November is the time to put the yard to bed for a long winter’s nap and prepare for the holidays ahead. During the growing season, branches in our yards extend their leaves like hands to catch the light. Now that the work of the chloroplasts fed by sun, water, nutrients and carbon dioxide is done for a season, the spent leaves carpet the earth’s floor. Their work done, their season in the sun gives way to the dead of winter and branching hope for renewal in a next generation of leaves the following spring season. Having moved amassed sugars and carbohydrates from their manufacturing “plant” to the roots for storage, a healthy plant, in essence, saves for a rainy day. Technically if allowed to do so, the spent leaf does find a second calling as a beneficial compostable soil amendment when worked into the soil or compost pile. It is the circle of life or circle of “leaf” and natural renewal. Why not use the leaves for some composting benefit as a reward because like Neil Sedaka used to sing, “raking” up is hard to do (or something like that). The process of going into dormancy as we head into November is inevitable and non-reversible. Fall then winter is going to happen. Fortunately once dormant, dormancy is a reversible stage but we’ll “leaf” that thought and process for another article closer to spring.
It is the process of the growing season ending and inevitable dormancy that I believe make the aroma, the feel, the sight of evergreen branches such a welcome addition to our homes during the Christmas season. The sweet smell of Douglas Fir, the prickly personality of Spruce, the distinctive aroma of Fraser Fir or the comfortable presence of Pine makes you feel at home. You may want to keep some potting soil thawed out to use in porch or front step containers when evergreen boughs are available. One of my favorite November activities is to prune materials from the landscape and add them to evergreen boughs for a welcome arrangement at your front door.
Use the thawed soil in your containers when you’ve collected your harvest and combine with evergreen branches pressed into the soil. The moisture in the soil will soon freeze holding the arrangement in place for the holiday season. Landscape plants like red and gold twigged Dogwood or Ninebark provide wonderful colorful branches for your arrangement. Foliage and blooms from spent perennials like Ornamental Grasses, Sedum and Agastache or spent flowers of Hydrangea provide dried plumage and flowers for your arrangement. Berries from Holly, Viburnum or Rose Hips provide the color to play against the evergreen backdrop. Look around and be creative, you’ll be surprised how much there is to choose from. Just make sure to check with your neighbors and get their permission before snipping to keep everyone’s spirits bright.
Evergreens are not always ever green. You may notice a large amount of yellow needles during November at the base of your White Pine for example. An evergreen tree will carry a few years worth of needles but shed the third year’s needles as an example. These are the needles you find at the base of the tree and make a great collectible mulch to use at the base of your Rhododendrons, Hollies and Azaleas. Pine mulch is much more popular in certain parts of the country than it is in West Michigan but aside from aesthetics has a functional purpose. Broadleaf evergreens like Rhododendrons can also lose their green color in winter due to another reason….desiccation. November is the time to act by spraying desirable broadleaf evergreens like Rhododendrons, Boxwood, Azaleas or Hollies with anti-transpirant spray derived from the resin of Pine trees. Products like Wilt-Stop form a soft, clear, flexible film on treated plants, protecting them from moisture loss. Because evergreens retain their foliage in winter, they continue to transpire moisture loss. If the ground is frozen and the plant does not have ability to draw water from the roots, a plant can desiccate and die from exposure to wind and winter sun. You can also use a product like Wilt Stop on your Christmas greens. I have used it for years on my evergreen roping with great results. Boughs, wreaths, Christmas greenery and even your Christmas tree can have extended life from the use of an anti-tranpirant. This allows you to put up greens in November on a reasonable weather day with confidence they’ll last until Christmas. I like to joke that I’ve even used the pine resin in my hair for long lasting hold on a windy November day. Don’t do as I do because it is not recommended on the label and it makes your hair stiff as a board even though it is a natural non-toxic product.
Speaking of green, the last mowing of the lawn usually takes place in November too. During the growing season I recommend raising the deck on the lawn mower for a naturally healthy and weed resistant lawn. With the arrival of November we lower the deck and cut the grass shorter than we do during the summer months. This is done for a couple of reasons. First we want to avoid vole damage to our lawns by eliminating hiding areas and long grass. Voles are “mouse-like” creatures that can do a number on our turf, operating under the cover of snow hidden from natural predators. In addition longer grass blades will lay flat under the cover of snow matting the turf and increasing the probability of snow mold issues come spring.
You can usually find some deals on spring flowering bulbs like Tulips or Daffodils in November. You can successfully plant them in November for spring color. I’ve been known to plant them in December picking through frost crusted soil to do so with success. Maybe it’s the Dutch in my blood but I highly
recommend it. Sure beats the alternative of shoveling snow. You can also take these bulbs and “force” them into bloom by potting them up and putting them into cold storage (40 to 45 degrees) for 12 to 16 weeks and treat yourself to some late winter and early spring color indoors.
No need to slow down enjoyment in your landscape in November. It’s “Hoe, Hoe, Hoe” the holidays are here!