viburnum nudans, autumn berriesNovember often starts with gentle frosts and easy, Instagrammable scenes, but by its end, winter is unofficially upon the Mid-Atlantic.

Lawns have taken on a muted, tawny shade and the deciduous trees will stand naked by December 1st. Hopefully you have planted some colorful stemmed shrubs and trees to make this transition exciting.  [See “I should have planted that!” below.]

Maintenance is definitely on the agenda, but Daylight Savings Time will negate any chance of knocking out a quick task or two before heading to work each morning. Weekends will be busy for the gardener.

However there are many bright sparks to November, starting with Fuji and Pink Lady apples and ending with the promise of the Advent season. Wrap up warm and don’t let a bit of cold stop the good outside habits you’ve built up over a long summer and fall.


‘I should have planted that!” for November’s garden:

Whether you live in the Mid-Atlantic of the United States (like me) or New Zealand (gotta dream), when going on drives or walks in your area of the world, look around each month for plants that turn you on and make you think “I should have planted that!”  Snap a picture to ID later at a garden center, or simply ask your neighbor what they’re growing so beautifully and make their day.  Carefully observing other gardens month-to-month and planting some of the wonderful things you see allows you to successfully increase your garden’s display season without having to experiment too much with timing.

In November’s Mid-Atlantic garden, it’s all about shrubs and trees with strong, lingering foliage color and those laden with berries. Here are a just a few suggestions for future November garden displays:

Japanese maples: particularly coral bark (Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’) and full moon maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’)

Other small trees for great fall color: Parrotia persica, Stewartia pseudocamellia , Cornus kousa, Acer griseum

Shrubs for berries: Viburnums (V. dilatatum ‘Cardinal Candy’& ‘Michael Dodge’, V. nudum ‘Brandywine,’ V. trilobum), Deciduous hollies (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red,’ Winter Gold,’ ‘Sparkleberry,’ ‘Red Sprite’), Beautyberries (Callicarpa americana (straight species and ‘Welch’s Pink,’), C. dichotoma).  For further suggestions see here.

[Remember: Hollies are dioecious and need a male (with similar blooming time) to produce berries (look up the cultivar to pair with your female of choice).  Viburnums are self-fertile, but tend to crop even better when there is more than one. Beauty berries are self-fertile.]



♦ This is a great month for incorporating aged manure into your soil for extra organic content and some nutritive value, or simply top dressing beds with compost.

♦ It’s still a good month to keep planting container shrubs and trees – although camellias, magnolias and other zone marginals are best planted in the spring.

♦ Organize the containerized plants that haven’t been planted yet, and that will possibly ride out the winter in plastic pots. Make sure that everything there is at least a zone hardier than your zone or you will probably lose it (see below).  I find one of the easiest ways to organize my pots is to keep them on wooden pallets. It keeps them in one place; it keeps them slightly off the ground to prevent drainage holes being blocked up by leaves and debris; and it is ‘collapsible’ — meaning I can stack pallets on top of each other as the collection dwindles (then spread them out again when the spring sales begin!).

♦ Re: the zone-marginal plants in that collection. Put them into a cold frame or dig temporary holes for them to inhabit over the winter. If you have an idea of where they will go, dig a hole and plunge pot and all into it with some insulating mulch.  Yes, I know…why not just put the plant into the ground? The aim is to not disturb the roots right now in order to give the plant the best chance of survival over the winter. The quickest way to make a cold frame is to use four bales of straw as walls and cover with an old window or glass door. Covering them in a blanket of thick mulch also works well.

♦Dig up your canna, colocasia, caladium, dahlias, gladioli etc… and store appropriately.

♦ November is usually the month you can find half-price fall bulbs for sale, and if you are not too picky, plant them. Even if you are picky, buy tulip and hyacinth bulbs right now in order to store in your garage and force indoors in February next year. One of the loveliest gifts you can give a friend in late winter is a glass with pebbles and a couple bulbs.

♦ Fertilize older areas of spring bulbs now.

♦ Make sure those spigots are turned off.


Start as you mean to go on with your indoor plants. They should be inside by now, and if you just threw them inside, it’s time to sort them out properly:

♦ Make sure there is a water-proof saucer under each pot. Water-PROOF. Terracotta saucers don’t count (as my floor will tell you). Ceramic-glazed saucers don’t count (as my floor will also tell you). What you need are the plastic, overpriced, flimsy-but-useful, saucers. Another option is to hunt through the local thrift stores and find large round platters or old plates which are usually better quality than a ceramic pot saucer and will last much longer than the plastic ones. Seriously, don’t skip this step – it’s expensive to fix ruined floors and furniture.

♦ Make sure you have some water soluble fertilizer under the sink with a convenient watering can nearby in order to easily take care of plants over the next few months.

♦ Organize the area in the garage or basement where you threw the dormant caladium, canna, musa, colocasia, etc… The “rougher” and less-organized this area looks, the more it resembles a trash-heap and the less you are likely to look after it.

♦ Buy amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs for December forcing.

♦ Buy tulip and hyacinth bulbs for February forcing. Make sure you give them at least 10 weeks in a cold garage or basement first.


No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –

– Thomas Hood