November garden to-do list

It's getting chilly outside, and the garden needs some TLC before winter hits. Add these tips to your to-do list to ensure your garden overwinters properly.

Credit: iStock/Moritz v.H.

As November moves in and the chill really sets in, the garden needs some TLC before winter truly hits

Add these tips to your to-do list to ensure your garden overwinters properly.

Food Garden

The planting window for garlic is starting to close. Best get your garlic crop planted by November 15 if your soil is not frozen solid. Choose a sunny area with rich soil, and remember your garlic will occupy that space for nine months or so. Plant the biggest cloves – eat the smaller ones – and don’t peel them! The bigger the clove, the more food for creating lots of leaves, and in turn, you’ll get bigger garlic heads.

Cover each clove with 8 cm (3 in.) of soil, pointy side up, and about 15 cm (6 in.) apart. Imported garlic from China will not grow properly in our climate and may have been treated with growth inhibitors to prevent sprouting. Grocery stores that carry organic produce often have organic garlic from somewhere in B.C. Go ahead and plant this, or find named varieties online or from nursery centres.

Lightly pile cedar boughs on areas planted with garlic; ditto broad beans, bulbs too, to dissuade critters like cats, squirrels.

Plant broad beans through mid-November, covering with 8 cm (3 in.) of soil, and enjoy them late May to mid-June! Their fragrant blossoms attract beneficial insects.
Indoor plants

Continue to start Amaryllis – it’ll be too late for Christmas but these exotic beauties will brighten your days in January and February.

Christmas Cactus
Christmas cactus should now be indoors and promising to bloom soon. They are ephiphytes – tropical understory plants that frequently grow in crotches of trees with barely any soil. Daily misting or locating in a humid place will keep them healthy and beautiful.


Houseplants barely need watering as light levels decrease, unless you keep your thermostat cranked up. They don’t need feeding now, and won’t until mid-February. With the exception of African violets who don’t like it, spritz the undersides and tops of all houseplants daily to discourage spider mite and other critters in your forced-air heated home. Use water which has sat – the longer the better – so that some of the chlorine can evaporate.

African violets
African violets need very little water at this time but always thrive on humidity. Try placing pots in a saucer, larger than the pot needs. Add a shallow layer of clean little rocks, and enough water so that the tops of the rocks are just sticking out. Place pots on top. Check a couple of times a week and add water as needed. Gardenias can be kept blooming using this technique, however they need very high temperatures – above 24°C (75°F) – to thrive.


Check summer-flowering bulbs like gladiolus and dahlias to make sure they’re not shrivelled or rotting. (Shrivelling occurs when they are stored in a very warm location – a cool dry place is preferable.)

Get your spring bulbs in quickly! It’s now too late for early-flowering types but you can still plant late tulips, narcissus, alliums and a few others. Remember to plant in drifts, and don’t skimp. A few extra dollars is often worth it, and if you treat your tulips and other bulbs properly, you can often keep propagating them for many years.

If Squirrel Nutkin and his pals are interested in your bulbs, lay cedar or other boughs on top of problem areas. Folks also report having success with a bit of shaved soap like Ivory on top of the bulb, just before you cover with soil. Let us know if you try it and it works!

For bulbs in containers, place black plant trays (nurseries have lots and usually are happy to part with them) upside down on top of groups of pots to keep squirrels out. Rain and light gets through fine. Remove the trays when bulbs sprout up an inch or so.

Fruit Trees

Purchase “whips” or young fruit trees while dormant now through February. Plant as long as ground can be worked.


In warmer zones, if your soil isn’t frozen, search your local garden centre for deep-discount perennials. By next season, they’ll double in size. If possible, buy perennials in threes – you’ll be glad you did. Many will appear dead or half-dead; check for living roots which is easily done. Ask the staff if you need help!

Later-blooming perennials include:

  • Achillea (yarrow)
  • Echinacea (coneflower)
  • Helleborus sp. (hellebore)
  • Aster
  • Sedum
  • Euphorbia
  • Heuchera
  • Paeonia (peony)
  • Papaver orientalis (oriental poppy)
  • Corydalis sp.

Good early-spring candidates:

  • Doronicum (leopard’s bane)
  • Polemonium (Jacob’s ladder)
  • Pulmonaria (lungwort)
  • Brunnera macrophylla
  • Tiarella

Tuck in late-flowering spring bulbs, too, and mulch with leaves or other organic material and water well.

Around the Garden

Don’t forget plants close to the house or under rooflines. When you expect frost, water well to insulate the roots. If it snows, move your container plants into the weather – snow is a great insulator.

Continue to feed your fish until the water temperature is 10°C (50°F), then stop until the water has warmed to 10°C (50°F) in spring. Move all hardy plants to the deepest part of the pond.

Empty your hose if you haven’t already, to avoid frost damage.

Protect container plantings. In coastal (rainy) gardens, remove the dish or plate from under containers to prevent standing water; alternately, bring containers under eaves.

Remember to keep evergreens in containers well watered in dry spells. This goes double if it’s below freezing.

Even if it seems to be raining cats and dogs, the moisture may fail to penetrate newly-planted areas, especially coniferous hedges. It’s a good idea to carefully water to keep roots evenly moist, especially during the first year when the plants are vulnerable and have not established skookum roots yet.

Through mid-spring, your compost pile won’t do much. Keep faithfully adding kitchen waste, layering with leaves, adding straw, etc. If you have horse or other animal manure, it wouldn’t hurt to add a layer or two into the compost to help it stay warm.

Clean up all dead and diseased leaves around roses, and put them in the garbage (not the compost)…add a few inches of bark mulch to keep any disease spores from splashing back up onto newly-emerging leaves in spring.

In zone 6-8, it’s still okay to lightly prune roses back this month. Only remove deadwood, tiny and/or crossing branches. Mulch with SeaSoil, soil, or bark mulch. Make sure roses aren’t “rocking and rolling” in fall and winter winds by heeling them in. Better wear gumboots to do this! Major pruning will be done in early spring.

Check plants in greenhouse frequently especially if the weather is sunny – they may need a little drink. In cooler zones, bring warm air lower and nearer the plants by using plastic sheeting to create a false low ceiling.

While you’re not using them, sharpen pruners, clean up spades and other tools using emery cloth, apply a light coating of oil, wipe, and keep them in a dry place.

Using Leaves in the Garden

Falling leaves are a free, local, sustainable source of valuable organic material and trace elements. Here’s how to make your own ecologically correct Leaf Bin. Leaf compost can be part of our own homemade potting soil as well, so we can leave peat in the ecologically-sensitive peat bogs where it belongs.

You’ll need a large heavy-duty plastic garbage bag, a rake, and something to poke holes:

  1. Poke a dozen holes around the sides and bottom of the garbage bag.
  2. Rake leaves, place them in the bag. Add whenever you are in the mood to rake.
  3. When the bag is nearly full but you can still squeeze the top shut and tie it off, add some water.
  4. Shake the bag vigorously, then tie it with a couple of strong twist ties.

In one year or less, the leaves will transform themselves into beautiful, usable free mulch. Try some on lily of the valley – they sometimes stop blooming if you use manure or regular compost, but thrive on leaf compost.

  • Use leaves to half-fill (or more) large containers in which you’ll plant bulbs, evergreens, etc. Use lots of leaves, and pack tightly. You only need about 15 cm (6 in.) of soil for bulbs, more for other plants depending on the size of their rootball. The leaves will very slowly and gradually decompose. Plant the bulbs an inch or two deeper than you would in the ground.
  • Even smaller containers can have a few inches of deciduous leaves in the bottom, especially if you’re planting bulbs. Fig leaves, for example. This is a fantastic thing to do with kids – lots to talk about re: mother nature while you ask them to help you. Children love to cut things – dullish scissors work fine with leaves.
  • Create an impromptu spring display in problematic rocky or tree-rooty areas: Simply pile on a thick layer of leaves, top with SeaSoil or topsoil, add bonemeal (optional) and lay bulbs in drifts. Cover with more leaves and a few more inches of soil. Firm soil, water well.
  • Keep a pile or bag of leaves near your compost so you can layer with kitchen waste
  • Layer leaves atop perennial beds for insulation, making a leaf “duvet” for garden beds.
  • Top-dress tender, recently-planted herbs like rosemary and lavender with a covering of leaves if very cold weather is expected.