Sunset at the Alex Fraser Bridge, B.C.
November Garden Chores
In This Issue
November is not known to be a great gardening month in the Pacific Northwest. I try to get most of the gardening chores done and the garden put to bed in October, but oftentimes, that doesn’t pan out. I’m often delayed by the weather. It’s so unpredictable, it makes gardening a dodgy endeavour. Fair weather days are few. It’s either raining, snowing, foggy or windy, and sometimes a combination of them all in one day. There’s never a dull moment.
Foggy November mornings are standard fare along coastal B.C, much to the chagrin of commuters and first responders. Despite the inconvenience, the danger on the roads and the subsequent plant diseases spread by the spore-filled foggy droplets, it has transformative powers, albeit temporarily. It smothers everything with a soupy mist that blurs the scenery, masking colours and shapes, making the familiar unrecognisable. It’s been so thick I got lost while walking in my own hood. Houses disappeared then would eerily loom out as the mist shifted with a will of its own.
I remember a few years back; the fog was unrelenting. It lasted for over a couple of weeks, all day and all night. It was the proverbial pea soup, just like the fog in that eerie Nicole Kidman movie, The Others. It was a relief when the wind blew it away, but that feeling was short-lived when the breeze became a gale-force wind. Weak trees toppled, branches snapped in two, and anything that wasn’t secured, went flying. This is Mother Nature’s way of cleaning house and doing a bit of pruning at the same time.
Technically garden season has come and gone; however, there’s still lots going on out there.
As the garden quivers its way into winter, I'm hoping Mother Nature will be kind to us all.
In the meantime to take your mind off winter, visit the world of ancient China with my new blog The International Buddhist Temple, located in Richmond, B.C. It's a fascinating place with serene gardens, ancient art, sculptures and much more.
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November Garden Stars
Although the intention was to improve the look of this tree by placing a raised bed around it, it is not a good idea. It's certainly fine to put a bed around the tree, however piling soil around it, is not. Burying the trunk flair (where the trunk joins the roots) suffocates the tree in the long run. Roots will arise from the buried stem and wrap around the trunk, which will strangle the tree. This is aptly referred to as girdling. Due to the incorrect planting, the tree will decline. Insects such as caterpillars feasting on the plant are sure signs the plant is suffering as insects prey on the weak. Another symptom is dieback. Branches die back at the tips, proceeding down the stem, which results in entire branches dying. To help this tree, remove the raised bed. Remove the soil so that the trunk flare is not buried. For more on planting click on Planting Know-How
Too MuCH rAIN
It should be no surprise to those that live in the Pacific Northwest, that November is our wettest month. It certainly was last year with a record-breaking amount of rain of over a foot of rain. Fun times. It’s inevitable that torrential downpours lead to flooding, what’s important is how quickly the water drains away. If, after the rain has stopped, areas are still under water after 48 hours, then it’s a good idea to assess the situation to figure out what is going on. Here’s a few things to look for and what to do.
WINTERIZE THE GARDEN
Winter is notoriously unpredictable no matter where you live, so it’s better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Here on the Southern Coastal British Columbia, grey days are the norm, combined with torrential rain, blanketing fog, and heavy winds. Gardens become smothered with deep green moss, lawns become squishy and soil melt into muddy mires.
November usually brings the first frost and snow of the season. The snow is beautiful and fluffy, but it’s also thick and heavy. It comes down quickly, squishing trees and shrubs under its weight. It doesn’t stick around for long, but it damages plant nonetheless.
Secure or remove garden furniture and ornaments and bring in pillows, rugs and other soft furnishings. For safety, remove broken and dead branches from trees and tall shrubs. Cut back overly long branches including rose canes, so they don’t whip around in the wind.
Wrap twine around globe cedars and other conifers so they keep their shape under heavy snow. Use old sheets, tablecloths, frost blankets and/or a few layers burlap. Make sure the fabric touches the ground and all the way to the very tip of the plant. Cover the crowns of perennials with soil, and lay mulch on garden beds between plants. To learn more of protecting plants click on Winterize Your Garden.
Protect borderline hardy plants with a thick layer of straw, fallen leaves, soil or mulch: agapanthus, New Zealand flax, pineapple lily, bananas, camellias. You can also use non-LED Christmas lights wrapped around plants, especially around palm’s central growing buds and other tender plants. To learn more about protecting bananas & palms click here.
Slugs & Snails
It’s mollusk hunting season! Snails and slugs love the cool, wet weather and love to nibble on vulnerable plants such as primroses and winter pansies. Protect plants with copper, slug bait, hazelnut shells or go out when it’s raining or at night and pluck the little devils from plants one by one. To learn more click on Slugs & Snails
If winter has arrived and your lawn is under a layer of snow, there’s no need to read further. However, if you live in more of a temperate climate, some lawn TLC won’t go amiss. Keep the grass free of fallen fall foliage and avoid walking frosty lawns. Don’t fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer (first number is highest on fertilizer labels, 5-3-2). If your lawn is hungry, yellow and weak because you haven’t fertilized it, apply a winterizer lawn fertilizer. They contain some nitrogen but the prominent element is potash as it promotes winter hardiness (the last number 1-2-5). For the last cut of the year, set the mower height to 2 inches. Mow when the grass is dry and not frosty. Overseed patchy with a grass seed combined with a starter fertilizer (middle number highest) to promote root growth. Click on Lawn Reno, Seed & Sod
Now is the perfect time to plant roses, especially bare root ones. For all roses, cut back overly long canes. Secure climbing roses and ramblers to their support so they don’t whip around in the wind. Remove suckers that grow from under the bud union from hybrid teas and other grafted roses.
Remove all foliage from the soil and any infected ones remaining on the rose plant. Cut off spent flowers unless you want to keep their colourful rose hips. Mound soil, compost and/or fall foliage around the crown on non-grafted roses (where stem and roots meet) and on the bud union on grafted varieties such as hybrid teas. To learn how to plant and take care of roses click here.
Winter is a tricky time for houseplants and those tender tropical plants that spent the summer outside. Inadequate sunshine is just part of the problem. Learn how to help plants that are grown inside during the dark and chilly months of winter and how to deal with those naughty insects that take liberties with them by clicking on Houseplant Winter Care.
Overwintering Tropical Plants
Clean up angel trumpets, bougainvilleas, overwintering geraniums and other tropical plants as they adjust to central heating and lack of sunlight. Remove all yellow and dead growth from the plant and the soil.
Inspect the undersides of remaining leaves and in the nooks and crannies for insects. If any are present, treat with a solution of 6 cups (11/2 quart) of mild dishwashing liquid soap with 1 quart water to 1 tsp vegetable oil. Shake well, apply thoroughly including leaf undersides and stems. Reapply every 7 days.
To prevent spider mites, a common indoor pest, don’t allow soil to dry too much between watering. All pots should have drainage holes with drainage tray underneath to collect excess water. For more info, click on banana & palm protection and saving tender plants
Plant Now for Early Bees: Hellebores, primroses, winter jasmine, bodnant viburnum, witch hazels, snowdrops, crocus, and winter aconite are some of the plants that provide pollen and nectar for the first bees of the year. Adding some of these plants to your garden now will certainly give those early bees a better chance of survival.
November Garden Chores
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Garden Beds TLC: It is not a good idea to deep clean garden beds. Don’t remove everything on top of the soil. Do remove diseased, infested and infected plants and plant parts from the ground. Cut back perennials but leave a few inches above the ground. Remove all weeds then add a 3-inch layer of fallen leaves or mulch on top of the soil and around plants. For more info click on Fall Garden Chores
Pruning: Just remove dead, dying, diseased, injured plant parts and suckers from trees. Avoid pruning spring flowering plants, as well as early and winter blooming clematis and jasmine as their flower buds have already set for next year. Click on pruning for more info.
Fallen Leaves: Continue to rake up fallen leaves from the lawn and lay them on top of garden beds, tender plants or on top of and around planters. If you don't have any fallen leaves, pick them up from the neighbourhood on recycle day.
Make New Beds: Install new beds, weather permitting. Use the lasagna (sheet mulching) gardening method so you don’t have to dig up sod. To learn how, click on Sheet Mulching, Lasagna Gardening
Transplant & Plant: If it’s not too wet and the ground isn’t frozen there’s still time to transplant and plant trees, shrubs and perennials. Select a fair weather day as rain spreads disease and compacts soil, especially this time of year. To learn more on how to plant click on Planting Know-How
Plant Garlic: Select a location in full sun with good soil that drains well. Mix in an inch or two of compost then separate the cloves from the head of garlic. Place each clove with their skins on, pointed end up, 4 to 6 inches apart with the tip of the cloves 1 to 2 inches from the soil surface.
Plant Spring Bulbs: There's still time to plant tulips, daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs. Remember pointed end up and plant to the depth 2 to 3 times deeper than the height of the bulb. To learn more click on Spring Flowering Bulbs
Summer Bulbs: Check on stored dahlias, begonias, cannas, gladiolus and other summer bulbs. If they are still outside, dig them up and store them in a frost free, dry and dark location. Cure them first before storing. To learn more, click on each of the following links: Dahlias or Tuberous Begonias
Bar Caterpillars from Trees: Purchase a tree banding kit or wrap plastic wrap around tree trunks, smear the plastic with Vaseline or Tanglefoot to prevent caterpillars from climbing and infesting susceptible trees. Click here for more.
Adorn Planters: Fill containers with hardy plants, evergreen boughs, and branches with berries. Include tulips and other spring flowering bulbs.
Winterize Planters: Protect plants growing in container by wrapping the planter with bubble wrap, insulation or bury the planter in the garden and wrap the plants with burlap or a frost blanket. Or group numerous containers together against the house and under the eaves. For more info on planters click on Container Growing
No Nitrogen Fertilizers: Don’t apply high nitrogen (the first number on fertilizer labels) fertilizer at this time of year. Nitrogen stimulates new, lush growth, which is vulnerable to frost damage. If plants and turf are looking yellow, feed with a high potassium winterizer fertilizer (the last number is the highest). To learn more click on Fertilizers & Ratios
Veggie Garden Beds: Once beds have been cleaned of debris cover the soil a 3-inch layer of straw, shredded newspaper or fall leaves over the soil surface. This protects the soil from erosion, temperature fluctuations, winter weeds and nutrient leaching.
Harvest: Pick any remaining veggies except for ones that don’t mind a touch of frost: brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, parsnip, kale, broccoli and chard.
Brussels Sprouts: Stake top-heavy Brussels sprout stems and pile up soil around their base to keep them stable.
Jerusalem artichokes: Cut down stems, dig up tubers and store in a bucket of vermiculite or clean potting soil.
Stored Veg: Check on stored potatoes, onions, garlic and other veggies and discard ones that are dried up or mouldy.
Hardwood Cuttings: Take hardwood cuttings from deciduous shrubs and evergreens now through winter and early spring. Use dormant, mature stems with firm wood that doesn’t easily bend. To learn more click here.
Root/Basal Cuttings: Take root and basal cuttings now until mid-February from most perennials ex: Oriental poppy, phlox, quince. For more info click here.
Collect Seeds: Finish collecting dry, mature seeds from the garden and store all your seeds in a frost free, dry location in paper envelopes. Don’t store damp or wet seeds as they will rot. Label with the name of plant and date of harvest. Click here for more.
Compost: After adding kitchen scraps and suitable garden debris, top with a layer of fallen leaves or ripped up newspapers. Turn weekly with a garden fork. Add water if it’s dry and newspaper or dried-up fall leaves if it’s too wet. Tempting as it may be, refrain from adding seedy weeds and buggy plants. To learn more click on Composting
Ponds: Fall clean up and winter prep is necessary for a healthy pond. To learn more click on Ponds in Winter.
Outside Faucets Etc.: Blow out and drain irrigation systems, turn off the source to outside faucets and drain garden hoses.
Shed Contents: Remove all fertilizers, dormant oil/lime sulfur and other garden products and store in a frost free and dry location away from children and pets.
Garden Tools: Clean and sharpen garden tools and store in a protected dry area, away from the weather.
Journal: Update your garden journal noting the good, the bad and the ugly garden experiences of the year. Take lots of pics too.
November's Floral Arrangement
November's floral arrangement is all about the colourful fall foliage. For specifics and for other arrangements go to Monthly Flower Arrangements
Plant of the month
Common Name: American sweetgum
Botanical Name: Liquidambar styraciflua
Form: upright with pyramidal canopy that matures to an oval rounded
Plant Type: deciduous tree
Mature Size: 60’ to 80’ x 40’ to 60’
Growth: medium to fast
Origin: USA, Mexico, Central America
Hardiness Zone: 5 to 9
Foliage: deep green, 4-7” wide, glossy, toothed margins, 5-7 pointed, star-shaped lobes, fragrant when crushed, long petioles, brilliant fall colours in hues of orange, purple, red and yellow
Flowers: non-showy, monoecious, chartreuse held in clusters, April, May
Fruit: gum balls, hard, round with bristles, 1-5 inches wide, green mature to brown
Stems: immature stems bear corky ridges
Exposure: 6 hours of direct sun a day minimum for good fall colour
Soil: prefers acidic, well-drained
Uses: lumber, fall colour, shade tree, specimen tree, the gum was used as chewing gum, perfume, herbal remedies, incense, perfume
Propagation: seeds, softwood cuttings
Pruning: in winter when dormant, pruning not needed, don’t prune to reduce size, remove dead, diseased etc.
Problems: no serious pests, chlorotic in alkaline soils, needs space to grow, gum balls are hazardous to walk on and messy.
Sweet gum trees are known for their good bones and brilliant fall colours. Their broad leafy 60’ wide canopies make them suitable shade trees for gardens that have lots of space. They are bold specimens with deeply furrowed grey bark, hence their nickname ‘aligatorwood’. Even the younger stems often have corky growth growing along their length. This gives the trees a unique, albeit, a haunted appearance, but only after the leaves have fallen.
Note that the amount of corky growths on American sweetgum branches differs from tree to tree. Some have none and some may have it on new stems, but it's not uncommon for an entire tree to be covered.
Sweet gum trees are often mistaken for maples because they both have star shaped foliage and both turn brilliant colours in the fall. As an added bonus, their leaves have a lovely fragrance when handled.
Although sweet gums have many desirable qualities, their fruit make it a messy tree. Green spikey 1-to-5-inch husks hold winged seeds inside. Upon maturity in late fall, the husks turn brown and fall from the tree, and unfortunately, they are uncomfortable to walk on.
There are numerous cultivars available:
'Moraine', broad oval shaped canopy, 35’ x 20’
‘Rotundiloba', rounded leaves, 50’ x 30’
‘Silver King’, white leaf margins, 40’ x 30’
'Slender Silhouette', narrow canopy, 40’ x 10’
'Worplesdon', pyramidal canopy, 40’ x 25’
What’s in a name? Sweetgum trees are aptly named as they produce a therapeutic and pleasant-smelling sap used in teas, pharmaceuticals, soaps, glues and yes - chewing gum. Their golden sap is also referred to as liquid-amber, hence its botanical name Liquidambar.
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for the tropical Gardener
While working in Florida as horticultural consultant, it became apparent that there was a need for a book on tropical shrubs. There are so many wonderful shrubs to choose from, so I wrote a reference book to make the selections easier. Ornamental Tropical Shrubs includes pictures in full colour and information about the plants in point form. So if you live in the tropics and subtropics and need a reference book on tropical shrubs, or you just want to have a look-see click here.
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