Gardenwise: Remember November As Cleanup Time
By Susan Tito
By now, if you’re like most property owners on Long Island, you’ve dug out your trusty rake from your garage, shed or basement and have gotten to work on those expanding piles of leaves.
There’s no disputing that, for many people, November chores start and end with raking. However, if you take inventory of your property you’ll find there are many other activities that should be performed to winterize your landscape and ensure a glorious garden for next year.
For starters, get grounded — as in addressing the health of your soil. Now is the perfect time of year to add compost to your gardening beds and the root zones of trees and shrubs. Apply a 1-inch layer of this “black gold” — which is just teeming with beneficial microbes and nutrients — to create a healthier support system for your plants.
Many nurseries make their own compost and sell it by the yard, and will deliver it right to your property. Just grab a few shovels and some strong friends (preferably those who owe you a few favors) and you will be on your way to enriching your soil. If you’re not keen on turning your much-used driveway into a compost repository —even for the short term — you can purchase bags of compost at local garden and home centers.
This is also an excellent time of year to start your own compost pile, although you won’t be able to reap the benefits for a while. Start by performing a little “rakey” on your property: Shred leaves with a recycler mower, push into a pile and let them decompose.
Before you compost, you should perform a soil test for each section of your garden, including grassy areas. A comprehensive soil test will measure levels of acidity, nutrients and salt. Not sure where to begin? Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Horticulture Diagnostic Lab offers a soil-testing service. For more information, call 631.727.4126, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon.
At this time of year, you may be gearing up for the upcoming winter festivities, but weeds never take a holiday. Fear not — it’s not too late to pluck these pests from your landscape! Some weeds are perennial, such as dandelions, which go dormant but lie in wait until next spring, at which time they make an unwelcome return. Others are annual, such as crabgrass, and although their removal from your landscape means those plants are gone forever, they may have left you with a present — their progeny (seeds).
Getting weeds is an inevitable part of gardening, but getting rid of as many as you can now— along with their seed heads —means fewer to contend with next year.
While you’re busy weeding, there’s something else you should remove — dead and broken branches from trees and shrubs. Broken branches leave your woody plants more susceptible to disease and insect infestation, weakening them over time. A little pruning can go a long way toward ensuring their health, especially as we head into winter.
That’s when winds are especially brutal and can be more damaging than frigid temperatures. Protect young or borderline-hardy plants by wrapping them in burlap and spray broadleaf evergreens with an anti-desiccant, which acts as a protective coating, helping to conserve moisture for up to four months. The best time to do this is when temperatures are still above 40 degrees.
Even though the dog days of summer are behind us, it’s important that plants get adequate water until the ground freezes. Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation system and deliver moisture where it’s needed most — at the root zone.
There’s another thing you can do for your garden this month — nothing (at least when it comes to some of your perennials). To be specific, let them go to seed.
“Just like trees and shrubs, herbaceous perennials like black-eyed Susan, asters, and grasses can be beautiful as they go dormant,” said Mina Vescera, nursery/landscape specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead. “Many have beautiful seed heads and fall foliage, and add habitat and forage for beneficial insects and birds.”
Now that I’ve added significantly to your to-do list for November (please direct any and all complaints to my editor at the East End Beacon), don’t be surprised if raking becomes less of a priority for you than it had in previous years. But take solace: I guarantee that your property will be better than ever come next spring!
Susan Tito is a freelance writer and proprietor of Summerland Garden Design & Consulting (summerlandgardendesign.com). She earned a certificate in ornamental garden design from the New York Botanical Garden and is a member of the American Horticultural Society and Garden Writers Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.