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November Garden Tips

November is the time to finish your yard and garden clean-up and start your holiday decorating. Both tasks are more pleasant when the weather is a little warmer so try to complete them early.

General Tips    Shrubs & Trees   
Annuals, Vegetables & Bulbs  
Perennials    Fruits    Houseplants   
 The Lawn    Pest Control


  • Mulching is one of the best lines of defense for plants against chilling temperatures. Mulching also can prevent the repeated freezing and thawing of soil that causes plants to "heave" out of the ground. But the trick is not to mulch too soon. Mulching needs to be done after the ground starts to freeze, but before the first significant snowfall of the year. If you mulch sooner, plants may not go completely dormant. In general, the end of November is a good time to apply mulch here in the Pittsburgh area. Apply a layer at least three to four inches thick around each plant. After you laid it down, gently pull it away from the trunks and stems to give plants room to breathe. This helps prevent disease problems.
  • November is also a good time to have your soil tested, so you'll be all set to go next spring. Amendments such as lime can be slow acting and adding them now will make them available to the plants next spring.
  • This is not a good time to add fertilizer to the garden, because nutrients would be lost through leaching or erosion before plants can use them next spring.
  • Remove dead plants from containers and hanging baskets and replace them with evergreen boughs, branches with colorful berries and interesting seed heads from perennials and ornamental grasses.
  • Every weed you pull now will be many less to have to pull in Spring. So weed, especially perennial weeds. I know, you thought you were done with weeding. But pulling those weeds now, when the conditions are good, will cut down on problems in the spring.
  • Empty and sterilize, terra cotta and ceramic pots with a mixture of 1:9 parts bleach and water. Store them in a protected area, such as garage, shed, or basement to prevent cracking.
  • Open sprinkler valves and drain water from sprinkler systems to prevent freezing.
  • Drain and store hoses. Clean, oil and store tools.
  • Drain gas from lawnmowers and other gas powered equipment prior to storage.
  • Fall is for planting-trees, shrubs, bulbs, grass seed, mums, asters, pansies and the list goes on. The cooler temperatures, and more plentiful rainfall makes fall a wonderful time to plant. An added benefit to fall planting is that it gives you a head start for next spring. Plants that are planted in the fall will be all settled in and ready to grow when the ground thaws and temperatures warm up next spring.
  • Start a compost pile. You've got all the stuff you've pulled out of the beds, why not? One of the best ways to have a great garden and beautiful plants is to have plenty of homemade compost to use when transplanting new plants to your garden and to add to your veggie patch. Making great compost is all about layering and worms. Good stuff goes in, chopped leaves, peels, coffee grounds, old potting soil, grass clippings and soft plant trimming, and great stuff comes out.
  • Dispose of diseased or pest-ridden plant material in the trash, although these materials can be composted, this should only be done if you're certain that your compost pile reaches hot enough temperatures to kill any pathogens or over-wintering insects/eggs.


  • Remember that at this time of year the soil is still warm, there is abundant rainfall to water new plants or transplants. Planting a new plant or transplanting will yield long-lasting results and fall planting lessens the workload in spring. It is important to remember that the trees, shrubs and perennials we sell are more than hardy enough to survive our winters, so there should be little concern for winter kill of new plantings. We do recommend fall planting and transplanting for Pittsburgh gardeners.
  • By mid November, most ornamentals have entered into dormancy, and can be safely dug and replanted. The key to transplanting is to dig a large root ball (get as much of the root system as is possible). Equally important, is getting the plant back into the prepared soil as quickly as possible, to keep the roots from drying out.
  • Protect your roses during the cold winter months. Place bark mulch or compost (Black Forest) around the base so that the lowest part of the stem is completely covered.
  • Spray broad-leaf evergreens with Wilt-Pruf which reduces moisture loss from leaves during periods when roots are unable to take up water due to frozen ground. Water on warm days when it can be absorbed into the soil. This is extremely important for recently planted broadleaf evergreens.
  • Remember to water any newly-planted trees and shrubs until the ground freezes. Evergreens continue to lose moisture from their leaves or needles all winter long. Without adequate water in the ground before a hard freeze, extra stress is put on evergreens through the winter.
  • Act now to prevent damage to upright evergreen shrubs. Loosely tie the upright stems of Arborvitae, Junipers and Yews that are subject to splitting. Tie the multiple stems together. The secured stems won't split, bend and break under the weight of the snow.
  • After November 15th you can begin pruning deciduous trees and shrubs. Begin by first removing all dead branches, stumps on scaffold limbs, and rubbing or wounded branches. After this step you can prune for plant form. The direction of new growth can be influenced by pruning off undesirable growth just above a bud that is placed on the stem in a direction you want the new growth to go.
  • Cut down vines that have begun to climb tree trunks, like poison ivy, wisteria, wild grapes, and bittersweet.
  • Prepare the hole if you plan to use a "live" Christmas tree (one that is balled-and-burlapped or growing in a container). Mulch the soil that has been removed to prevent freezing or put the fill in a warmer place until you are ready to plant.
  • Delay all unnecessary pruning until late winter or early spring just before bud break, since wounds will heal most quickly when trees and shrubs are growing most vigorously. Elms, maples, birches and black walnut can be pruned later in the spring after the sap has stopped "rising." Sap running from wounds does not harm the tree, but it can stain the bark.
  • Always make proper pruning cuts just beyond the branch collar but not leaving stubs.
  • Prune rampant suckers from the base of lilacs which will take away from next years bloom.


  • Plant daffodil and other spring flowering bulbs until the ground freezes. They will provide welcome color early next spring. Drifts of a dozen or more bulbs of one variety make the most impact. Planting depth is normally 3 times the height of the bulb; space the bulbs according to the package directions. Espoma Bulb Tone should be incorporated in the soil below the bulbs. We here at Reilly's always add a bit of Bumper Crop organic soil amendment to the backfilled soil.
  • It is especially important to mulch after planting if bulbs are planted very late in fall. Mulch insulates the soil, keeping it warmer longer so root growth can occur.
  • Collect dried seedpods, grass stalks, seedheads, and other dried plant materials for use in making fall and winter arrangements.
  • Try planting bulbs in containers, and when doing so it's worth placing them in two layers, one slightly staggered above the other. Plant small bulbs on the top layer and larger ones lower down. This will ensure a spectacular long lasting spring display. Consider planting hardy spring bedding plants, such as winter pansies, primroses, or violas on top.
  • Pot up some spring flowering bulbs for indoor color during the winter. Store the pots in a cool, dark place, until new growth emerges from the soil, and then move them to a bright window.
  • Prepare vegetable beds for plantings of peas and other early veggies. The soil is often too wet to work during the first weeks of March.
  • Plant Amaryllis bulbs to bloom for Christmas. Choose a pot that is an inch or two larger than the diameter of the bulb and leave the top half of the bulb exposed above the soil line. Amaryllis bulbs that have rested for at least 10 weeks can be repotted, watered and brought into a bright room to produce flowers for the holidays.
  • Lift tender bulbs like Dahlias and Cannas, gladiolus, and elephant ears, for winter storage after they are nipped by frost. Allow them to dry in a shaded location for a couple weeks, then store in a container with peat moss and place against a cool basement wall.


  • Start fall clean-up in the flower beds, cutting back anything that has finished blooming and is looking tattered. Leave plants such as sedum, ornamental grass, and others that offer winter interest.
  • Some woody perennials -- technically called sub-shrubs -- such as butterfly bush, lavender, thyme, and Russian Sage, can be damaged or killed if you prune in fall. Leave the stems as is, protect them with mulch over the winter, and prune in spring down to the first strong bud.
  • After chrysanthemums have stopped blooming, cut stems back close to the ground. Apply a thick layer of straw or bark mulch in late November.


  • For fruit trees, it is a good time to apply the first application of dormant spray (the first of three applications needed between now and about Valentine's Day). For most trees Bonide Lime Sulfur Spray is best. Use Bonide Copper Fungicide for preventing Peach Leaf Curl.
  • Remove all mummified fruit from fruit trees. Also, rake and dispose of apple and cherry leaves. Good sanitation practices reduce reinfestation of insects and diseases the following season. You will help reduce rodent populations by removing all fruit remaining on the tree or on the ground. Applying mulch near fruit trees is not recommended as it increases the likelihood of rodent damage during winter.
  • Like ornamental plants, strawberries benefit from mulch protection, especially when snow cover is shallow or non-existent during winter. Clean straw is superior to hay as mulch because it doesn't add weed seeds to the garden. Apply three to five inches around Thanksgiving time. The straw protects crowns and roots against cold injury and drying out. 


  • A house needs living things, plants, to make it feel like a home. Tropical plants are the perfect solution, they look so good, softening the right angles of the rooms and adding a sculptural element to the decor They are real, natural and they're alive.  House plants create a sense of coziness and put people at ease. Properly used, they can make large spaces look intimate and magnify small spaces to create an impression of depth. It is hard to imagine a decor that doesn't call for at least a few house plants placed in just the right spots.
  • Now that the garden has gone to bed for the winter, it's time to wake up the house with winter blooming plants. For a sunny room, try hibiscus, camellias or citrus. Or try small, easy care bloomers like African violets or cyclamen, to brighten the dingy days of winter.
  • African violets do well when potted in rather small pots. A good general rule is to use a pot one third the diameter of the plant. Encourage African violets to bloom by giving them plenty of light. They can be in a south window during dark winter months. They bloom beautifully under fluorescent lights. In fact, they seem to prefer them.
  • Grow herbs like rosemary, basil, mint, parsley, thyme and chives in sunny windows (6 hours sun a day).
  • Cut back on watering and fertilization through the winter since houseplants will not be actively growing.
  • Houseplants often shed leaves when they are moved inside as they adjust to lower light levels. This is normal and should only last for a few weeks. If your plants continue to shed leaves, you may be over-watering.
  • Houseplants prefer water that isn't too hot or cold. You can easily de-chlorinate your water by simply filling the watering can the day before and the chlorine will evaporate overnight. They'll also thank you if use water that's not too hot or cold.


  • Mow lawn to 1.5 to 2 inches for the winter This keeps the lawn healthy and prevents the lawn from matting down.
  • Don't allow leaves to accumulate on the lawn. Mow them and let them filter into the lawn to decompose naturally, till them into your vegetable garden, or put them in the compost pile. Don't throw them away; they are valuable organic matter that will help your soil!


  • Spray trees and shrubs with All Seasons Spray Oil to kill over-wintering eggs of mites, mealybugs, gypsy moths, tent caterpillars and scale. Temperature should remain above 40 degrees for 24 hours after the application.
  • Shield plants animals might eat. Put fencing around shrubs. Use tree guards made of chicken wire to protect trees from deer rubbings.


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