my november 2010 garden chores

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.” But first, I want to finish a few key things, if not the entire list. Which ones are your November “musts”?

TARGET EXTRA-THOROUGH CLEANUP first to areas where rodents and moles might do winter damage, like in perennial beds, 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:

LAST CALL FOR SOIL SAMPLES: 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.


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–including these golden goodies.

SCOUT FOR VIBURNUM BEETLE 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 any emerging pests I missed in fall.

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.

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.

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.

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. A pruning roundup is here.


MULCH STRAWBERRY PLANTS with a couple of inches of (guess what?) straw.

IF NEXT YEAR’S GARDEN plans include a patch of strawberries or asparagus, do the tilling and soil preparation now so the bare-root plants ordered over the winter can be planted extra early come spring.

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.

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.

HURRY, HURRY if you didn’t get your garlic in. Ideally it would be in about a month before frost is in the ground. Prepare a sunny spot, and plant each clove 1-2 inches deep and 6 inches apart in the row, with about 12 inches between rows.


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.

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.

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. Details, here, on making more tender things at home.

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.

LAST CALL FOR BULB ORDERS, though I swear you can plant them even with a pick-axe and they come up anyhow. Remember our “early, middle, late” mantra when ordering. And think drifts, not onesies and threesies.

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.


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.

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.


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.

TAKE THE MOWER IN for service after the final mowing, rather than in the spring rush, then store without gas in the tank. Run it dry.


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.

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.

(All based on my Zone 5B Berkshire MA/Hudson Valley NY location; adjust accordingly.)

  1. Angela says:

    I’m a little further north and we had a snowstorm Saturday night, there is still some snow on the ground now. I have to get some English bluebells planted before freeze up – I was in no mood to venture out on Sunday to do it let me tell you. The bulbs were sent from my uncles garden in England so they have sentimental value and I’ve only had them since September…. ;) Oh well, it’s just one last chore before I can rest for the winter. As much as I loath winter there is a sense of relief in a way that I can finally stop gardening and by the end of the winter I’ve energized myself that I can’t wait to get back out in it again.

  2. Thanks for this Margaret. Just when I thought it was all over! there is still more to do. Would you mind helping me? The bulbs in the garden (daffodils) have started to come up already and I am very concerned. What should I do. I have already added more soil on top of them but then they popped through that too! Please help.

  3. msgallaway says:

    just had to say how much i love seeing your Martha Stewart Everyday hand trowel-it brought a smile to my face. i use mine every time i venture out. thanks for the ongoing inspiration!

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Msgallaway. Yes, it take a licking, and keeps on ticking, right? Oh, how I miss that line of gear at KMart — so much better than stuff twice the price. Alas, no more.

  4. Hi Margaret,
    I’m sorry to bug you, but I am desperate for your advice on my bulbs (above) I just don’t know what to do!

    Please help me if you can. I would appreciate any advice you have.


    1. Margaret says:

      @Pru: So sorry to miss the comment. It’s normal in many years when weather patterns provoke some growth. I find that daffodils and grape hyacinth (Muscari) are especially prone to this some seasons. Assuming they are planted at a proper depth or thereabouts, don’t worry. The only thing that will stop them is a proper dose of cold weather.

      If they are newly planted and you are concerned that you didn’t bury them deep enough — that would be the only instance in which I’d adjust things. Once the frost is in the ground, you could also mulch them with an inch or two of composted mulch of some kind, but again, they are tough.

  5. Thanks Margaret. I have been getting really worried about them. I hate the idea of them dying off and not enjoying them in spring. They are newly planted in a trough but I will mulch them when we start getting proper frost. Currently its cold in London, but not too cold!

    Thank you again. If I end up with daffodils in December I’ll send you a photo!

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