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November's To-Do List

By: Sandra Nelson

It never ceases to amaze me how much work there is left to do in my gardens in November. Even though the blooms are long gone and the foliage is a squishy shade of greenish-gray, I need to motivate myself to bundle up, get outside and get to work. There are 10 chores that, if done now, will make my spring garden thrive.


Ten Essential Chores


dead plants

  • Dig out dead annuals. Removing dead annual plant debris not only makes the garden look tidy, but also lessens the chances of fungal diseases and damaging insect infestations in the spring. Dead annuals shouldn’t be added to compost piles; the temperatures in the compost aren’t high enough to kill any remaining pathogens.


  • Pull and store summer blooming perennial bulbs/ corms/rhizomes. Plants like gladiolus, dahlias, cannas, elephant ears and caladiums can all be dug, dried and stored for the following spring season. If any foliage remains after a frost, cut it back to just a few inches above ground. Very, very carefully dig them out of the ground (don’t jab them with your trowel), shake off any remaining dirt and let them air dry. Overwinter them in a cool, dry and dark place such as a basement or unheated garage.


  • Continue watering if the ground until the ground is frozen. Throughout the fall months, plants need about an inch of water per week to fortify their root systems. Once the ground freezes, plants are unable to take up any more water, so they rely on what is already stored to combat cold winds and freezing temperatures. Flowering trees and shrubs that have been well watered in the fall tend to be more vivid in the spring.


  • Add compost to your beds. Cover the ground in your beds with an inch deep layer of compost. Over time, composting will improve the structure of the soil. In the short term, compost adds nutrients to the soil.

daffodil bulbs

  • Plant spring blooming bulbs. Here in the Midwest, daffodils, tulips, crocus and other spring bulbs can still be planted throughout the late fall and early winter months. To bloom properly, the bulbs need 10 weeks of cold temperatures, otherwise come spring,  they may have small blossoms and stunted stems. 

man weeding

  • Do a final weeding.  Keeping a weed-free garden is a nearly impossible task for those of us who avoid chemical applications.  A November weeding however, does help cut down on the number of weeds that appear in the early spring by eliminating the last round of pesky seed heads before they can sprout.


  • Mow over fallen leaves on grassy areas.  Raking and bagging fallen leaves might be a great way to get some exercise, but it’s also an insult to the environment. Running a mower over the leaves and then letting them naturally decompose adds rich organic matter to the soil. Not only does that enrich the environment, but it saves you from having to purchase and spread so much man-made fertilizer every spring.


  • Leave the leaves along fence rows and under native trees.  Many species of butterflies and moths lay their eggs on the leaves of their host plants. Allowing leaves to remain gives the eggs necessary protection so that another generation can emerge in the spring near their host plants. Piles of fallen leaves can also provide shelter for beneficial native bees and wasps.

flower stalks

  • Be judicious in cutting back perennials and self-seeding annuals.  The seedheads of faded flowers offer a banquet of delicious food to hungry birds just when they need it most. Besides feeding hungry wildlife, the standing sticks can add architectural interest to the winter garden when there is little for the eye to focus on. As a final benefit, you may have a thriving patch of blooms that you didn’t have to plant yourself!


  • Clean and protect ceramic and terra cotta containers.  To make sure that pots are ready for use in the spring (Who wants to scrub pots when you could be filling them with flowers?), thoroughly clean them before you stack them away over winter.  Empty them, disposing of the old soil inside them. Scrape off any remaining clods of dirt or clinging roots. Fill a large container with a ten percent bleach/90 percent water solution and soak the containers for about 10 minutes. Let them dry in the sun, then move them to a sheltered location. If they need to remain outdoors, the stack them near the foundation of the house and cover them with a tarp.