November will soon arrive, and that means increasing cold and shorter days in the garden. Especially in the north, some preparation is needed, although in warmer zones this is also a good month for planting trees and shrubs, especially deciduous ones. If you have plants in your garden that went in earlier in the year, they might need a little extra TLC, as they face their first winter with you – that care could make all the difference to their performance next year. Adding something new to the garden each year is an important way to stop it becoming stale and tired – gardening is all about the promise of something new and special performing well for you.
Since this is the end of the season, a good place to start is with all the things you need to stop doing, so let’s consider them first:
- Stop fertilizing – if you haven’t already stopped feeding your plants, stop now. The last thing plants need at this time is new growth, which can easily be damaged by cold. You will end up having to trim it off next spring, and the plant will have wasted valuable resources putting out that last spurt of wasted growth. This is especially true for evergreens and your hedges and trimmed plants. Depending on where you live you should even have stopped earlier than this, back in late August in the colder zones, and by the end of September in most places.
Stop trimming – if you are looking at your hedges and thinking they could use a trim, resist the temptation (in all but the warmest zones, at least). Mark your calendar for next year to make your last trim in early fall, well before any marked drop in temperatures. Trimming now will end up either leaving your hedge exposed, with lots of cut ends that don’t have time to heal over properly, or it will stimulate new growth that will only end up browning and dying, making your hedge look ugly and needing another trim in spring.
However, if you are looking at a really overgrown hedge, and you live where snow is a winter normal, then you are facing the risk of a collapsed hedge. Snow accumulates on all that long growth, weighing it down and breaking branches. Besides making a note to pay more attention to your hedges (!), take some pruners and cut back the longest branches. That way you can tidy up and reduce the risk of damage, without the negative impact of a full-scale trim.
- Stop planting – in cold zones, by the end of October you should finish up any planting of new trees and shrubs and the moving around of existing ones. Dividing your perennials shouldn’t be done after September, as they need to grow some new roots before the real cold arrives. In warmer zones all these things can be done a few weeks later, depending on exactly how warm your climate is.
That was easy – now we can look at the things to do when winter weather is near:
- Net your evergreens – many evergreens break in winter, even clipped ones. Especially around the house, where ice and snow falling from the roof can be a real hazard. Netting is a great way to protect those specimens you spent years trimming into shape, and if you do it neatly it doesn’t even show at any distance. (It also makes attaching Christmas lights easy. . .) Clear or black netting usually shows less than the often-lurid greens on offer in many garden centers, but you might not have a lot of choice for color. It’s easy to attach. Tie one end around the trunk at ground level, and then spiral it around your bush until you reach the top. Use twist-ties to spread out the netting as you come around, joining one level to the next above it. When you reach the top, fold it neatly over, cut off any surplus, and tie it neatly in at the back. Try to make it as tight as possible.
- Mulch around the roots – evergreens and plants at the limit of their hardiness benefit from mulching over the roots. It keeps the soil warmer, preventing freezing, and making it easier for evergreens to stay green, and for shrubs to keep their buds alive and well. Keep mulch clear of the stems and foliage and make the layer 2 to 4 inches thick. While compost or rotted manure is best for also feeding your plants, you might consider moving to leaf mulching. Collecting fallen leaves is a classic chore, but if you have a vacuum/shredder attachment on your blower, not only can you reduce the volume to about one-tenth or less, the resulting material is great mulch, put straight down on your beds as you collect those leaves. It’s a big time save too.
- Keep your lawn short and leaf-free – the idea that leaves ‘protect the grass’ seems to have got into circulation. It’s wrong, and the dead grass underneath leaves in spring is all the proof you need. Cut your lawn short one last time, rake it hard, and clear up as much as you can from it. It will resist snow-mold and other diseases better and be greener much sooner next spring.
- Water your evergreens deeply – plenty of water before going into winter is the secret to keeping your evergreens healthy and green – especially those you planted this year. Most winter injury is caused by the foliage drying out, not by low temperatures, because when the soil freezes it is hard for your evergreens to pull up enough water. Wet soils freeze less, so more water is available. Be careful of Junipers though. They rarely burn anyway, and they hate wet soil, so there is no need to do this with them.
- Bring in your tender potted trees – in colder zones this should be done in September, and the rule is to wait until night temperatures drop below 50 degrees. Any colder and you might see too much damage. Plants like citrus trees really benefit from being outdoors as much as possible, as do camellias, and these plants are happy with lower temperatures too – down to 40 at least. The ideal indoor spot is bright but cool – a glassed in porch is often much better than the hot, dry conditions in most homes in winter. If you are in a area with limited cold weather, a simple blow heater in a porch, with a thermostatic switch, might be all the protection you need to give. Set it to come on at 50 for tender tropical plants, and 40 for citrus, camellias and azaleas. You will pleased with the better results, and the higher light levels usually prevent a lot of leaf-drop.