Jobs for November
If you didn’t have a chance to look at our handy advice on forcing bulbs to bloom for the holidays, you can still see it here.
Mild Autumn weather can trick Spring bulbs, like grape hyacinth, to grow some foliage. This is not a problem and should not harm your display next year, but you can cover then up with a little extra mulch if you want to tuck them in for the Winter.
Although most gardeners try to get their bulbs planted in early fall when the weather is still pleasant, as long as the ground isn't frozen, it is possible to plant bulbs for spring flowers. In most parts of the state, that means you have until Thanksgiving to plant.
By selecting different types of bulbs with different bloom times, you can have color in the garden from late winter through mid-summer. Try grape
hyacinths, squill, crocuses, and the old standbys, tulips and daffodils.
The site you select should have excellent drainage and receive about six hours of sun each day. Work the soil well, adding peat moss, fertilizer, and bone meal.
If burrowing rodents are a problem, plant daffodils (which they don't like) rather than tulips (which they do), or substitute special bulb food, rock phosphate, or superphosphate for the bone meal. All are good sources for root growth in bulbs and aren't as likely to attract skunks and other hungry rodents.
The right stuff
Mulching is one of the best lines of defense for perennial plants against chilling temperatures. It also helps prevent the repeated freezing and thawing of soil that causes plants to heave up out of the ground.
Your garden can be mulched with compost, seaweed, cow manure, pine needles, straw, finely chopped leaves or other organic material. The worms will pull the compost through your soil as well, conditioning it for plantings next year.
We think evergreen boughs are the best mulch, providing good insulation without attracting rodents while being easy to clean up in the Spring.
The right time
It is important not to mulch too soon. Mulching needs to be done after the ground starts to freeze but before the first significant snowfall. The end of November is a good time to apply mulch in Maine, although if an early snowstorm is predicted, you may want to mulch before it hits. If you mulch sooner, mice and other rodents may nest in the mulch, and plants may not be completely dormant, which they will need to thrive next year.
The right way
Clean debris from beds and top dress to 1” with compost, then dig in to about 6”. Apply a layer at least 3-4” thick around each plant then gently pull it away from the trunks and stems so plants can breathe. If you use evergreen boughs, cover your entire garden (including plants) up to 3” thick. Deeper mulching may be necessary in especially cold or windy sites.
Last chance jobs
Trees, shrubs or perennials that didn't make it their permanent homes yet can be "stored" in a temporary location until their permanent spot is ready. Choose a sheltered area out of the wind and plant potted plants in the ground until Spring. If frozen ground prevents digging to plant pots, surround the pot or root ball with bark mulch or leaves. As long as the roots are covered, the plants will generally survive.
Berry nice for next year
Red raspberries grow naturally in hedgerows, usually 12” wide, which can be harnessed for better yields by pruning. Autumn or early Spring are the best times to prune in Maine. Raspberries can be dormant pruned any time canes are fully dormant.
Suckers originating from the root system will fill in the entire length of a hedgerow. Suckers growing outside the hedgerow may be removed at any time.
Remove spent canes (which have done their job and will die) from raspberries using sharp pruning shears to remove the canes that fruited this year right down at ground level. This helps prevent diseases, like blight, from overwintering in the plants.
Also remove weak or broken canes, and thin remaining canes to about five or six per row foot. (Always leave the strongest ones even if the numbers per row foot aren't perfect.) This reduces competition and results in larger berries next year.
Stow and store
You should empty all window boxes and plant containers now. Either discard the soil mix and plant debris or retain the soil and use it to hold arrangements of evergreen boughs for the holidays. Doing it before the soil freezes solid means cold weather will have encouraged the boughs to set their needles and leaving them in window box or container soil will help keep some moisture in the branches.
Clay, concrete and ceramic pottery, birdbaths and statuary are all susceptible to damage from the expansion of freezing water. This can crack or break pots and affect the finish on glazed items like bird baths. It’s best to move all pots and statuary into a dry garage or basement, but simply emptying them, turning them upside down and protecting them with a tarp or plastic will help
Short of a full tune-up, mower blades should be sharpened, spark plugs replaced and air filters cleaned. Metal fuel tanks should be left full with a few drops of stabilizer for the winter, but empty plastic fuel tanks.
Plants that summered outdoors may have brought in freeloaders that are now multiplying like crazy in our heated homes.
- The undersides of houseplant leaves for webbing of spider mites
- Leaf axils (where they attach to the stems) for of mealybugs
- Stems and veins for dark-colored scale insects
Neem oil is a highly effective treatment for a variety of insects and plant diseases. Insecticidal soap is most effective on soft-bodied insects like spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs. Scale is trickier to control, but horticultural oil is the best option.