Trees and Shrubs
- If the month is dry, watch for watering needs during dry spells so that trees and shrubs will go into dormancy well hydrated – especially newly planted or transplanted ones. Evergreens – both the conifers and the broadleaf types – are particularly vulnerable to winterburn from lack of hydration.
- Trees and shrubs can be planted until the ground freezes.
- Late fall is also a great time to fertilize trees and shrubs, after the first hard frost when plants are dormant (in order to avoid stimulating new leaf growth now). Newly planted and very young trees and shrubs benefit the most from tree fertilization, also trees that haven’t been fed for 3-4 years and seem to be growing slowly. (It’s rarely necessary to fertilize a full-grown tree.) Apply a granular, low-phosphorus fertilizer under the tree’s canopy and 8-10 feet out from the canopy. Trees that are surrounded by lawn get some fertilizer when the lawn is fed, so probably don’t need additional feeding.
- Though late winter is best, deciduous (leaf-dropping) trees can be pruned this month after they drop their leaves and go into dormancy – it’ll be easier to see the structure of branches and determine what pruning needs to be done. Begin pruning by removing all dead, diseased branches and then make any necessary cosmetic cuts. Don’t prune spring-flowering shrubs now, though (except to remove dead or broken branches) or you’ll just cut off their blooms. Wait til just after they’ve bloomed to do it. Be sure to use sharp pruners or loppers; otherwise the cut may not heal properly, leading to disease and insect problems. And remember, try not to remove more than one third of the overall branches of a tree or shrub at any one time.
- Don’t prune evergreens (conifers or broadleaf types like Photinia) now – wait until late winter or early spring (March or April).
- Don’t worry if your rhododendrons or conifers are showing yellowing and dropping of some of their interior older leaves – that’s normal for this time of year.
- Spinach, lettuce, arugula, kale, and other cool-season crops can be protected from freezing with a cold frame, plastic sheeting or floating row cover to extend their productivity. Be sure to vent the cold frame or plastic cover on sunny days to prevent excessive heat build-up.
- Carrots, parsnips, and turnips can be over-wintered by covering the bed with a deep straw or leaf mulch. These root crops can be harvested through the winter, as needed.
- Spinach can even be sown this month, for early spring harvest.
- Plant garlic soon after the first frost.
- This is a good time to incorporate organic matter (like composted manure) into garden beds. Speaking of organic matter, you can use shredded leaves to keep the beds covered over the winter to minimize the risk of soil erosion and nutrient run-off. The leaves can be tilled into the garden in spring or left in place as a mulch between rows of vegetables.
- Alternatively, grow a cover crop to improve the soil for the next season and protect the soil from erosion and run-off all winter. Clover is great as a cover crop – it fixes nitrogen – drawing it from the air and putting it into the soil. Annual Rye grass is another great option – when turned under in the spring it adds organic matter and the roots break down the heavy compacted clay soils.
- Remove all dead and weak herb plants from the garden. Dried herbs should be stored in a cool, dark location.
Outdoor Bulbs, including Tender “Bulbs”
- It’s not too late to plant spring-blooming bulbs like tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. If you can’t get to them all right away, do the daffodils and small bulbs as soon as possible; the tulips can wait until December if need be – as long as the ground isn’t frozen.
- Dig cannas, dahlias and other tender bulb-like plants before the killing frost if you want to save them for next year and store them in a cool dry place. After the frost has turned the foliage black, cut the tops back to 2-3″ (or for cannas and dahlias, 4-6″), dig up the “bulb”, brush off the soil and let it dry for 1-3 weeks to sure. Store in a dry spot that’s ideally 40-50 degrees – perhaps an unheated basement or a crawl space – in boxes, pots, or mesh bags filled with bark chips, peat moss, vermiculite or perlite. Check periodically for shriveling or decay. Store caladiums, dahlias and tuberous begonias in slightly moistened peat moss. Gladiolus requires an 8-week chilling period at 35-41° F.
Indoor Plants, including Bulbs
- Bring houseplants, tropicals and other tender plants inside before the killing frost. Check for mites, mealy bugs, scale or white fly.
- It’s a prime month for potting up paper-whites, Amaryllis and other bulbs to “force” to bloom indoors over the winter. You might stagger a batch every couple of weeks for flowers all winter.
- For your regular houseplants, be careful not to over-water them over the winter – let the soil dry out between watering. During the winter months reduce your feeding schedule to once a month.
- You can still apply a lawn fertilizer, up until November 15. After that, it’s illegal to apply fertilizers to lawns and gardens until spring (March 1). This is to reduce fertilizer runoff to the Bay.
- Lime can be applied to your lawn any time of the year, including November.
- Don’t let whole leaves accumulate on your turf – they can smother and kill it. Those leaves are a great source of nutrients and organic matter for your lawn, however – if you just chop them with a mulching mower and allow them to decompose over the fall and winter.
- It’s definitely too late to start grass seed.
- After your final mowing is a great time to take your mower in for service.
Perennials and Borders
- It’s not too late to add pansies to your garden or outdoor pots.
- There’s also still time to plant, divide, or transplant perennials (especially peonies, which should only be divided in the fall).
- Leave the large seed heads of black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, and native grasses for birds to feed on over the winter. They also add interest to the winter garden, as do non-native ornamental grasses. They can all be cut down in late winter, or after a snowstorm has flattened them.
- Other dead seed-heads you might want to leave standing are perennials, biennials and annuals that you want to self-sow – or just shake their pods around before removing the remains of the plant.
- Cut back and compost other annuals and perennials after hard frost kills the top foliage. Just don’t compost foliage from plants that suffered from disease problems this season – like leafspot or other fungal diseases, especially around disease-prone plants like peonies, roses and irises. Fall clean-up will help to make your garden healthier next year by reducing disease spores and insect eggs, which overwinter in plant material.
- This is a good month to prepare new beds the slow way that avoids the use of a rototiller – by applying cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, with mulch on top. It’s called the Lasagna Method.
- Don’t begin mulching your perennials until after the first hard freeze, usually around mid-November. The mulch should be 2-3 inches deep and surround the plant crowns. Waiting to mulch will help the ground to cool and remain cold during winter. It can be either a good layer of compost (LeafGro® is excellent natural compost), shredded hardwood or pine mulch. Don’t use a moisture-trapping mulch like hardwood or compost around lavender, though; pea gravel would work better at keeping the lavender dry.
- Cover any bare soil with mulch or ground-covers, to prevent erosion over the winter. Fall is an ideal time to add organic matter to your borders by mixing in 6-8 inch layer of leaf compost or well-rotted manure and then covering with a layer of shredded or mulched leaves.
- If you haven’t put your pond to bed for the winter, do it right away.
- It’s not too early to start feeding the birds. You might pick up some unusual birds at the feeder as they move South for the winter. Read The how-to’s of feeding birds in winter, as reported by wildlife expert, Natalie Brewer.
- Now’s also a good time to clean all nest boxes and feeders. Scrape and remove debris and scrub with hot, soapy water. Rinse and let dry. Some birds that are cavity nesters such as (chickadees and titmice) may use the nest boxes for roosting during the winter.
- Don’t put your bird bath away. Birds need fresh water for drinking and bathing throughout the fall season. Clean frequently and keep filled with fresh water.
- To provide shelter for wildlife, you can build a brush pile in the corner of your yard or near the edge of a wooded area using your fall trimmings. Brush piles offer winter protection for ground dwelling birds, small mammals, snakes and box turtles.
- Keep applying deer repellants to your plants – the deer are still hungry. Actually they are more desperate for food than in summer, and they’ll soon be eating azaleas and evergreens unless deterred.
- Hemlocks that look like they are coated with spray-on snow are likely infested with the super-destructive wooly adelgid. If seen, they should be sprayed with horticultural oil anytime between now and March, provided the temperatures will be above freezing for 24 hours after application. Heavy infestations cause considerable damage or kill trees and should be treated with a registered systemic insecticide. Adelgids are particularly attracted to trees that are fertilized with too much nitrogen.
- Shade trees and shrubs that have had scale problems can be sprayed with horticultural oil after leaves drop. Again, do it when the temperatures will remain above freezing for 24 hours after spraying oil.
- Remove any bagworm bags you see in your trees and shrubs, and dispose of them in the trash.
- Remove any egg masses of the Eastern tent caterpillar by pruning away the branches they’re on. They look like shiny, black styrofoam and are usually on the ends of wild cherry and crabapple trees.
- Spruce spider mites are active this time of year on evergreen trees. You can check for them for tapping branches while holding a piece of white paper underneath, then looking for moving specks. They can be controlled with ultra-fine horticultural oil. Note: If sprayed on blue-needled evergreens, the oil will take the wax off that gives them their blue color. Only the older needles will be green, however; new growth will be blue.
- Watch for egg cases of gypsy moths. You may find them in protected areas attached to the house, or on tree trunks or branches. They are oval-shaped, flat, tan, felty, and about the size of a dollar coin. Scrape them into a jar of rubbing alcohol or soapy water.
- Drain hoses and bring them indoors for the winter. Winterize outside faucets by cutting the water off to the faucet inside the house (there should be a cutoff on the pipe), then opening the faucet to let any water in the pipe drain out. If you don’t do this step, your faucets and pipes could freeze and crack over the winter. Easily.
- Now’s the time to buy seasoned or Kiln-dried fire wood. Keep it stored away from any wood structure of the house and a minimum of 6 inches off the ground. Check with local codes and/or HOA’s for storage regulations.
- Even the laziest of gardeners can do a “cold compost” pile. Instead of dumping all your leaves at the curb, put them in a big pile in the corner of the yard. By the end of summer next year, they will have decayed for the most part, and you can spread the compost on your garden.