November a good month to tidy up your yard

By Steve Smith

There is rarely a time in the garden when something doesn’t need pruning, and November is certainly no different. What is different though is that under no circumstances should we be pruning shrubs or trees severely this time of year. Plants that are pruned “hard” in fall can suffer freeze damage and will continue to look hacked until they start to grow in the spring.

Leave the “hard” pruning for February, which is the best time to do winter pruning. For fall, stick to “light” pruning, which is mostly just a little off the sides and top of the hedges and perhaps an errant limb here or there.

Here are other tips for this time of year…

•Roses are notoriously weak rooted and if left unpruned can wobble loose from wind and rain. The rule for roses is “hip high in the fall, knee high in the spring”. By pruning roses back halfway now, we are removing some of the “sail”. For climbing roses, don’t forget to secure them to their trellis and only shorten the long canes a little bit. After pruning and cleaning around the base of your roses, apply some lime and then pile mulch up to 12 inches to protect the graft union from an ugly winter. •While it is probably too late to plant a new lawn or overseed an existing one, November is prime time to apply a slow release organic lawn food, along with some lime. Your lawn will stay bright green all winter, and fewer weeds will get established. Don’t let grass get so tall that you are removing more than one third of the leaf blade. Doing so will weaken the lawn and encourage moss and weeds to invade. •Wait until February to prune your fruit trees. Raking all the leaves underneath them and applying a dormant spray, such as copper and horticultural oil, will go a long way to controlling insects and diseases next year. •Other than garlic there isn’t much that can be planted now. If you’ve had problems with winter weeds, like chickweed or shot-weed, invading your veggie beds then the surefire way to control them is to spread one inch of fresh compost over the soil. That will smother the weeds for winter and improve the soil by spring. Throwing down some lime will also help the soil.

•For raspberries and blackberries, you should have already removed the canes that produced fruit this year (except for ever-bearing varieties). The remaining canes can be shortened up a bit and secured to a wire/trellis system. Blueberries only need a light pruning to remove any dead wood and to shape them. If you had issues with “mummy berry” last season then it is essential that you clean underneath your plants and apply some fresh compost.

•Tidying up the perennial border can take a couple of months. It’s best to let plants die back naturally. Perennials that turn to mush at the first frost (like hostas) are cleaned up first and then the others that remain as sticks can be cut back halfway now and all the way to the ground in spring. Make sure the ground is covered with leaves or mulch, or you will have a major weed problem by spring.

•Early blooming shrubs like forsythia, azaleas and rhodies have already set their buds, so don’t prune them until right after they are finished blooming. Summer bloomers like roses, butterfly bushes and some Spiraeas can be pruned hard in February. Otherwise, just trim off the old blooms in spring and call it good.

November is a good month to garden so don’t waste the opportunity to take care of some of these timely chores. You can relax in December and January.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at

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