The November To-Do List

The November To-Do List

  • By Cathy Caldwell
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  • November 2020-Vol.6 No. 11
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You can still do some planting this month, though your options are limited.  And yes, there’s still weeding to do.  If you haven’t already done so,  clean up thoroughly under plants that have had disease and insect problems.

Planting Trees and Shrubs

You can keep planting new deciduous trees and shrubs this month, at least until the ground freezes.  When might that happen?  There is no way to be certain, but generally the ground feezes after the first hard frost.  It’s reasonable to expect warmer-than-normal temperatures this November.  National Oceanic & Atmospheric Admin. Predictions Nov.7-20, 2020 (you may want to bookmark this handy source for longterm weather predictions). As long as the soil temperature is above 40°F, roots will continue to grow, and that root growth enables the tree to thrive and survive.

Please note, however, that fall is not the ideal time for planting broadleaf evergreens. In addition, some trees are difficult to transplant, and should only be planted in spring;  among these are:  birches, dogwoods, European hornbeams, hawthorns, golden raintree, magnolias, oaks, poplars, sourwood, sweetgum, tulip tree, willows, black gum, and zelkova.

Bare-root trees can be planted in the late fall, winter, or early spring when they are dormant. Do not buy or plant a bare-root tree which shows more than 2 or 3 inches of new growth.

Container-grown trees and shrubs and those that are balled-and-burlapped may be planted at any time the ground is not frozen.  How do you determine if the ground is frozen?  Your shovel will be unable to penetrate the soil if it is frozen. Avoid transplanting shrubs and trees on sunny or windy days, which can expose the roots to light and drying winds, stressing the plant.  If you find yourself having to plant very late in the fall, be sure to mulch the area heavily to keep the ground thawed so roots can become established.

  • Before you bring a tree or shrub home from the nursery, do some advance thinking and planning, and here’s a good place to start:  Planting a New Tree, The Garden Shed, Nov 2015.  In order to choose the right tree for your site, consult Right Tree/Right Place List/C’ville Tree Stewards.  If you wish to plant on very compacted soil, you’ll need to amend a large area (not just the planting hole),  as directed in Univ.of Maryland Ext. Planting Process/Shrubs & Trees.  There you’ll also learn about the benefits and methods for creating “tree islands” for multiple trees.
  • Tree Planting Video, Charlottesville Tree Stewards

    Before you start digging a hole, consult some expert tree-planting instructions, such as those at Univ.of Maryland/Planting Process – Trees & Shrubs and Tree Planting Guide, C’ville Tree Stewards. The Charlottesville Tree Stewards recommend turning your tree into a “bare root” tree before planting, and they have produced a video to show you how, which you’ll find here: Tree Planting Video/C’ville Tree Stewards.  If you purchase a balled and burlapped tree, find planting instructions for it here:  Univ.of Ky. Planting Balled and Burlapped Trees and Shrubs in your Landscape.

  • More videos, anyone?  In addition to the Tree Stewards video mentioned above, you’ll find tree-planting videos at  Planting a Container Grown Tree Video Univ.Md.Ext. and How to Plant a Tree in Your Landscape Univ.N.H.Ext..
  • As these publications and videos explain, it’s very important to dig a hole that is wider than the root ball — most experts prescribe a hole that is at least two to five times wider than the diameter of the root ball but no deeper than the height of the root ball. Remove any wires, ropes, and non-biodegradable material from the root ball before back filling the hole, and if you’ve got a containerized plant, you’ll need to deal with any circling roots.
    • Circling roots in container-grown tree stock can sometimes be corrected by “shaving” the outer inch of the root ball on all sides and the bottom. Photo: Alison O’Connor, Larimer County Extension,, CC BY-NC.

      The received wisdom on circling roots has involved cutting them, but some authorities now suggest simply breaking a few and loosening them from the soil of the root ball, as demonstrated in the video mentioned above, How to Plant a Container Grown Tree.

  • Do NOT add any soil amendments such as compost or peat moss to the planting hole because this will encourage the roots to stay in the planting hole instead of growing outward.  After you finish backfilling, apply about 1-2 inches of mulch over the site but don’t let the mulch touch the trunk of the plant. Leave a 2” to 3” gap between the mulch and the trunk or stem.   Water the plant well but not to the point that the soil becomes soggy.  You’ll need to keep watering regularly for a year or more to get your tree established.  For lots of good detail on how often to water and on how much to water based on trunk size, I highly recommend Watering Newly Planted Trees and Shrubs.
  • Be sure to water newly-planted trees and shrubs deeply before the first hard freeze so that they are better prepared to withstand winter weather.

Transplanting Trees and Shrubs

Many trees and shrubs can still be transplanted this month, so long as they are dormant. Most woody ornamentals in our area are dormant by mid to late fall. Some plants do not respond well to being moved in the fall, including magnolia, tulip poplar, oaks, birch, rhododendrons, hemlocks, and flowering dogwood.

  • Smaller deciduous trees and shrubs can be transplanted when dormant.
  • Transplanting larger trees — those with a trunk diameter of two inches or more —  is more difficult and may require a professional.  Transplanting established trees and shrubs will involve some risk of failure because you will damage many of the roots during the transplanting process.
    • But unless you did some advance root-pruning six months ago, do not try transplanting larger trees and shrubs now. If not root pruned, the plant may die from transplant shock because of root loss. Tree and shrub roots normally grow well beyond the soil volume that can be moved; in established trees, the roots extend 50% beyond the drip line.  To keep most of the roots within a small area, these roots need to be pruned at least six months in advance of transplanting. Ideally, root pruning is done in stages about 1-to-2 years before the plant is transplanted. Plants to be moved in the fall (October or November) should be root pruned in March, and those to be moved in spring (March) should be root pruned in October. Root prune only after leaves have fallen from deciduous plants in fall or before bud break in the spring.
    • If you intend to transplant a good-sized tree or shrub next spring, you can certainly do your initial root pruning now.  Begin root pruning by marking a circle the size of the desired root ball around the tree or shrub.  Then dig a trench just outside the circle. To determine the correct size for the root ball, consult the chart and other detailed instructions on root pruning and transplanting at Clemson’s Home & Garden Information Center, HGIC/  Other helpful sources are PennState Extension/Transplanting or Moving Trees and Shrubs in the Landscape and Univ.Md.Ext./Trees & Shrubs Planting Process.

Finish Garden Clean-up

To reduce pest and disease problems next spring, remove and dispose of diseased foliage from roses, peonies, irises, daylilies, and any other plants that are subject to fungal leaf diseases.  Do not put the diseased foliage in your compost pile.  Bag it and put it in the trash.  Do the same with foliage from plants that suffered insect problems.

Weeds and Invasives

Henbit seedling. Photo: Steve Dewey, Utah State Univ.,, CC BY 3.0

Common chickweed (Stellaria pallida). Photo: John D. Byrd, Miss.St.Univ.,, CC BY 3.0

I have lots of chickweed appearing in my garden beds. Fall is when chickweed seeds germinate; then the plant overwinters and drops seeds in spring.  Now is the time to remove chickweed and other winter annual broadleaf weeds that emerge from September through mid-October;  henbit/deadnettle, chickweeds, Carolina geranium, and buttercup are the winter annual broadleaf weeds you’re likely to see in your gardens.  Get them now before they disperse seed next spring.

Other weeds  — the annuals  — are about to die anyway, so don’t waste your energy on them; among these are crabgrass, foxtail, and spurge.  If you’re having trouble identifying a weed — or are worried that it might be a wonderful native plant — try using Virginia Tech’s Weed Identification site, Weed Identification/

There’s still time to remove woody invasives using methods that apply a small amount of herbicide to a cut in the stem or trunk —  the “hack and squirt” method and the “cut stump” method, for example.  Late fall is actually a good time for these methods, according to the Blue Ridge PRISM, because

when actively growing, plants send nutrients and water upward, so an herbicide may not be moved down into the root system. From late summer into late fall, movement is downward into the roots for winter storage, so herbicide applied at that time does an effective job.

How to Control Invasive Plants Effectively and Safely with Herbicides/Blue Ridge Prism.  The Blue Ridge Prism website has detailed instructions on how to use these methods and helpful photos.  Another helpful source is Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council/Application Methods for Recommended Herbicide Treatments.

If you’d like to enjoy paperwhite narcissus and amaryllis over the holidays — or give them as holiday gifts — now’s the time to get started.  Plant paperwhite bulbs, pointy side up, in soil or in water. In just a few days, roots will sprout, and in about 4 to 5 weeks, blooms will emerge. Plant around Thanksgiving for bloom at the holidays. Amaryllis is another bulb that can be started in November for holiday season bloom. On average, amaryllis will bloom about 6 to 8 weeks after planting.  For detailed planting and care information, read The Garden Shed/Amaryllis .

Lawn Tasks

For the last grass cutting of the season, mow the lawn fairly short in preparation for winter. Although not normally a problem in Virginia lawns, grass that is left too long over the winter months can fall over on itself and become matted under a heavy snow. That reduces air circulation and can create the perfect conditions for a destructive early spring lawn disease called snow mold.  Then clean your lawn mower and remove any gasoline from it in preparation for winter storage.

It’s not too late to apply fertilizer to your lawn, though it should be a nitrogen-only fertilizer.  For cool-season grasses, the preferred time for applying N fertilizer is August through October. The second best time is late fall, mid-October to late November, when cool temperatures have reduced top growth, but root growth is still active. Low rates of N fertilizer (40 to 50 lbs./acre) will “set-up the plant” for winter and encourage healthy early-spring growth. Not only does enhanced root growth aid in the uptake of water and nutrients, carbohydrate buildup in the stem bases promotes winter survival and spring regrowth. Never apply lawn fertilizer to frozen soils.  For warm-season grasses, the preferred period for applying N is mid-April through mid-August. For overseeded lawns only, a secondary period for applying a fall nitrogen application is mid-October to mid-November.

For recommendations on appropriate fertilization schedules and application rates, see the VCE publications, “Maintenance Calendar for Cool-Season Turfgrass Lawns in Virginia,” at Va.Coop.Ext. Pub. No. 430-523 and “Maintenance Calendar for Warm-Season Lawns in Virginia,” Va.Coop.Ext. Pub.No.430-522.

You may want to review our previous tasks and tips articles, some of which cover additional tasks or provide additional details about November tasks in the ornamental garden.

Tasks & Tips Nov. 2015  (general yard tasks, tool maintenance)

Tasks & Tips Nov. 2016  (garden clean-up, mulching, winter care of tropicals)

Tasks & Tips Nov. 2017  (preparing the garden for winter) (houseplant care)

Tasks & Tips Nov. 2018  (winter prep for container plants; protecting trees & shrubs from mammals)

Tasks & Tips Nov. 2019


Monthly Gardening Tips/Piedmont Master Gardeners/Gardening Questions/#November

Planting a Tree or Shrub/Univ.Maryland Home & Garden Information Center

Fall Lawn Weed Control Strategies/

Planting Trees/Va. Coop.Ext. Pub.No.426-704

November Tips: Trees, Shrubs and Groundcovers/Va. Coop.Ext.

Why It’s Great to Plant Trees in the Fall/Arbor Day Foundation

Featured photo: Eragrostis spectabilis (purple lovegrass)  Photo:  Cathy Caldwell

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