Grow-How: Your November Gardening Checklist
Think of gardening like parenting--if you don't already. Even after they begin daycare, or kindergarten, or even when they're off at college, kids still need your support in small but important ways. Similarly, though November can feel like garden graduation, there are tasks to be done to ensure that, come summer, your garden grows strong and healthy. Before retreating inside with a cup of tea, keep these gardening tips in mind.
Once the plant matter in your garden has succumbed to frost, clear it from the bed. Cleaning your garden in the fall makes a lot of sense: in the spring, the timely gardener is spending the earliest days of spring sowing peas and spinach--not cleaning up the tangled messes of tomato vines and climbing beans left behind after fall's firsts frosts. If your November is too busy to clean, worry not. Clean when you can in the spring, or even during a January thaw. But if you have the time to spare, clean now. You'll be thanking yourself in March.
When you pull out those extra quilts and comforters for your bed, spare a thought for your garden. Mulch is highly recommended for bringing plants that could otherwise succumb to the cold through the winter. Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and lavender benefit from a mulching (a light, dry one, if possible), as they can be felled by January freezes. Mulching also extends the harvest season for cold-hardy roots such as carrots, turnips, radishes, and potatoes, allowing you to harvest these crops without a root cellar well into December or January (though you shouldn't plan on them making it into deep winter with only mulch as a cover unless your mulch is extremely thick).
Use row cover to extend your season and protect overwintered plants. Aim to cover your plants when the temperatures start to drop. For us, this falls in early October, but it is always a good idea to watch the weather and be prepared to get your plants covered as soon as nighttime temperatures are in the 40's. To keep row cover directly off the plants, we recommend using wire hoops. To use wire hoops, insert them into the ground prior to using the row cover, spaced about 4 feet apart. Center the row cover over the top of the hoops and let it drop down, leaving a 1' lip along the ground. Weight the cover securely at each end and at each hoop end with rock bags. To access your plants, simply move the rock bags to the side. Once temps start to get below freezing, add another layer to keep plants from getting damaged by freezing. See our all-around overwintering guide for more.
November is not just a great time to put your garden to bed, it's the perfect time to put beds into your garden! All the annual weeds are gone now, as are most of your own annual flowers and vegetables, meaning that the soil is empty of active, tenacious growth. What does remain is in a more dormant state. Beds that are cleared and prepared now will be just as clean and ready-to-go in the spring, as very little will germinate in the winter months. In addition, soil amendments that are added now, whether it be compost or nitrogen-rich soybean meal or lime, will react very little with the decomposing agents in the soil, which means that their fertile contributions will be preserved until the spring planting season is upon us. Of course, it's best to prepare beds now for the crops that are planted earliest in spring--peas, spinach, arugula, radishes, and the like--as the beds will be ready to go just as soon as the frost is out of the soil. Beds for tomatoes and other heat-loving crops can be prepared now, certainly, but will require preventative tending throughout April and May to keep germinating weeds from reclaiming the garden bed. A thick layer of mulch applied now will help in this effort--but do consider pulling the mulch aside early in spring to help thaw out your garden soil.
Be sure to preserve this year's harvests to get you through the winter. While most roots are cold hardy, harvest them before a hard freeze and store them in a cool, dark, humid location. Make sure this location doesn't freeze as it can damage roots and make them spoil. Alternatively, you can heavily mulch carrots, parsnips, and beets and keep harvesting them through December. Read more about winter harvest and storage here.
A little bit of plant parenting goes a long way. Trust us, your garden will thank you later!