We are deep into the autumn season here in Illinois. We hope you thoroughly enjoy pumpkin patches, warm beverages, and hot soups as much as we do. While other parts of the country have put their gardens to bed, we still have a few more chores to finish before winter. In this month's gardening checklist, we will go over what to do for your lawn, bulbs, annuals, perennials, roses, trees, shrubs, and indoor plants. Let's get started!
MULCH: It is time to add two to four inches of mulch to your beds and borders once the ground has completely frozen. It is wise to wait until a hard freeze before applying mulch so you don't provide a cozy hiding place for pests to overwinter. We recommend shredded leaves, composted manure, or garden compost as ideal garden mulches that add microbes and organic matter to your soil. Mulch is also excellent as winter protection from freezing temperatures and cold wind.
COMPOST: Continue to add material to your compost pile. Feed it with grass clippings, dried plant material, and kitchen waste. Turn it once more before it's too cold to work.
CHORES: Sharpen and oil your gardening tools and prepare them for the next season of digging and pruning. Disconnect your outside water sources and drain water hoses to store them indoors. If your outdoor pipes are not insulated, wrap them in foam to keep them from cracking.
BIRDS: If you love birds as much as we do, you will want to maintain an unfrozen watering hole for your feathered friends. First, clean your birdbath or pond and install a small heated coil to prevent the water from freezing. November is also a good time to disinfect bird feeders.
POTS: Empty and clean ceramic, terracotta, and cement pots for storage in a frost-free area. These materials can retain moisture and crack when the temperatures get cold enough.
FEED: Fertilize your lawn for the final time this year. We recommend a slow-release
organic product high in nitrogen. Illinois soil is naturally high in phosphorus and potassium, so those aren't usually necessary additions. Nitrogen will help your lawn green up faster in the early spring.
ANNUALS AND PERENNIALS
PLANT BULBS: You can continue planting spring-flowering bulbs like daffodils, ornamental onions, grape hyacinth, windflower, winter aconite, and tulips this month until the ground is too frozen to dig. November is a great time to find bulbs at a discounted price, as garden centers are clearing out their stock this month. Add a 5-10-5 fertilizer to the hole when planting bulbs to give them a hardy start in the spring.
LABEL: One often overlooked trick is labeling. After trimming, the wise gardener puts a stake in the ground next to the remaining perennial stubs. The tag includes the plant's name, variety or cultivar, and the expected time it will come back next spring. Labeling is especially useful if you have a large garden, new plantings, or a terrible memory.
TRIM: If you still need to trim your perennial foliage and discard your finished annuals, now is the time. Add the trimmings to your compost pile. For tender perennials
PROTECTION: When the weather has been to 20°F for several days, this will kill most of the insects and pests hiding around your roses. November is the perfect time to give your roses a little bit of extra winter protection. Mound 18 inches of light peat moss or composted manure around the base of each rose bush. You can also use straw or bark in a pinch. This mound will sink down over winter, providing both food and protection to your roses.
EXTRA PROTECTION: This is not usually necessary, but if you have a particularly delicate rose (or a very harsh winter is predicted), it may be a good idea. Create a chicken wire cage around your roses and stuff it with dried leaves. You can also purchase premade rose cones to place over roses and hold them down with a brick.
PRUNING: Prune hybrid tea roses down to knee height. All other types of roses should be pruned in February or March before new growth begins.
TREES AND SHRUBS
PLANTING: Continue to plant deciduous trees and shrubs as the weather allows. If the ground is frozen, you can wait until next March to plant them. Apply a minimum of four inches of mulch to newly planted trees to protect the young root ball. Be sure the mulch doesn't touch the trunk and create rot.
PROTECTION: If rabbits, rodents, or deer were a problem in your garden last year, take action to foil their plans this season. Garden netting, fencing, or other physical barriers are more effective than sprays. Protecting tree trunks with hardware cloth is good protection from rabbits.
WIND: If your area is not protected from wind, creating a windbreak for newly planted shrubs and trees is a good idea. Place a burlap windbreak one foot away from the plant to buffer the harsh northwest winds. Staking trees with very small bendable trunks can help them withstand winter storm winds.
LIGHT: Houseplants that spend the summer outside can experience a bit of shock when brought inside for the winter. Your tropical sun-loving houseplants may benefit from the addition of artificial lights. Shade-loving plants usually have an easier time adjusting to indoor lighting.
WATER: Overwatering houseplants in the fall and winter is one of the easiest ways to kill them. Remember that most indoor plants are experiencing dormancy at this time and have very little watering or fertilizing needs. You can all take a break! The exception to this is the plants that bloom all winter, such as miniature roses and geraniums.
HUMIDITY: When forced air heat turns on for the season, the humidity inside the house is lower. Providing extra humidity to houseplants by using humidifiers, pebble trays, or warm showers can help them feel at home. Arranging your houseplants together in cozy groups can also help them retain moisture.
FORCE BULBS: If you want blooming amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus for the holiday season, plant them right now. These flowering bulbs look best in wide but shallow pots and sprout best in a soilless mixture. You can plant large bulbs side by side with just the tip of the bulb showing and smaller bulbs covered with half an inch of soil. Water each pot once and then refrigerate at 35 to 40°F for 12 to 14 weeks (10 if the bulbs are tiny). If you don't have a dedicated plant refrigerator (who does?), you can use a cold frame, unheated garage, or shed for this task. When you see small yellow growth starting to peak out of the soil, pull them out of the cold and put them in front of a bright window.
DE-BUGGING: Debugging and cleaning potted plants before bringing them back inside is a crucial step to avoid pests in your houseplants. There are a few options such as using Neem and BT as natural options organic insecticidal soap or systemic granules to combat all varieties of bugs from fungal gnats to white flies.
Winter is on its way with enthusiasm, and these chores are likely the last gardening you will do outdoors until spring. Now is the time to get out the seed catalogs and landscaping books and plan for next year. Let visions of greenhouses and hoop-tunnels dance through your head as you tend to your indoor plants. And remember to update your gardening journal with notes from this season; it will prove invaluable in the future. Happy November everyone!