By Beth Barrett.
November is the month to “put the garden to bed.” Anticipating the average first frost date around November 11-20 in the Burien area, early in the month, I focus on cleaning up around the yard. Terracotta pots of summer herbs and annuals are washed and stored away. However, if you have a sunny windowsill or greenhouse, the healthiest, most robust herbs can be brought in before the first frost to overwinter.
My garden tools are collected and cleaned; hoses are drained and stored. As I am tidying up the garden, I record in a garden log the “successes, surprises, and disappointments” of the season–what flourished in a particular location and what languished. I note plants that will require division or relocation early next spring as I survey the landscape.
In early November, garlic, shallots, and fava beans can still be sown, so I try to accomplish this before the ground hardens from frost. Most likely, the sprouts will not appear for several months, but the roots are growing now and need a well-established structure to support a healthy plant next spring. Plant the cloves 2 inches deep with the pointed end up.
Before the wintry winds, I collect the fallen leaves from our steps to use as garden mulch. I spread several inches of leaves in my vegetable beds unless I have planted a cover crop. Deep mulch also protects winter root crops. The winter winds, though, have often “redistributed” my efforts, so I have found it helpful to secure them with a floating row cover or burlap sacks.
Leaves are very beneficial to the ecosystem, returning essential nutrients to the grass and soil, so leave them undisturbed under trees where plants will thrive in the nutrient-rich environment. Some years, I have stockpiled the leaves in bins to decompose them into leaf mold, a lengthy process of up to two years, but creating an excellent humus amendment to potting soils.
After the 15th of the month, I prepare my dahlia tubers for overwintering or dig them up and store them in an unheated garage. Gladioli bulbs should also be dug up and properly stored. Refer to the recent article “Gardening Tips: Fall and Winter Dahlia Care” for specific directions regarding division and storage.
Spring-blooming bulbs can be planted throughout November as long as the ground is workable. Usually, it would be best if you planted bulbs a month before the ground is frozen. Choose solid bulbs that do not have cuts, wounds, or any soft spots. (Discard any dry or shriveled bulbs that you might have stored.) I also plant tulips, daffodils, crocus, and grape hyacinths in pots for a delightful spring color spot.
Finally, I secure low tunnels or hoop houses in the vegetable garden to protect my tender greens and, hopefully, prolong a few more harvests. I overwinter my kale, mustard green, beets, and spinach, all under simple hoop tunnels that shelter them from the blustery winds, driving rains, and cold.