Don't put away those garden tools just yet. There's still work to do if you want to get next year's growing season off to a good start. Pick a crisp, sunny November afternoon and take steps to protect tender plants from the ice and chilling winds that are sure to come with winter just around the corner.
Shrubs and Trees
- Continue to plant or transplant deciduous trees and shrubs until the ground freezes. Be sure to mulch generously to keep the ground thawed so roots can become established.
- Check guy wires around newly planted trees to be sure hose sections still cover the supporting wires or ropes so they will not damage the trunks in windy weather.
- Wrap trunks of newly planted trees, especially those with a thin bark like cherry, crabapple, honey locust, linden, maple, mountain ash, and plum, to prevent a condition known as sunscald. Sunscald is caused by a drying of the bark, usually on the southwest side of the tree. During the winter months, the sun is at a low angle and by mid-January, cells in most northern hemisphere plants have satisfied their dormancy requirements. These cells become active when warmed by the sun, but freeze when temperatures plunge at night. Tree wrap prevents these sudden and damaging temperature fluctuations.
- Late November is a good time to start pruning leaf-bearing trees and shrubs. It is very easy to determine the ultimate form of a plant when there aren't any leaves to interfere. Scratch the outer bark to tell if a branch is living or dead. If the branch is alive, the wood will be green just below the outer bark.
- In addition to a long drink of water, both broad-leaved and needled evergreens in windy locations may benefit from an anti-desiccant spray applied when temperatures are cold but not freezing, around 40°F. The spray coats the leaves, locking in moisture throughout the winter.
- Continue to rake leaves frequently so they don't smother the grass or contribute to next spring's snow mold disease.
- Minimize or eliminate other traffic on the lawn after it has stopped growing because it cannot heal itself during the winter. This is especially true on frosty mornings while the grass is still green.
- Once weeds become dormant, herbicides are no longer effective. If you haven't had the chance to apply herbicide to control perennial broadleaf weeds in your lawn and there have been several frosts, you may be too late.
Perennials, Annuals, and Bulbs
- Remove frost-killed annuals, roots and all.
- Cut back perennials to 4–5", but leave ornamental grasses to provide winter interest until spring.
- There's still time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, but don't delay.
- Winter mulches are suggested to help protect the roots of perennial flower plantings against wide temperature fluctuations in the soil (frost heaving) and to prevent extreme cold temperatures from harming plants. Wait until about Thanksgiving or later so the plants have gone dormant and the soil freezes to apply the mulches.
Fruits and Vegetables
- If you haven't finished pruning out this year's fruiting canes on your raspberry bushes, do it now. If you wait until spring, the dead canes will serve as reservoirs for disease, increasing the possibility of spur, cane blight, and other diseases. But wait until late winter to prune blueberries when winter injury can be more easily determined.
- Strawberry plants need protection from winter's extremes, but applying winter mulch too early may cause crowns to rot. Apply winter protection when plants are dormant but before temperatures drop below 20°F, usually late November or early December.
- A tip from The 1899 Old Farmer's Almanac: "Keep all fruit stones (pits), cooked or uncooked. Dry them slowly in the oven, put in a large jar, and in winter throw a handful on the fire of an evening. They will crackle for a moment, send up a bright flame, and fill the room with a delicious aroma."