Leaves are on the wind, and despite some late bloomers such as confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis, Zones 8–12) showing off shamelessly, growth is mostly underground, and gardening activities are shifting toward cleaning up and gathering in.
Prepare for frost. Frost will likely happen sometime this month. If you have tropicals such as cannas (Canna spp. and cvs., Zones 7–10), bananas (Musa spp., Zones 5–10, and Ensete spp., Zones 8–10), or gingers (Asarum spp. and cvs., Zones 2–9), cut them back to avoid the unique texture of mushy stalks in hand. Wear old clothes, as banana sap stains. Perennials can be trimmed back, but consider leaving upright grasses for the next few months to appreciate their form, sound, and light-sparking effects when coated with frost.
Keep your autumn leaves—just change their form and location if they’ve landed on the lawn. Use a mower with a bag, and distribute the resulting organic matter to mixed borders and beds. You can also pile them for leaf mold or add them to compost as a brown component.
Are you a procrastinator? November is for you! You can still plant just about anything—bulbs, most perennials, trees, and shrubs. And you’re right on time for the garlic you’ll be harvesting next June. Don’t get lazy with the hose, though. Anything planted in the last three months still requires watering if rains aren’t regular. Add evergreens to the list if experiencing drought.
Take time to clean, sharpen, and assess your tools and equipment as you tuck them away for infrequent (or zero) use this winter.
—Paula Gross is the former assistant director of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Botanical Gardens.
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