Monday, November 2, 2009

November Garden Chores

Hello again,

I found these helpful garden tips at

The advice given is based on a zone 5B situation in very northeastern NY state and western MA so the gardening info given is quite appropriate to our conditions in Skillin's Country which probably averages zone 5A. I like a lot of the information they present. So I am listing some of what they have to say (their advice is in quotes) and I comment "somewhat" briefly (in italics) as to how we hardy gardeners in Skillin's Country can follow this gardening advice to our benefit.

"THE WINDING DOWN is well under way in my cold zone, and a beautiful time of reflection and rest lies ahead…if only we can get the place cleaned up before really harsh weather says “stop.” Target extra-thorough cleanup first to areas where rodents and moles might do winter damage, not leaving any heavy buildup of fallen plants and wet leaves in place. I set out mousetraps under boxes, buckets or cans where I see any activity, to rid them from my beds and borders. The garlic is in; the spinach (true!) will be the last thing I sow. And that’s not all I try to get done this month: "

"If you had areas where something didn’t fare well—an unproductive vegetable or fruit crop, an unwillingness of some shrub to flower for no apparent reason—quickly gather a soil sample before the ground freezes and take it in for analysis to your local Cooperative Extension service. Some amendments can be spread or tilled in before heavy frost to start to mellow over the coming months." We have plenty of compost left for you to spread over your vacated vegetable and flower gardens or around your fruit trees. November is a great month to do this; one of the great jobs to get done and out of the way before the rushed and exciting Spring days. We also have soil test kits here at Skillin's for you to send to the local Cooperative Extension service.

"If it all seems too hectic, remember: Seed catalogs in the easy chair are just ahead. Position it to point out the window, where there are still riches: berries, or perhaps bark, and new birds. Did you join Project Feederwatch yet? Recording of data starts mid-month, through April. Other ways to help the birds are here. "


"PRIME TRANSPLANTING TIME for deciduous trees and shrubs continues into this month, sometimes longer if weather permits and the ground show no signs of freezing. Make that work include some focus on the addition of fall and winter plants to the landscape." Most trees and shrubs can be planted for many weeks yet; until that ground freezes. And the cool weather is great to work in! We have trees and shrubs still ON SALE and we offer free planting advice and tips 7 days per week!

"SCOUTING FOR VIBURNUM BEETLE begins later this month, when leaves fall and their egg cases are easier to see. Remove egg cases by pruning off affected wood, between then and April-ish, to reduce larvae and beetle issues in the coming year. The bump-like cases are usually on the underside of youngest twigs. I also watch in May for larvae hatch and rub the twigs then to squash the emerging pests."

"CLEAR TURF OR WEEDS from the area right around the trunks of fruit trees and ornamentals to reduce winter damage by rodents. Hardware cloth collars should be in place year-round as well." In general much weeding can and should be done--not only around trees but also in the garden. We have had much rain and the ground is moist, moist which makes for easy weed pulling. More weed pulling now, MUCH less weeds this coming Spring and summer! Back to the rodents, the deep snows of the last two winters have meant much rodent damage around vulnerable tender fruit trees; so keeping those areas clean and protected is essential!

"BE EXTRA-VIGILANT cleaning up under fruit trees, as fallen fruit and foliage allowed to overwinter invites added troubles next season. Technically mummies (fruit still hanging) should be removed, too, but I like to leave it for the birds." Fallen fruit and foliage serves as a great harbor for disease. The hanging fruit also serves as food for deer at night; if you keep that fruit hanging you may well want to consult with us about how to protect some of your tasty evergreens from those deer!

"KEEP WATERING woody plants until frost is in the ground if conditions are dry, so that they enter dormancy in a well-hydrated state. Evergreens (needled ones and broadleaf types like rhododendron, too) are particularly vulnerable to desiccation and winterburn otherwise." Yes, yes, yes! Almost none of us water our plants enough in the fall. This is solid advice.

"ALWAYS BE on the lookout for dead, damaged, diseased wood in trees and shrubs and prune them out as discovered. This is especially important before winter arrives with its harsher weather, where weaknesses left in place invite tearing and unnecessary extra damage. Remove suckers and water sprouts, too. " This is good everyday gardening advice but with probable wild winter weather approaching the timing of this point is right on!


"MULCH STRAWBERRY PLANTS with a couple of inches of (guess what?) straw." I would not put the straw down yet. I would put it down much later this month or early next month when the ground gets cold and crunchy. If you put straw down too early the soft straw becomes too attractive for rodents as a nest. They will gnaw on the strawberries or whatever you mulch with the straw. Plus the purpose of the mulch is to KEEP THE GROUND COLD so the ground needs to be a lot colder and crunchier before you lay straw or any mulch down.

"PREPARE A SEEDBED NOW for peas and spinach for next spring, to get a headstart on such early crops. Spinach can even be sown this month, for super-early spring harvest; not the peas, of course." I am not sure whether I will get to it but I would like to get some spinach sown. Great advice here.

"PARSLEY AND CHIVES can be potted up and brought indoors for offseason use. A few garlic cloves in a pot will yield a supply of chive-like (but spicier) garlic greens all winter for garnish. Determined types with really sunny windowsills can sow seeds of bush basil in a pot, too. I rely on frozen pesto cubes instead, and you can store many green herbs over the winter like this." I LOVE the frozen pesto cube idea! We also keep fresh culinary herbs available all winter long here at Skillin's for your growing and seasoning pleasure.


"PROTECT ROSES FROM WINTER damage by mounding up their crowns with a 6- to 12-inch layer of soil before the ground freezes. After all is frozen, add a layer of leaf mulch to further insulate." Great advice. In just a few weeks it will be time to pile that soil or compost right around the crowns of the roses. Don't get too caught up on pruning roses right now. In late March or early April when the soil or compost is pulled back from those crowns then you will have plenty of dead rose branches to prune away. Check out this link at the Skillin's Garden Log for more advice about putting Beds To Rest!

"PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION to areas around peonies, roses, irises and other flowers that are prone to fungal diseases. Cut down iris foliage and rake well under roses." This is the same concept as keeping the ground around your trees and shrubs clean at this time of year. We talked about this near the beginning of the post.

"CANNAS, DAHLIAS AND OTHER tender bulb-like things including elephant ears need to be dug carefully for indoor storage. There are many methods, but the basics: Once frost blackens the foliage, cut back the tops to 6 inches and dig carefully, then brush or wash off soil and let dry for two weeks or so to cure. Stash in a dry spot like unheated basement or crawl space around 40-50 degrees, in boxes or pots filled with bark chips or peat moss. " In many areas around Skillin's Country the time is now to do this.

"DON’T DEADHEAD FADED perennials, biennials and annuals if you want self-sowns, or make sure to shake pods around before removing plant carcasses. Nicotiana, poppies, larkspur, clary sage and many others fall into this leave-alone group. So do plants with showy or bird-friendly seedheads, like grasses and coneflowers." I did prune some coneflower the other day but the seed heads looked pretty empty so I don't think I was depriving my beloved feathered friends.

"PREPARE NEW beds for future planting by smothering grass or weeds with layers of recycled corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, then put mulch on top." The cardboard or newspaper method definitely works--and quickly! Check out More Discussion on Newspaper as Garden Mulch!


"START A POT OF PAPERWHITES in potting soil or pebbles and water, and stagger forcing of another batch every couple of weeks for a winterlong display." We are all about paperwhites here at Skillin's. We also feature their close cousins, Chinese Sacred Lilies and Soleil D'Or indoor narcissus as well as bagged pebbles and neat containers to use for this purpose. Paperwhites are bright and cheery and make inexpensive and easy winter flowers! (And great holiday gifts!)

"CONTINUE RESTING AMARYLLIS BULBS in a dry, dark place where they will have no water at all for a couple of months total. I put mine in a little-used closet, and they will come out late this month, since they went in around mid- to late September. Pot up new ones now." New ones! We have gorgeous and huge new amaryllis bulbs available at Skillin's. The flowers will be striking and make long lasting winter companions!


"KEEP MOWING TILL THE GRASS stops growing, and make the last cut a short one. Let clippings lie on the lawn to return Nitrogen to the soil, and mow over fallen leaves to shred if not too thick, or rake them off before snow comes." Don't hesitate to grind those fallen leaves with your mower into the lawn. If you feed your lawn organically the healthy microbes in the soil will grab those ground up leaves and break them down fairly quickly over time so that the leaves will just become nice organic matter for your lawn. Lawn soil fed chemically do not have those plentiful microbe levels and so then too many ground up leaves turn to thatch and then layer or shut off the soil from air and sun. SO feed your lawn organically and grind those leaves and grass blades. For good organic feeding we recommend Espoma Lawn Food or the Organica lawn products (all sold right here at Skillin's).


"START A LEAVES-ONLY PILE alongside your other heap as a future source of soil-improving leaf mold, or when partly rotted for use as mulch. To save space and speed decomposition, run it over with the mower to pre-shred. "See I told you so about grinding the leaves! Good advice about the separate pile as partly rotted leaves make great mulch. Oak and maple leaves take a long time to break down so we don't really recommend them for your own compost pile. I send most of my raked leaves to the town landfill where the leaves are then sold to various agricultural farms and returned to the soil that way.

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
November 2, 2009

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