Gardening Tips


In November Mother Nature begins to put things to bed for the long winter. It’s time for gardeners to do the same by protecting plants for the winter, storing garden tools, and tidying up the garden for the next growing season. If you haven’t cleaned up old plants and debris from vegetable and flower gardens, do so before winter comes. Leaving plant debris allows diseases to overwinter and resurface in the spring to attack crops.

Remove spent canes and cut back dead foliage of perennials to about four to six inches of the ground. If desired, leave some seed heads or other interesting features to add winter interest to the garden. Rake up damp leaves around plants to prevent matting, which could smother or rot your plants. Around Thanksgiving, it’s time to mulch non-hardy perennials and strawberries with a thick layer of straw and put up a snow fence to protect blueberries and tender shrubs from drying winter winds. You also need to prop up limbs or put structures over plantings under rooflines that are likely to be damaged by the weight of ice and snow.

To avoid damage to tree trunks from mice and voles, don’t put any mulch around them as this creates a habitat for little critters. Instead, wrap a piece of quarter- or half-inch mesh hardware cloth around the trunk of the fruit tree. Make this guard two feet high–or more if you are in a snow belt. Bury it about three to four inches below the soil surface. If you’ve had severe rodent damage in past winters, a rodenticide used in combination with the above practices may be needed. Contact your local garden center for information on baits and bait stations. Be careful not to put poison in containers that might be found by children, pets, or other wildlife by accident!

Deer control is always challenging. Fencing is the most effective, albeit expensive, solution. But even a short fence, just four or five feet high, can protect most small gardens since deer don’t like to be enclosed. Large areas require a tall fence, eight to 10 feet high since deer can jump. A shorter angled fence or two short fences a few feet apart often work to confuse deer and, thus, can keep them out. Less effective options include repellents such as sprays made from hot peppers, rotten eggs, or soap-like ingredients. Be sure that commercial products are labeled for the crops you intend to spray them on. After rains or over time, these will have to be applied again to maintain repellency. With moderate deer pressure, you may have success hanging deodorant soap bars in threatened trees and shrubs. Leave the wrappers on, drill holes through the bars, and hang abundantly. The key to using repellents is to get them in place before the deer get used to feeding in an area. Take time to care now for your lawn and garden equipment. Change the oil and spark plugs on your rototiller. Clean the lawnmower and have the blades sharpened. Drain the fuel tanks or add a fixative (this is different from dry gas) designed for gas-powered engines that will be idle for long periods of time. Clean and oil your garden tools before you put them away for the season. Light rust will come off with steel wool and a little elbow grease. Or fill a large pail with sand and a little oil, then slide your garden tools in and out of the sand to clean. For heavy rust, use navel jelly. Once tools are clean, coat with a light coating of used mineral oil. Sharpen shears and pruners. And don’t forget the garden hoses. They need to be drained and rolled up. Then make sure you turn off the water supply to any outside faucets to prevent pipes from freezing this winter.

Empty container plants, adding the soil to the compost pile or garden. Scrub and sterilize the pots before storing them for use next year. If you have a small greenhouse for starting plants, empty it and sweep up any dirt and debris. Then wash down the glass or plastic sides and roof with disinfectant. Clean pots and planting benches. Finally, inventory your supplies, making a list of what you will need to buy this winter to start seeds for next year’s garden. November is also the time to take a good look at your landscaped areas. Make notes on where you’ll want to plant a new shrub or bush next year, or what’s getting overcrowded and will require thinning. Perhaps you would like to change the border of a flower bed or create a new bed in a different part of the yard. Jot it down now, so you don’t forget next year.

Tag branches (or make a mental note) that will need to be pruned in early spring. Remove storm-weakened branches now to prevent them from falling and possibly causing injury to the tree or a person this winter. Other activities for November: put up bird feeders and stock up on birdseed; make plans to attend upcoming horticultural meetings; check stored crops for spoilage; shred and stockpile fallen leaves for use when composting food wastes this winter.

By Dr. Leonard Perry and
Dr. Vern Grubinger
University of Vermont Extension

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