November 2003

Ground rules and tools for gardening in November
November 6, 2003
Victoria County Master Gardener

Fall has definitely arrived! The cooler temperatures are especially nice, and I really enjoy being outside and working in my yard. The cool season also brings rain and messy outdoor conditions that can be the perfect opportunity to spend time inside planning indoor holiday decorations.

As the first cold days of autumn have begun rolling in, my gardening focus has changed. I have finally started looking ahead to adding cool season color to my landscape. Good choices for fall bedding plants that will be great over the winter season are pansies, violas, stock, snapdragons and dianthus.

Do not forget to mulch around your newly bedded plants and all landscape plantings, as it will protect them from the cold and also save weeding maintenance, time and water.

Spring flowering bulbs should be planted soon. I always look wistfully at other people's spring tulips and daffodils and wish I had planned for them. Tulips should be chilled at least six to eight weeks or longer before planting, and the best planting time is early January.

So now is the time to purchase these and put them in the refrigerator. Plant them as soon as possible after taking them out of refrigeration.

November through February is a good time to plant trees and hardy shrubs as well. Container-grown trees and shrubs are ideal for purchasing and planting now. They thrive as their root systems take off in the cooler climate. Don't ask for bare root trees for planting until late December.

Oak leaf caterpillars or Datana worms have been defoliating numerous live oak trees recently. The ideal method for control is to scout your oak trees weekly starting in August through November and spray them at the first sign of worms with organic products that contain "Bt" (bacillus thuringiensis) sold in products such as Dipel, Thuricide or Bio-Worm. An application this late in the season may still help. Other products to use include carbaryl (Sevin), malathion or diazinon. Follow all label directions and spray on a calm day or early in the morning to reduce drift.

As for pruning woody plants, late December through February is usually the best time to perform this task. But fruiting berry plants, such as holly and yaupon, may be pruned now while they can be enjoyed as cut material inside the house for holiday decorating. Prune back perennials such as lantanas and salvias.

Are you looking forward to holiday decorating in your home? Now is the time to begin forcing paperwhite (narcissus) and amaryllis bulbs so they will be blooming throughout the holidays. It usually takes about six weeks for them to sprout and be mature enough to bloom.

Directions on the box say to store them either in a refrigerator or at 65 degrees (or lower) for several weeks before planting. To force them, put the bulbs in a dark area until they grow about 2-3 inches. To control or slow their growth, keep them in a cool place, outside cool temperatures or even placed in the refrigerator, until you are ready for them to grow. This enables you to time their growth and size.

While this is recommended, I have on occasion planted bulbs without refrigerating them, and they have also bloomed. They can then be put in sunny spots around the house to further their growth and blooms. If put in these brighter, warmer locations immediately, they will grow very rapidly and likely too much and too fast.

To plant the paperwhite bulbs, gather an assortment of waterproof containers, bulbs and small, smooth river rocks or pebbles. Soil can also be used in the containers, but I think the small rocks look more interesting.

The rocks can be purchased at nurseries or hobby stores. Fill a container with rocks and then place the bulbs (root end down) just barely sitting in the rocks. Add water to cover up to the base of the bulb and then put them first in a dark location for their initial 2-3 inches of growth, followed by sunny spots around the house for them to grow into full bloom.

Sheet moss can be added for extra interest around the rocks. Be sure to add more water when they begin to get dry. If the stalks of the narcissus and especially the amaryllis get too tall and seem top-heavy, they can be staked and tied with ribbon or raffia.

Start your bulb forcing now! You will have a profusion of elegant paperwhites and amaryllis in time for holiday decorating for your own use or to give as gifts.

After paperwhites and amaryllis have flowered indoors, they can be planted outdoors to naturalize. Plant in holes and cover bulb tops with 1-2 inches of soil, leaving the foliage above the ground.

It is not too late to plant some veggies in your fall garden. The first of November is the time to plant beets, leaf lettuce, parsley, garlic and carrots. Now through mid-November is the time to plant Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower transplants.

Your last chance this year to put anything in your fall garden would be late November until the first of December, when you can plant mustard, onion (seed), radish, spinach and turnips.

If you haven't done so by this time, immediately sow wildflower seeds for a continual flush of spring native color. Also, plant winter annuals and bulbs for a colorful cool season.

If you have a weak lawn site or barren ground that needs a turf, seeding ryegrass immediately is the way to go. Divide spring blooming perennials like daylilies and iris by separating rhizomes that have massed and discarding old ones.

November is a beautiful time of the year with the height of fall color outdoors and in our indoor decorations. It is also the beginning of the holiday season rich in design and decor.

With plans for a colorful outdoor cool weather landscape, healthy fall vegetables for holiday meals, and the excitement of watching my paperwhites bloom and prosper throughout the holiday season, I can think of no other time more bountiful in gardening.