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.