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Almanac: November-December 2107

What To Do in the Garden in November & December

Frost on crabapple, Caledonia, November 2009

Reduce the fertilization of most indoor plants from late October to mid-March. An exception would be plants under grow lights.

To avoid fungus gnats on your houseplants keep them on the dry side as the gnat larva live in moist soil at the top inch or so.

Watering from the bottom also helps.

Start cuttings of your favorite Christmas cactus (Easter and Thanksgiving cacti too!). Make a cutting with four or five joints. Insert the basal end into a pot of moistened vermiculite.

Place in a brightly lit area. Rooting should occur in three to four weeks.

Plant amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus bulbs now.

Select poinsettias with green leaves and colorful bracts. Keep in bright light away from pets, children, drafts, and direct heat.

Be sure to remove foil or other wrapping from around the pots of plants you may receive as gifts so proper drainage can occur.

If you didn’t clean your garden tools, do it now. Don’t forget to disinfect and sharpen your tools too. Sharpened pruners, hoes and shovels make work much easier.

After mowing your lawn for the last time, winterize your lawn mower. Have blades cleaned and sharpened for a head start on spring.

Drain and store garden hoses and turn off outside water spigots.

You can still plant spring-flowering bulbs until the ground freezes.

Finish any garden cleanup you still haven’t completed. Be sure to remove and discard any plant material that was diseased.

Newly planted trees and shrubs need adequate moisture even at this time of year. Water deeply anytime there is less than 1 inch or rain per week, until the ground reaches 40 degrees F.

Once the soil is frozen put protective mulch over tender perennials and shrubs. Discarded pine boughs and shredded leaves are good mulches.

Erect wooden teepees to protect foundation plants from breakage if snow and ice are expected to slip off the roof.

Use burlap or shrub coats to protect susceptible shrubs from winter wind and deer damage. Or consider using “plant tents” around cold sensitive plants such as some hydrangeas.

To reduce the amount of water that broad-leafed evergreens like rhododendrons lose during the winter, you can spray the foliage with a wax-forming anti-desiccant or erect barriers against the wind to prevent “windburn,” a form of desiccation.

Mound five to six inches of soil around the bases of roses to protect them from freeze-thaw cycles, which are harmful. Use soil from another part of the garden so you don’t damage the roots of your roses.

If you have critter problems, now is the time to erect fencing and other barriers. The trunks of young trees can be wrapped with chicken wire or hardware cloth to protect them from the nibbling of mice and rabbits and rubbing by deer. Be sure the protection goes high enough so critters don’t sit on top of the snow to browse.

Check stored firewood for insect infestations. Remember not to use or move firewood from out of your area to help prevent the spread of invasive insects like the Emerald Ash Borer.

Buy a real tree for Christmas. When selecting a Christmas tree:

– Check the needles. You should be able to bend them. If they snap the tree is too dry.

– Try lifting the tree a few inches and bringing it down on the stump. Some inside needles may fall but outer needles should not drop off.

– Make a fresh cut across the base of the trunk so the tree will be ready to take up plenty of water.

– Immediately place in water.

– If you plan to have a live tree for the holidays dig the hole for the tree now before the ground is frozen. It’s best to only keep a live tree inside for just one week then plant it outside.


Give gardening hints to family and friends so they buy you gardening gifts (or buy them for both friends and yourself).

Ideas: books, clippers, butterfly kits, masonbee homes, terrariums, orchids, perhaps apiary equipment to become a beekeeper.

Purchase gifts at local nurseries and botanical gardens.

Give others as well as yourself memberships to outdoor organizations such as botanical gardens, the Nature Conservancy, Xerces, and local nature preserves.

Use your extra time studying garden books, magazines, and seed catalogs—start with your back issues of Upstate Gardeners’ Journal.

Place orders for seeds soon after the catalogs arrive so you won’t be disappointed later. By ordering early, you will be certain of getting the varieties you want.

Buy yourself a plant for the holidays.


—Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera, Master Gardeners, Erie County

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