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November in the Shady Garden

japanese-maple

I took a break from my computer on Sunday and surveyed my garden.  Although I live in the inner suburbs, I am on a lot with many mature, native trees.  We get some nice golden fall color from the tulip poplars, and pignut hickories, but the oaks just mostly turn brown.  I have some Japanese Maples in pots on the deck, and they will color up nicely with some oranges and reds.  They’ve been in the same pots for about 15 years, by the way, and never repotted.  Great container plants.  The hostas are also a nice golden color; it hasn’t been cold enough yet for them to turn to mush.

November is the time to end summer and anticipate winter.  I have to check the gutters and keep them clean.  Keeping water away from the foundation reduces those basement moisture issues, and the best way to do that is make sure that the water actually goes down the downspout instead of overflowing the gutters.

I’ve taken the water hyacinths out of my backyard pond and thrown them onto the compost pile, and covered the pond with bird netting to keep the leaves out. I use lengths of two-inch-diameter pvc pipe laid from one side of the pond to the other in a criss-crossed grid, and lay the netting over it, to help keep it out of the water.  I have so many leaves that once the season is nearly over, I take the bird netting off and replace it with a heavier shade cloth for the winter.  This is the same material that we use for shading greenhouses, and it can be bought online.

I like it because it doesn’t rip and it doesn’t stretch as much as the bird netting, so it’s easier to keep out of the water.  It comes with grommets, so you can attach ropes to the grommets, and use tent pegs to anchor the ropes.  When I’m done, it looks like a trampoline with a wet surprise after the first jump. The shade cloth or netting isn’t that obvious at this time of year, and it helps keep the predators from getting at the goldfish.  This is especially helpful in the spring, when there is no leaf cover and the reflection from the water is like a neon sign to the Great Blue Herons flashing “Eat My Fish.”

shade-cloth-covered-pondpond covered with shade cloth as leaf barrier

Because my shade lawn (which is pretty small) is pathetic most of the year, I’ve put down some lawn fertilizer and Espoma Organic Weed Preventer, which is corn gluten, and which also acts as a lawn food.  This is in the front yard; it literally only takes thirty seconds to mow the back—the rest is a network of pathways between the trees. I actually don’t care much about the lawn, but my wife threatens to hire a lawn service to do a makeover.  I explain that this is the height of vanity, and that ultimately big trees and green grass are incompatible, but I don’t get very far.  Note that under Maryland law, November 15th is the cutoff date in the fall for applying lawn fertilizer.  This is to reduce runoff of fertilizer into storm sewers and eventually the Bay, which is in all of our best interest.

I have some large, empty Turkish terra cotta pots, which I have scattered around the back yard as accents. I bring up to the house so that they thoroughly dry out, and cover them with a tarp for the winter.  Terra cotta will scale (that is, big chunks fall off the side of the pot) when it freezes and thaws because the pots are porous and contain water; or they may crack, and I want to prevent that.  Some ceramic pots are frost proof, others, especially thinner pots, will crack in the winter. Remember that if the pot actually contains plants and is being watered going into winter, that when the water in the soil freezes and turns to ice, it expands. If the pot is thick enough to withstand the expansion, the soil expands upward; if it’s thin, it cracks instead.  (This is my interpretation of what’s going on, without any confirming research).  When you buy your pottery, the salesperson should be able to tell you if it’s frost-proof.

As the leaves begin to fall, decide on a place for a compost pile. There’s no need to bag them or drag your leaves to the curb.  If you pile them, they will for the most part decay by this time next year, especially if you turn them over once in awhile.  Then you’ve got good compost to use for mulching or planting in time for the next pile.  I’m good at the piling part, not so good at the using. I’ve got this little mounded area growing in the back, which may eventually be a very short sled run.

If you have any asters or goldenrods or Joe Pye Weed, they should be in seed by now and maybe even scattering.  They are all vigorous self-seeders, so I would suggest that you cut them back to about 6 inches in height, and bag the cuttings, and take them to the curb.  Unless you want them coming up all over the place, like in your fancy deep green lawn.

by Larry Hurley, Behnke horticulturist

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

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