Master Gardeners Offer Helpful Garden Tips for November
Last updated 11/9/2021 at 8:41pm | View PDF
November is one of my favorite months in the California garden. I watch leaves descend, winds sway even large tree branches, and sheets of rain (hopefully!) wash off a year's dust. Birds and even some late butterflies, moths and bees work feverishly to gather enough stored energy for hibernation or migration.
Since we all know our water supply depends on abundant mountain snow, we rejoice when we see snow-capped peaks after a good storm and there is still optimism that the upcoming winter, when our part of California receives the majority of the year's precipitation, will be cold and wet.
November is still a good month to plant trees, shrubs, perennials, ground covers, wildflower seeds and cool-season annuals. Frost sensitive plants including citrus, avocado, native plants from Baja California or the Channel Islands, and many kinds of succulents from all over the world, should be protected through winter, or wait until spring to plant them.
This is an especially good month to plant those California and Mediterranean woody shrubs that don't thrive with too much summer water. This includes manzanita, ceanothus, lavender, coffeeberry and buckthorn, bush lupin, flannel bush and rosemary.
Time to plan spring bulbs like daffodils, narcissus and tulips in a site where they will get a full day of sunshine at least through early summer. Purchase bulbs that are firm and without spots of mold. Plant the bulb three times deeper than its height. Usually the pointed end of the bulb is placed up when planting. Add a handful of high-phosphorus fertilizer mixed with soil to the base of the planting holes. Natural sources of phosphorus are animal manure, bones and bat guano. All spring bulbs should be planted by Thanksgiving.
If you grow dahlias, November is the month to dig and divide overcrowded tubers. Store them in a cool dry place until re-planting in February.
You can still plant winter vegetables in November, including greens, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, especially early in the month when the soil is still warm. Close planting creates a mini climate that is more balanced and speeds up growth. Thin extra plants as they grow, if necessary. Use mulch like straw or old hay to keep the soil temperature even.
After the leaves fall, begin pruning deciduous shrubs and trees, not only to shape them, but to prevent storm damage. A tree without gaps in the leaf canopy may have broken branches because of wind. Open space by removing a few branches all the way at the trunk with thinning cuts. You should never top landscape trees. Our Master Gardener website has more complete instructions and illustrations on pruning trees the right way.
Fall and winter blooming plants and vegetables can be fertilized. Do not fertilize California native plants, avocado, citrus, palms or other frost-sensitive plants.
If the month is on the dry side, remember to deep water your trees and large shrubs, even if they have lost their leaves. But your irrigation controller should be adjusted downward even if we don't get a lot of rain. Cooler nights and shorter days mean that most plants will not need as much water. Too much water also contributes to soil loss from erosion.
You may want to stop dead heading your roses to encourage them to stop blooming and settle into dormancy. All plants require a dormant period to thrive into old age. Don't fertilize or try to keep them going too long. It is their season to wind down in preparation of a winter rest.
In the edible garden, add straw, old hay, alfalfa pellets and/or compost to fallow beds. If you take care of the soil, your plants will be stronger and better able to resist pest pressures next spring, making it possible to save time and money and reduce the need for synthetic chemicals. Keep after the weeds that use up nutrients.
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