November is my favorite month in the garden. We can still plant new plants, re-design and re-do our landscapes, and finish up clean-up chores. The weather is cool, sometimes even cold. We could receive an early frost any time after mid-month, so be sure and mulch new plantings with at least two inches of bark or rock. This is the time to monitor our irrigation systems so we are not watering any more than necessary. Days are shorter and plants transpire (lose water) far less than even in September, so adjust your controller accordingly. This month is also a fun season to gather plant materials for wreaths and arrangements for the Holidays.
Bulbs: November is the ideal month for planting spring bulbs. Nurseries usually have a large number of bulbs available. Purchase only the bulbs that are firm and do not show any signs of mold. Certain bulbs, such as Tulips or Hyacinths, will require pre-cooling for 6 weeks before they are planted. A good way to pre-cool is to place them in the refrigerator, away from fruits and vegetables.
Plant your bulbs where they will get a full day of sunshine. A general rule to follow when planting is to place the larger bulbs deeper. In most cases, you should 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 bulb fertilizer to the base of the planting holes, and mix it into the soil. All spring bulbs should be planted by Thanksgiving to ensure spring bloom.
Plant: There is still time to plant California native trees, shrubs, perennials and vines, along with a large number of other climate-right species. Two California natives that should definitely be planted in fall (instead of waiting for spring) are ceanothus and manzanita. Also, establish your pollinator garden this fall in time for next spring's pollinators. November is also fine to continue planting cool-season vegetables, especially early in the month while the soil is still warm. Some vegetables to plant now include kale, garlic, sprouting broccoli and collard greens.
It seems common in landscapes to have a few shrubs that have grown too large for their spot in the garden. If you have shrubs you've been wanting to move, later in the month, once they are fully dormant, is the best time to give it a go. Dig them up carefully, and take as much of the root system as you can. Re-plant at the same soil level or slightly higher, and water well. If you plant them too deep, it will kill the plant. We should not be planting in inverted pyramids, or with the old water-well plan. Instead, let the water roll away from the crown of the plant to avoid root and crown rot issues next summer. Whether or not to add amendments to the planting hole seems to be a matter of preference; there is conflicting research-based evidence on the subject. Many of us don't add anything, so don't worry if you want to save the money. You can always top-dress with compost. And remember to add a layer of mulch after transplanting. Keep the mulch several inches away from the trunk of woody shrubs and all trees.
Prune: After the leaves fall, begin pruning 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 as a result of the wind. Open up spaces by removing a few branches from the trunk with thinning cuts. You should never top landscape trees. Topping not only encourages, more growth at the top, but these new branches are weakly connected and can pose a safety hazard. Once you top a tree, you are obligating yourself to the expense of re-topping every year. So save your money and let the tree reach its mature height. If you have trees under utility lines, you or the utility company will be topping them every year. That's unfortunate, and something to remember when planting new trees.
Complete your fall cleanup by cutting back perennials that have become too leggy, and trimming off brown plant material. But don't prune anything if frost is predicted; even frost-hardy plants can be damaged with all those open wounds. If your plants are hit with an early frost, avoid removing any frost damaged material until late next March or April.
Fertilize: Fall and winter blooming plants and vegetables can be fertilized now. Do not fertilize avocado, citrus, palms or any other frost sensitive plants. You don't want a lot of new, frost-sensitive growth on these heat-lovers.
Disease prevention: If your peach or nectarine tree had deformed leaves during the spring and summer, it probably has a fungal infection that causes "peach leaf curl". If severe, it can cause the tree to be stunted or even to die. To control peach leaf curl:
- Rake leaves when they fall. Remove any fruit mummies (fruit that has dried on the limb) and discard. Do not add these to your compost pile.
- Spray trunk, branches and the ground underneath the tree with a copper-based fungicide or a Bordeaux mixture (a slurry made of hydrated lime and copper sulfate). Since the repeated annual use of copper fungicide can eventually harm trees and because copper is toxic to aquatic species, only use copper-based fungicides when and if you need it. You can also use chlorothalonil, which doesn't contain copper.
- One application is usually sufficient; however, if we have a wet winter, then spray again before the flower buds swell in the spring.
Frost protection: You can wrap trunks of avocados, citrus, kiwi and palms with heavy paper or burlap (not plastic) if a heavy frost is in the forecast. Use gauzy row cover cloth to protect the entire plant of smaller frost-sensitive plants, including new plantings of some of our native plants that originate in Baja California or the Channel Islands. Examples include Bush Verbena and Fairy Duster.
One special note about orange-flowered milkweed (Asclepias currasavica). This plant has become popular as more people want to help support Monarch butterflies, and it is still far more available than our native milkweed varieties. It's good to note that this tropical milkweed is not from California (or even the United States). While Monarchs may use it, be sure and cut all of the flowers off by early November at the latest so that Monarchs and other butterflies will migrate south and not be killed in the frosty cold days of our winter. Happy Thanksgiving!