainfall, so get them in by end of the month.
If you have deciduous trees, keep on top of the leaves. If you compost, shred the leaves before composting, or run a lawn mower over them. If not shredded they will mat and take forever to decompose, making a slippery, gooey mass in your compost pile or beds. You can put them out for recycling, as well, but why give up all that nice free mulch?
Heavy feeders such as roses and fruit trees should get a good dose of organic fertilizer, as the winter rain will allow the nutrients to penetrate into the ground, where they will break down and be ready to feed the plants in the spring.
Turn off your drip irrigation systems if you haven’t already. However, stay on top of the weather –if a few weeks go by with no rain you will need to hand-water or turn them back on.
Don’t cut your lawn too short for the winter – about 2” is best – and put down some organic fertilizer now to give it a boost in early spring. You can feed with organic fertilizer every six weeks throughout the winter which will keep your lawn healthy but not produce tremendous bursts of growth which will require frequent mowings. You can still sow bare patches but make sure to get the seed down, watered and germinated before the winter rains begin in earnest and wash all of the seeds away.
Bulbs are on display in nurseries and garden centers – and good selections are available from specialty catalogues. Now that the ground is soft from the rain, go ahead and get the bulbs in the ground as soon as you can.
Although our days have been mild thus far we could have frost at any time (the first frost-date in the County is October 15). Protect frost-tender plants such as Bougainvillea, Hibiscus, Citrus, Tibuchina, etc. You can use an anti-desiccant such as Cloudcover, and if frost is actually predicted, cover the plants with sheets or lightweight blankets or burlap. A strand of Christmas lights in a tree is often enough to protect the plant from frost, as well (and you get decoration!)
There are many, many ornamental plants which are displaying dramatic fall color in November: Chinese pistache, ‘Roger’s Red’ grape, Viburnum, Cornus (Dogwood), Liquidamber, ash, crabapples (incredible fruits – some bright orange), Cotinus (smoke bush), Nyssa sylvatica (tupelo – a much underused tree that endures a broad range of conditions), and many others. If you don’t have enough fall interest in your garden, consider adding one of these plants – you still have time to get it in the ground this year.
There are also many annuals that you can plant for winter bloom, such as Icelandic poppies, pansies (or other Viola), Calendula and primroses. Most nurseries have a supply of six-packs of these and other winter bloomers.
Hardwood cutting can be taken at any time during dormancy, but just after the leaves have fallen is an excellent time. Taking the cuttings from leafless shoots is advantageous because water loss due to transpiration is minimal. You can bury the cuttings in moist sand or peat moss, put them in a cold frame or a sheltered area and plant next spring. Ensure that they do not dry out.
Keep debris and fallen leaves off the lawn or the grass will tend to die out under the leaves and/or discolor.
The success of any garden is the soil! If your other chores are done, devote your time to your soil. Add fresh manure so it can age over winter and early spring before it has contact with the plants. Work it into the soil a little. If you don’t have access to manures, than add composted organic material. Adding 4-6 inches of either is best. Your soil will be good to go, come spring.