The Ornamental Garden in November

  • By Pat Chadwick
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  • November 2015-Vol.1 No.11
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November’s chilly winds and frosty mornings are sure signs that fall will soon give way to winter. But don’t put away those garden tools just yet. There’s still a lot to be done in the ornamental garden. Follow this month’s “To Do” list to prepare the garden for the cold weather ahead.

Before the ground freezes:

  • Water shrubs and trees deeply.  Well-hydrated woody plants are better prepared to withstand winter weather. This particularly holds true for newly planted trees and shrubs.
  • Continue planting deciduous trees and shrubs.  For planting advice, see Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Publication 430-295, Tree and Shrub Planting Guidelines,
  • Fertilize trees and shrubs as needed. This will ensure that food is available to the plants in early spring.
  • Plant spring bulbs.  Tulips and Dutch irises need to be planted in cold soil (less than 60°F) so that they do not send up shoots before roots are established. Plant tulips deeply to help protect them from mice, voles and squirrels.

After the ground freezes:

  • Mulch flower beds. This will help protect plant roots from cold weather and guard against soil heaving. Remember to keep mulch from touching the trunks of trees and shrubs.

After a killing frost:

  • Cut back late-blooming chrysanthemums.  Leave about three inches of flower stalks above ground. See last month’s newsletter article (“The Ornamental Garden in October”) for advice on which perennials to cut back in the fall.

General yard tasks:

  • Protect younger trees from deer damage. Damage may occur when male deer rub and scrape their antlers against tree trunks in an attempt to remove the “velvet.”  Surround the tree trunk with a physical barrier, making sure the barrier does not rub against the bark or restrict the trunk from expanding as it grows. Options include fences, wire mesh trunk guards, plastic tubes or pipes, or loosely wrapped chicken wire.  Deer repellents may also help but a physical barrier is a better choice.
  • Prepare ponds and water features for winter. Use a pond net to scoop fallen leaves from the water. Prune dead stems and leaves from aquatic plants to prevent the debris from decaying in the water over the winter.
  • Prolong the life of your garden hoses. Drain them before the onset of cold weather. Wipe off dirt and other debris and store them in a shed, garage, basement or other protected place out of the weather. Also, don’t forget to drain outdoor faucets before freezing weather.
  • Clean, dry, and store all breakable itemsPlace anything that might be damaged by winter weather, including terra cotta pots, rain gauges, bird baths and garden art, out of harm’s way. 
  • Prepare your greenhouse for winter.  Now is the time to do some basic cleanup and maintenance. Clean the windows thoroughly so that the maximum amount of sunlight can penetrate to your plants. Replace any broken or cracked windows. Check all opening panels to make sure they are in good working order. Grease the hinges if needed. If you rely on a heater to keep temperatures above freezing, make sure it is in working order.
  • Inspect your garden and property for natural elements to use for holiday decorations. Unusual barks, lichens, seed pods, berries, pine cones, ground covers, and even twigs can add texture and interest to holiday centerpieces, wreaths, and mantel decorations.

Carry your tasks indoors:

  • Stop feeding your houseplants and cut back on water. They grow little, if any, during the cooler temperatures and shorter days of winter. Therefore, they require less fertilizer and water than they do during the summer months.
  • Pot hardy spring bulbs for indoor forcing. For advice on how to force bulbs into bloom, see VCE Publication HORT-76NP, Fooling Mother Nature: Forcing Flower Bulbs for Indoor Bloom,
  • Plant amaryllis bulbs for a spectacular indoor floral show in the dead of winter.  They prefer to be planted in a pot that is only slightly larger than the bulb. So, select a pot that allows no more than one inch of space on each side of the bulb.   If the pot is too big, the bulb may not bloom. Position the bulb so that the top third is above the soil line. Place the potted bulb on a sunny windowsill in a cool room (about 60 to 75°F). Water after potting. Afterwards, water only when the soil feels dry to the touch.   Allow about 12 weeks on average from potting to bloom.
  • Plant paperwhite narcissus bulbs early in November so that the blooms will open by Christmas. Allow about five to six weeks from planting time to bloom. To plant, place two or three inches of pea gravel in a bulb pan, shallow bowl, or hurricane-style vase. Add water to just below the top surface of the gravel. Position the bulbs closely together on top of the gravel (not down in the water). The bulbs should touch so that they can support one another. Plant the bulbs with tips pointing up and roots pointing down. Each bulb will produce several stems topped with clusters of sweetly-scented white flowers.

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