November: What to do in your yard

Many people think that putting away their lawn mower makes them ready for winter. There’s a little more to it than that, especially if you’re at all concerned about pests and as well as the overall health of your trees, shrubs, and garden beds.


Water appropriately. All plants, especially evergreen, need to remain hydrated throughout the winter. When it’s cold, the sun can still heat up a plant so that it loses water through its foliage but can’t take up water from the frozen ground. So, it’s important to make sure plants go into winter well hydrated. Make sure that the soil is moist, not soaking wet, throughout the fall and into the winter.

Water is especially critical for evergreens such as juniper, gardenia, and azalea. In too much wind or sun, they can lose water. For these plants, it doesn’t take but a day of water loss to burn tissue and kill part of the plant.

How much water is enough? If there’s a week without rain, you want to provide extra water. This is especially true with younger plants. Established plants are more resistant, but still aren’t immune to winter drying.

Continue to water until the ground is frozen, at least into the middle of December.


Another thing you can do is to mulch the root zone of your trees and shrubs to hold in the moisture. Mulch has the added benefit of holding in warmth, so when you use mulch it takes longer for the underlying soil to freeze.

Caveat: Mulch should never be placed directly against the trunk. Rodents such as voles burrow into mulch and, if it’s close to a plant, will chew the bark, creating a problem known as girdling. Girdling, which is the removal of a strip of bark, can kill a tree or shrub.


Correct pruning this time of year can help a plant better overwinter, by reducing demand on the plant’s roots.

 Protecting plants

You can cover “barely hardy” plants such as gardenias with burlap or another permeable, soft fabric. Covering a plant in this way can reduce loss of moisture from sun and wind.

Some people advocate using antidesiccants to help plants overwinter. The idea is that by spraying a plant with an antidessicant, less moisture will leave the plant.

We don’t recommend antidessicants in most cases. Although they can help hardy plants overwinter, they make marginally hardy plants more likely to suffer loss. The higher the salt content of water in a plant, the lower the freezing temperature (i.e., the colder it has to get for the plant to freeze). Because water doesn’t leave a plant that’s been treated with an antidessicant, the salt content is lower and the plant is actually more likely to freeze.

Here are some other ideas for managing your lawn and garden in November:


    1. Clean sheds, pots, seed trays, and equipment (they harbor pests and disease)
    2. Clean out bird houses (they harbor parasites)
    3. Prune deciduous hedges (prune evergreens in the spring)
    4. Mix well-rotted organic matter with soil for any plantings
    5. Plant hardy climbing plants so that they can root well before harsh weather
    6. Plant tulips and bare-root roses now, but wait until spring to plant lilies (soil permitting)
    7. Take your lawn mower in for servicing
    8. Insulate pots that are too large to move indoors (use bubble wrap and/or burlap securely around the pots)
    9. Water potted plants frugally (plant growth is slowing down, so water only when plants really need it)
    10. If you cut down perennials, mark where they’re planted so that you can dig and divide them in spring. However, leaving dead stems standing benefits wildlife over the winter.


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