November Gardening Tips for the Northeast

Biting winds and frosty mornings give warning to wrap up planting and tackle outdoor chores before winter arrives.


Fall Cleaning

Invest time in tidying the garden before the snow flies. Time spent outdoors now pays big dividends in spring. You'll not only shorten your to-do list, you'll also ward off some pest and disease problems.

  • Pull annuals and add them to the compost pile. For annuals that self-seed, allow seed-laden stems to remain in place through winter unless you plan to sprinkle them elsewhere in the garden.
  • Store breakable items, like terra-cotta pots, rain gauges, and other garden art before hard freezes settle in. Terra-cotta overwinters fine in an unheated shed or garage. Make sure pots and saucers are dry before storage.
  • Fall can be a great time to cut back your perennials if you've got the time and energy to get it done. Make sure to leave 2-3 inches of the plant's stem to help protect fresh shoots from animal damage as they first emerge in the spring. It's also a helpful reminder of where plants are in the yard before they start to sprout.
  • Consider leaving some perennials like coneflower, black-eyed Susan and tall sedums standing. They add interest to the winter garden both by their structure and by attracting birds to their seed heads.
  • Ornamental grasses should be left standing to protect their crown from a harsh winter.
  • Keep water gardens covered with a net until gusty fall winds have settled down and leaves aren't blowing around.
  • Pull stakes and plant supports. Store where they'll freeze to help destroy overwintering pests and diseases.

Test Garden Tip: Use a leaf vacuum or blower to remove leaves along foundations. Removing leaves helps eliminate hiding places for pests and rodents that can gain entry to your home. Allow some leaves to remain beneath shrubs to provide vital winter cover for beneficial insects.

Hang an Assortment of Bird Feeders
  • Thistle socks filled with thistle (niger) seed attract goldfinches.
  • Suet feeders beckon woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, and wrens.
  • Safflower seed in a mesh feeder lures titmice, cardinals, and finches.
  • A ground-level feeding tray fuels doves, juncos, and native sparrows.

Make your own suet cakes.

More Bird-Feeding Tips
  • Purchase hulled birdseed, such as sunflower hearts, to eliminate mess.
  • Try safflower seed to discourage squirrels.
  • Don't forget that birdseed can attract rodents, from squirrels, to mice, to rats. Store birdseed in tightly sealed, metal containers.
  • Provide a winter-proof water source, such as a heated birdbath. If you're installing a heated birdbath on a deck or porch rail, look for models that tilt for easy cleaning. Keeping a water garden full and deiced also gives birds a place to bathe and sip.
  • Remove old nesting material from birdhouses. Wear rubber gloves for this chore. To help kill bird parasites and limit disease spread, rinse houses with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.

Test Garden Tip: Use caution storing birdseed in a basement or attached garage. Many seeds are infested with pantry moths, which will quickly set up housekeeping in your family's food store.

Finish Planting

Get the last of the spring- and summer-flowering bulbs into the ground. Pot up a few bulbs for forcing.

While the ideal planting window has passed, if you haven't planted garlic yet, you can still tuck it into soil. Be sure to mulch planting beds with a thick layer of chopped leaves, compost, or straw to give cloves extra rooting time before soil freezes.

Landscape Chores

Water any plants you added to the landscape during the previous growing season. Continue to irrigate until the ground freezes if rain is scarce. More plants die during their first winter due to lack of moisture.

Add mulch around plantings after the ground freezes. Mulch helps limit soil temperature swings, which can prevent frost heave -- where freeze-thaw cycles push plants out of soil. Candidates for frost heave include Heucheras, shallowly planted bulbs, and perennials added to the landscape late in the season. If roots don't sink deeply into soil before it freezes, plants can heave.

Dig planting holes now for live Christmas trees. Stuff the hole with leaves and cover with a tarp. Store soil you removed from the planting hole in a spot where it won't freeze.

Test Garden Tip: Drain and store hoses. Stash quick connects, watering wands, and other irrigation gear in a frost-free location. If you deal with hard water and spy mineral deposits on irrigation connections, soak in vinegar and wipe with a rag to clean.

Prepare for Winter: Protect Plants
  • Spray repellent on woody ornamentals that deer typically browse.
  • Protect broadleaf evergreens like rhododendron or mountain laurel by spraying an antitranspirant/antidesiccant like Wilt-Pruf. Temperatures must be above 40 degrees when spraying.
  • Build barriers around plants that typically get flattened by ice and snow sliding off nearby roofs.
  • Using burlap and metal fence posts, erect windbreaks around marginally hardy evergreen plants, especially those in windy locations.
  • Prevent sunscald (freeze/thaw-induced cracking) on young tree trunks and thin-barked trees (like maples and fruit trees) by wrapping with paper tree wrap. You can also use white cloth (to reflect sunlight) about 4 inches wide, or white latex paint. With wraps, overlap layers as you go, and secure ends with several windings of tape.
  • Give nibbling rabbits and voles the brush off by wrapping trunks of saplings with hardware cloth or tree guards. Consider erecting a hardware cloth barrier around newly planted shrubs to prevent damage.

Test Garden Tip: Get water heaters into ponds before the water freezes. If your vinyl-lined pond hosts frogs, fill a plastic dish pan with clay soil and sink it in the pond. Frogs will burrow in and hibernate.

Care for Your Garden Hardware
  • Drain the gas from power tools. Run the gas out of the lawn mower.
  • Service the mower now so it's ready to go in spring. Sharpen the blade, pull the spark plug, and replace the air filter. Change the oil in spring.
  • Clean metal tools by removing rust and oiling blades.
  • Sharpen and lubricate cutting tools.
  • Sand wooden tool handles lightly and rub linseed oil into wood.
  • Start your snow blower so it's good to go when the flakes start piling up.
  • Lay in a supply of plant- and hard-surface-friendly ice melt.

Tips on keeping your tools organized.

Test Garden Tip: Give the lawn one last cutting before snow flies. Cut grass shorter -- short grass is less susceptible to snow mold.

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