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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

November in the garden
Fall fragrance and color still delight the senses

by Carolyn Singer
November 5, 2011

While the silverberry (Elaeagnus pungens) in my garden is usually in full bloom in October, its heady fragrance attracting the honeybees and other garden visitors, this year is different. Maybe it needed the autumn chill, just as many deciduous trees and shrubs heighten in color as day and night temperatures fall. It was not until this past week that I became aware of the sweet scent.

The fragrant sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans) blooms throughout the year, but this fall its powerful fragrance has been especially wonderful. Perhaps it prefers the very warm days that have kept the silverberry flower buds tightly closed. These are the mysteries of the plant world. Each year is different, although there are rhythms throughout the year that emphasize the seasons.

dogwood leavesNovember is the month of fading color, as the colder microclimates transition into winter first. Frost has ended most of my vegetable garden, and the Zinnias and Nasturtiums growing there, but the bright red Impatiens in the hanging basket protected near the porch are still in full bloom. At least until hard frost. Gardeners with no deer can enjoy the beautiful fall mums offered by local nurseries.

And this month of a dance between fall and winter is also a time when the soil is cooling. It's still warm enough to add perennials, shrubs, and trees to the landscape. The soil holds enough warmth to stimulate fall root development, which means you will have a much stronger plant next spring. The root systems of fall-planted landscapes are much more extensive than similar plants introduced in spring. This means they will need less frequent irrigation in the coming growing season.

oakleaf hydrangea in NovemberNovember can be dry. New plants will definitely need to be irrigated frequently, even as often as every other day. Examine your soil. If it crumbles easily, the moisture content is too low for new plants, and may even be too low for plants added this past year. Established shrubs and trees, and even lawns and groundcovers may be alright until the next rains, but look for signs of stress.

Winds this month add another drying element, especially for evergreens. Learn the feel of leaves and needles when they are hydrated. Plants that need to be irrigated will often change color (long before they die from lack of water!), and feel soft or limp to touch.

While you are examining your plants closely, check for roots exposed when the top dressing of compost has settled or been washed away by heavy rain. Roots must be protected from chilly temperatures and drying winds. Even gentle summer irrigation can change the surface of the soil. Mulch!

CA native toyon in NovemberThis is the month of opportunity. The most exciting one is the free mulch material with the falling leaves. Use every single one to protect and enrich your soil. Adding compost on top of the leaves will hasten their decomposition.

In the vegetable garden, and especially if you have raised beds, there is now a chance to do serious soil improvement with cover crops growing all winter. Even a smaller container on a deck can grow a cover crop to enhance the soil mix.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of November in the garden is the opportunity to plant more bulbs in anticipation of the beauty they add in the coming spring. Each year I plant a few more. Some are planted in containers, mostly because I cannot yet decide where they should be introduced in the garden. Finally, and certainly most important of all, is the planting of garlic for next year's harvest. November may be the beginning of winter, but there's plenty to do in the garden when the weather allows.

©2011 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in the foothills since 1977. She will be teaching a class on landscaping for winter interest, with Power Point examples, at Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply Saturday, November 5th, 9:30-11:30. Past articles and a schedule of classes may be found at