November Gardening Tips for the Desert Southwest

This is the month to start putting the garden to bed, but don't despair. There's plenty of color to savor and still time to plant winter annuals.


At higher elevations, frost has already put down many plantings for their long winter's nap. Lower elevations, like Phoenix, will see frost by mid-month.

Frost Protection

In all locations, as freezing temperatures come and go, you can prolong the growing season by protecting plants.

  • Start by monitoring weather forecasts online so you can prepare for cold snaps. This is especially vital in areas where frost comes and goes throughout the winter.
  • If frost is predicted, cover plants you want to preserve with a sheet, burlap, or other nonplastic material. Remove covers after the sun is up and temperatures have risen sufficiently.
  • You can purchase frost blankets that guarantee protection to a specific temperature. Frost blankets are typically permeable to water, air, and a portion of sunlight, so they can be left in place for a few days, if necessary.

Find your first frost date.

Tender Plants

Move outdoor potted tropicals to a protected spot on a porch or covered patio if frost threatens. For tropical succulents, like desert rose (Adenium obesum), keep plants under cover through winter to protect from seasonal rains.

Test Garden Tip: Frost helps some vegetables -- like Brussels sprouts, kale, and carrots -- develop better flavor. Many leafy greens, including spinach and lettuce, withstand hard frost (below 28 degrees F).

Continue to plant this month, from herbs, to wildflowers, to shrubs.

Herbs

From seed -- borage, cilantro, dill, perennial fennel, biennial parsley.
Growing Tip: Plant herbs where they'll receive as much winter sun as possible.

Vegetables

From seed -- beet, bok choy, carrot, greens (collard, mustard, kale), peas, radish, spinach, turnip. From transplants -- broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce.
Growing Tip: Sow leafy crops closely and save thinnings for the salad bowl.

Elegant edibles for Southwest gardens.

Annuals

From seed -- nasturtium, sweet pea. From transplants -- sweet alyssum, pansy, viola, dianthus, petunia, snapdragon, flowering stock.
Growing Tip: Remove spent blooms to encourage future flower bud formation.

Wildflowers

From seed -- (annuals): desert bluebells, Mexican poppies, owl's-clover; (perennials): blackfoot daisy, native verbena, penstemons.
Growing Tip: Keep soil moist until seeds germinate. If rains don't come, water every two weeks.

Great native plants for the Southwest.

Shrubs

Agaves, Cleveland sage, lavender, Senna purpusii, banana yucca.
Growing Tip: Remember to keep roots consistently moist until plants are established.

Bulbs

Indoors -- paper-white narcissus, amaryllis.
Growing Tip: Plant a few extra pots of these easy-growing bulbs to give as holiday gifts.

Amazing amaryllis for your home.

Test Garden Tip: Citrus crops, including orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, and kumquat start ripening this month. Harvest only what you'll consume immediately; allow remaining fruit to continue ripening. The longer fruit stays on a tree, the sweeter it becomes.

Top fruit trees for the Southwest.

Learn more about growing citrus trees.

Garden Maintenance

Reduce irrigation, especially on cacti and succulents. Colder air lowers plants' moisture requirements, and seasonal rains should provide sufficient water during winter dormancy.

Add composted manure to vegetable gardens and planting beds now. This is also a good time to add other nutrient-rich top dressings to soil. Winter rains will help wash nutrients into soil.

Keep an eye out for rabbit damage to agaves, cacti, and yuccas if winter rains arrive to the region slowly. Rabbits tend to feed on wildflower and weed growth that's kicked into gear by the rains. When rains delay, these rodents expand their dietary repertoire to include nontraditional plants.

Some plants blaze with eye-catching fall color this month: Arizona and desert rose mallow, sumacs, native plumbago, and Mexican buckeye.

Clip garden mums and peonies to 6 inches after frost nips foliage. Leave stems in place until spring as a marker indicating where dormant perennials are located. Cut stems to the ground in spring.

Test Garden Tip: Tuberous bloomers that stage a summer show disappear this month. Among those departing are four o'clocks, butterfly weed, Datura wrightii, and globeberry. Mark plant locations using colorful golf tees, making sure not to disturb or irrigate plants all winter.

Lawn Care
Cool-Season Grass
  • Water fescue, rye, or bluegrass lawns every 7 to 10 days.
  • If it's been 6 to 8 weeks since you last fertilized the lawn, apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Feeding the lawn now will ensure that grass stays green all winter.
  • Continue to mow grass as long as it's actively growing. Sharpen mower blades for a clean cut.
Warm-Season Grass
  • Bermuda grass and other warm-season turf goes dormant during winter. Continue to water during winter even if grass is dormant. Schedule irrigation for at least twice per month.
  • Consider overseeding a warm-season lawn with ryegrass -- annual or perennial. Annual ryegrass remains green all winter long and dies out in summer. It must be planted yearly to provide a green winter lawn. Perennial ryegrass grows year-round, but can enter dormancy in fall, depending on irrigation and available sunlight. Dormant perennial ryegrass can create an autumn lawn with green and dormant patches.

Test Garden Tip: If you have warm-season turf that's dormant, service your mower while you're not using it. Sharpen the blade, and check and/or replace the air filter. Determine if it's time to change the oil according to schedules in your owner's manual.

Store and Clean Tools

As you stow tools for the garden's dormant season, take time to prep them for another year of use.

More tips on keeping your tools organized.

  • Clean blades of metal digging tools, such as trowels, shovels, and spades. Use steel wool to remove rust. Sharpen digging edges with a file. Tighten any loose screws.
  • Preserve wooden tool handles by lightly sanding them with a fine-gauge sandpaper. Rub linseed oil into wood, wiping excess off after 60 minutes.
  • Prevent rust on tools by rubbing a thin layer of oil on metal parts.
  • Hone a fresh cutting edge on pruners and knives. Use a whetstone or other sharpening device. Spray lubricating oil into joints, gears, or other moving parts.
  • Avoid overlooking tools in the garden by painting handles in bright shades. Use spray paint for a quick fix. This trick also helps prevent losing tools at community garden plots by making your implements stand out.

Test Garden Tip: Remove hard water mineral deposits on hose connections, spray nozzles, and watering wands by soaking affected pieces in vinegar. An overnight soak should loosen and remove stains. Rinse with warm water and dry before storing or using.


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