The end of November provides a final opportunity to tend to those gardening chores you keep putting off until fall. Planting, dividing, mulching and weeding can still be done now before the ground freezes. Don’t walk on your lawn or soil in very wet weather but if the rain clears get out there this week and score major yardage by tackling these fall field goals.
1. Divide, dig or mulch dahlias. Cut back the yellow stems and cover them with up to 4 inches of mulch or use a plastic tarp, sword fern fronds or oilcloth tablecloth to cover the tops of dahlias you leave in the ground. Keeping the tubers dry over the winter will stop them from rotting. Every three years you should dig up your dahlias, divide them into smaller sections and store in a cool, dark, frost-free place until spring.
2. Tidy up perennials and remove the dead annuals now. This will cut down on the slug supply. Brown and yellow leaves of hosta, petunias and other decaying matter harbors more slimy critters than the benefit of the fading foliage deserves. You may want to leave the seed heads of grasses and sedums over the winter but “if it’s black or brown cut it down” and pull any weeds while you are out there.
3. Add a layer of bark chips around half-hardy plants like salvias, hardy fuchsias and lavenders. Don’t get snippy with these in the fall. Wait until you see new growth in late spring.
4. Plant new peonies or move old peonies. This long-lived perennial would love to sit in the same location for decades but if you must move a peony do the dirty deed in late autumn. Be sure to cut all stems and leaves of peony plants down to ground level now. Overwintering peony foliage can encourage leaf blights.
5. Seek out fall- and winter-blooming camellias and add these beauties to your landscape. The best spot for a Camellia sasanquas is on the east side of a building with eaves that will protect the fragile winter blooms from rain. You can train camellias to grow sideways in a narrow spot with careful clipping and pruning. There are red and white camellias that can be flowering for you on Christmas day.
6. Plant bulbs now. Yes, bulbs you plant as late as December may still flower in the spring but the sooner you get them in the ground the more time they have to grow roots and time is running out. You will have all winter to look forward to bright daffodils, early crocus and stately tulips if you just dig in and grow for it now.
7. Divide lilies. Wait for a dry day and carefully scoop under your lily bulbs and tease apart the baby bulblets clinging to the mother bulb. These smaller bulbs will not flower for several years but getting them away from the mother bulb allows her to perform at her best next spring. You don’t need to store lilies indoors over the winter. Just replant them in soil with good drainage.
8. Sow seeds of hardy annuals. It may sound farfetched but sprinkling the seeds of wild flowers and hardy annuals like candytuft, clarkia, larkspur and linaria now will give you plants next summer that bloom earlier than planting seeds indoors in the spring. The cold weather helps break down the seed coat and gets the plants off to an early start in the spring. Clear weeds, rake the soil, sprinkle seeds, press them into the ground with the palm of your hand and cover the seeds with the thinnest amount of soil you can imagine. Done.
9. Make compost. You have to do something with all those dead plants and fallen leaves. Might as well pile it all up in a corner or add it to a compost bin for use as a mulch or soil conditioner in the spring. Just add layers of green and brown material into a pile and let it rot.
10. Divide rhubarb. Late fall is when the thick roots will be easiest to dig up and cut apart. Replant the new sections at least three feet away from the original plant and to really pamper rhubarb throw some rotted manure into the planting hole. Prepare for never-ending rhubarb pies, cakes and syrup.
• • •
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.
For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.
Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.