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Almanac: What to do in the Garden in November & December (2013)

This is your last chance to make maps of your plantings and take notes about what needs to be moved/divided/replaced next year. If you are a risk-taker, or live in the milder areas, you can still plant a few hardier perennials or woodies, early in the month. Although the usual recommendation is to mulch after the soil freezes, I mulch plants right after planting to allow more root growth before the soil cools off too much.
Save your leaves and consider collecting leaf bags from your neighbors! I have a special compost bin for leaves. I leave them in the bags (plastic preferred) until the leaves turn into “leaf mould”, which is my main organic soil amendment. Most leaves are wet enough and ‘dirty’ enough that they will compost right inside the bag. Any bags that are really light contain dry leaves, and these I set aside for use as mulch in the veggie garden the next season.
Clean up all the old plants and debris from the vegetable garden. Although most recommendations are to dispose of this debris in the trash, I have too much to do that. Instead, I put it in a long-term inactive compost pile, so I’m isolating diseases and pests that the debris may hold. It’s probably too late to plant a cover crop in the veggie garden in most areas. I try to sheet-compost there instead (flattened cardboard covered by leaves).
Time to finish planting your bulbs outside! Look for sales at nurseries and garden centers, too. You can also start potting up the hardy spring-flowering bulbs you want to force (you can finish this task in December). Be sure to protect potted crocus and tulips from mice if your garage is not mouse-proof. (Are any of them mouse-proof??)
Now is a good time to clean up around your perennials and shrubs. Cut down dead stalks (except for mums, Japanese painted ferns, Kniphofia, and semi-woody plants like lavender, sage, Russian sage, and butterfly bush, which overwinter better with the protection of the old stalks). Pull those winter annual weeds that have sprouted! If you see little clumps of circular white objects resembling tapioca, those are snail or slug eggs. Get rid of them (not in the compost). I apply more mulch where necessary; this is my best opportunity because my flower beds are full of bulb foliage by early spring.
Consider using anti-desiccant sprays especially on young evergreens, or installing a burlap screen to keep the winter wind and sun from drying out the foliage. If it’s been dry, give this year’s new plantings a last drink, especially evergreens.
Pick up fallen fruit and bury it in a long-term compost pile, so that disease organisms aren’t wintering over under your plants. Applying fresh mulch will help isolate disease organisms. Be sure to protect fruit tree trunks up to 4 or 5 ft. above the ground, from nibbling wildlife.
Protect vulnerable plants from deer, rabbit, and rodent damage – with fencing, hardware cloth, plastic tree protectors, and/or repellents.
For disease prevention, I prefer to prune in late winter or early spring when woody plants are about to resume growth – but we all make an exception for holly that can be used in holiday decorating. Consider cutting off the fronds of Christmas ferns and the leaves of hybrid Lenten hellebores and using them as well. For many of us, they are battered eyesores by March anyway.
It’s time to finish potting up the hardy bulbs you are forcing this winter. For a 2-page factsheet on forcing hardy bulbs, and what to do with them later, e-mail Pat Curran at [email protected]
This is also a good time to clean up gardening tools and organize the toolshed before it gets too cold. If you just disconnected the hoses earlier in the fall, gather them up now and store them out of the sun.
Houseplants near windows are mostly in semi-dormancy. Don’t fertilize and don’t overwater, but do look out for scale and other insect problems. Be sure not to leave them too close to window glass, where it can get a lot colder than you think. Try fluorescent lights and your African violets will probably bloom.
—Pat Curran, Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners Program

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