November may seem like a sad month for the gardeners among us. Many plants are either dead or dying, others are entering a skeletal state of dormancy. Dead leaves are everywhere, creating a messy brown carpet for as far as the eye can see. Worst of all, it’s getting cold outside. But gardeners, take heart! There are still tasks to be done in the twilight of the year, and here are five in particular you can do right now to keep your garden looking its best, both now and later:
- About those depressing leaves: rake them off of your lawn to keep them from killing the grass. If leaves pile up in your garden beds, you’ll want to remove them (as their presence can encourage mold and weed growth). Don’t fret over a shallow layer though; you can leave those leaves where they lie. They will decompose and add nutrients to the soil. And remember, collected leaves are a welcome addition to the compost pile.
- Cut back your perennials where they look like they need it, but make sure you leave seed-heads. The heads of sunflowers and black-eyed Susans, for instance, serve as important winter food sources for birds.
- Start enriching your soil with compost or manure. Spread a layer of nutrients on top of your newly tidied flowerbeds so that the new food has time to sink into the soil to nourish spring blooms. Also, plant a cover crop over your vegetable garden—also called “green manure”—that germinates quickly and can later be tilled under, adding further nutrients to the soil. Some good choices for cover crops include alfalfa, buckwheat, barley, clover, winter rye, and wheatgrass.
- Get a late start on planting spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips, crocuses, snowdrops, and daffodils. As long as the soil hasn’t frozen yet, it is safe to plant bulbs, but a good rule of thumb is to try and have them in the ground by the end of November at the very latest. Hurry, hurry!
- Autumn is a good time to plant evergreen shrubs and trees. If you do plan to put in a new shrub or tree before the winter, make sure you water it heavily before the ground freezes.
In November, the name of the gardening game is clean-up, protection, and preparation. It’s still unseasonably warm in Philly, so get out there and get gardening while the gardening’s good! And don’t forget to leap into a leaf pile or two. If you have any more questions about what you can do to prepare for winter, feel free to ask a gardener on the PHS website.
By Laura Brandt
Are you interested in starting a home composting system but don’t know where to begin? Never fear! A new e-book by Ethne Clark and the editors of Organic Gardening magazine will answer all your composting questions and more. It’s called Compostology 1-2-3: Composting Made Simple.
Readers will learn how to select a compost bin, where to put their composting system in the context of their backyard, different methods of composting, and solutions to common problems with composting such as nutrient composition and pest control, all accompanied by an extensive collection of step-by-step photos.
For more information and to purchase the book, visit OrganicGardening.com.
PHS recently hosted a roundtable discussion among three sustainable landscaping greats: Barry Draycott of Tech Terra Organics, Patricia Manke of Glenstone sculpture garden in Potomac, MD, and Paul Tukey, author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual. The discussion highlighted encouraging trends in organic lawn care and will undoubtedly aid PHS in its efforts to meet organic protocols in 80 of its city garden plots in Philly.
Especially impressive is Patricia Manke’s success in cultivating a lush, nearly weed-free landscape at Glenstone, where she maintains over 16 acres of lawn. According to the Safelawns.org blog, since ditching the chemical weed killers in favor of an organic program, Patricia has seen a significant drop in the amount of mowing and watering the lawns require, and everyone feels better about the new chemical-free environment. Best of all, the place looks great (see the above photo for proof).
The idea at the heart of the discussion? Organic landscape maintenance is not only possible but far better than chemical maintenance, as long as you listen to your soil: “If your lawn is mostly weeds, it’s because your soil wants to grow weeds and not grass.” We can dig it.
Today is the last day of September, meaning it is unequivocally, undeniably autumn. Some people might miss summer, but I’m looking forward to the fun seasonal events in store at my favorite garden center, Meadowbrook Farm!
First up is a canning class on October 5 at 10 am till noon. Do you want to save money while eating delicious food? If so, then it’s time to learn the classic art of canning from Tom Reber. You’ll be hands-on (so make sure to bring a peeler or a paring knife) and by the end of the class you’ll take home a jar that you helped can. The class has a limit of 20 spaces; costing $25 for members and $30 for non-members.
A week later Meadowbrook will offer a class on how to prep your garden for the snowy, wintery months that lurk around the corner. Glenn Ashton will lead the discussion, and tell you how to turn compost into black gold for your garden. The class is on October 12 from 10 am till noon. The cost is $18 for members and $23 for non-members.
Lastly, Saturday, October 15 is the Fall Open House. My colleague Maddie has all the details and will share them with you tomorrow!