Brie's Gardening Ideas for November
Happy November everyone! Brie the Plant Lady here with a big blog full of great gardening information that will surely make your November extra special. From autumn clean up and bulb planting to top dressing with Soil³ and seed sowing, this is the time of year to get busy planning and planting for spring.
Now is the time to plants seeds for a stunning spring display of poppies and larkspur!
Not Slowing Down - Yet
What have I been up to? A LOT! With the first frost looming, I am busy bringing in all my favorite tender plants, especially succulents.
I have also been transforming the garden for the winter season, planting lots of cold hardy plants such as mustard, kale, cabbage, and flowers like violas, snapdragons, and pansies.
5 Cool Season Maintenance Tips
Here are my top 5 things to accomplish in November:
- SOIL IMPROVEMENT: Have you ordered your Soil³ yet? This is the most important step in successful gardening any time of the year. Fall is the ideal time to top dress your landscape and garden beds. I try to add about 2” right on top of the existing mulch. This will ensure that my plants get everything they need to thrive through the cool season. I like to over seed with spring flowers, but you can add a fresh layer of mulch to make your beds look clean and tidy for the months ahead.
- PRUNING: Winter is the best time to prune for many reasons, but namely, bare branches are lighter! I always recommend waiting until after the leaves have fallen to tackle pruning deciduous shrubs and trees. You can also see the form much more clearly. Insect and disease problems are significantly lower through the winter season as well.
- PLANTING: Now is the time to get spring blooming bulbs planted. Though it is often recommended to do this in October, I never get daffodils, tulips, and others planted until after the frost has knocked down the summer growth. I aim to get my bulbs planted between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and each spring I am rewarded with beautiful displays. This year I am investing in daffodils because they are so reliable and the animals leave them alone, along with Anemone ‘Mr. Fokker’.
But it is not just bulbs that can get planted in the winter. Many seed grown flowers, such as poppies, larkspur, and bachelor buttons are best directed seed in late November or early December. You can also seed winter active grains, such as barley, oats, and wheat. Leafy greens like mustard, kale, and chard also thrive in the cooler temperatures.
- FERTILIZE: Generally I recommend fertilizing cool season annual and vegetables with a natural, slow-release formulation in October and March, but if you missed the memo, you could still add a little fertilizer to winter active plants. However, I warn you against fertilizing too much at this season because you do not want the plants to be tender if temps drop suddenly. Also, you don’t need to add any extra fuel to the winter active weeds.
- WEEDING: It’s long been my theory that I have more weeds through the winter than any other season. The most common weeds that occur both in our lawns and garden include, chickweed, hairy bittercress, henbit, crown vetch, clover, and wild violets. In general it is best to combat these through hand removal.
My favorite weeding tool is a hand pick, called the GroundHog.
Combatting Weeds with Creative Solutions
For the past few years, I have been trying to conquer my winter weed issues by focusing on ground plane coverage with desirable winter active plants, namely flowering and edible annuals. The idea is simple - if you cover the ground with plants, you will have less weed pressure. This is where direct seeding strategies come into play.
Direct seeding is quite simple and often necessary as many plants with taproots do not transplant well. It is just a matter of scattering seeds directly into your garden areas. Always top-dress with a layer (1-3” deep) of Soil³ first. This will ensure your seeds have good contact with the soil. Then, choose a few of your favorite winter hardy plants and scatter away! In general, germination will occur 5-15 days after sowing.
Carrots in bloom last May mixed with barley, larkspur, and a few remaining poppy flowers. I collect seed from the poppies in June.
Best Plants for Direct Seeding in Fall
- GRAINS: Barley, Oats, Rye, Wheat
- GREENS: Arugula, Chard, Collards, Kale, Lettuce, Mustard, Spinach
- ROOT VEGGIES: Beets, Carrots, Cilantro, Daikon Radish, Garlic, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes, Rutabaga, Turnips
- FLOWERS: Bachelor Buttons, Larkspur, Money Plant, Nigella, Poppies
Cool season grains like oats, barley, and wheat are direct sown in November-December.
Seed Your Spring Blooming Borders Now
The stars of my spring garden, without question, are poppies and larkspur. Each spring people travel from near and far to see my spring borders bursting into bloom. Want to see the glorious display that these fall planted seeds will become?
Here is a little more information on the top two most requested spring flowers!
Papaver somniferum is commonly known as the “breadseed poppy” because it is the species from which both opium and edible poppy seeds are derived.
Poppies are flowering plants, both perennial and annual, in the Papaveraceae family. There are 120 different species, but the ones I am most charmed by are P. somniferum, so when you are buying seed look for that name.
This species is native to the eastern Mediterranean region; however, poppies have been cultivated since ancient times and are widely naturalized across much of Europe and Asia.
Papaver somniferum is grown as an agricultural crop on a large scale for three primary purposes: produce seeds for consumption, produce opium used by the pharmaceutical industry, and to produce other alkaloids that are processed by the pharmaceutical industry into drugs like hydrocodone. What fascinates me is learning that there are different varieties of this species grown for each of those uses. Even the biotech industry is involved in breeding poppies!
The common name "opium poppy" is inaccurate as most of the varieties that we grow in our gardens do not produce a significant quantity of opium. In fact, the cultivar 'Sujata' produces no latex at all. Instead, call these “Breadseed poppies” as that is a more accurate common name because all varieties of Papaver somniferum produce edible seeds. This differentiation has strong implications for legal policy surrounding the growing of this plant. Basically, it is totally legal to grow them. However, it is ILLEGAL to score the pods, which is how the sap is collected for making opium.
Growing poppies is not hard, however there are a few critical things to note:
- Poppies must be direct sown - they cannot be transplanted
- Surface sow on a thin layer of compost
- Poppies need light to germinate
- DO NOT: rake, mulch, or walk in the bed once the seed is sown
- Poppies will germinate within 15-30 days of sowing
- They slowly grow all winter creating a pale green rosette
- As the days increase and temps rise, they develop a bloom stalk
- Poppies bloom in late April-May
- Seed is ripe when the pods are completely DRY in mid-June
Larkspur is the bright blue flower that defines the spring season. The common name “larkspur” is a bit confusing as it is shared between the perennial Delphinium species and annual varieties. These showy annuals are technically in the genus Consolida, though molecular data confirms they are an annual clade nested within the genus Delphinium. The bottom line is Consolida is primarily comprised of true annual plants but is synonymous with the genus Delphinium which includes perennial species. Is that enough nerdy nomenclature for you?
There are more than 50 species in the genus Consolida which is a member of the Ranunculaceae family. The spring bloomer that I love to grow is C. ajacis which is native to Eurasia and can be cultivated in zones 2-11 at various times of year.
Remember, I garden in central NC zone 7 so I treat this as a cool season annual. That means I direct seed in late fall (Nov-Dec), and it blooms in mid spring (April-May). There are many colors from shades of pink, purple, and white to bright blue.
Why direct seed? LARKSPUR DOES NOT TRANSPLANT! Trust me, I’ve tried. If you want a brilliant spring border simply scatter the seed on a 1-4” layer of Soil³ compost, gently rake, and walk away. Germination usually occurs within 2 weeks.
Yes, these plants ARE TOXIC to humans and livestock. DO NOT EAT THESE! However, that toxicity can be a great advantage to help deter deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and more! In my 20 years of growing larkspur, it has never once posed a problem for my house pets (cats and dogs) or the many children who interact in my garden. Remember, poisonous plants do not translocate that chemistry, so you can plant larkspur adjacent to food crops with no concern. An added bonus is that pollinators, including honeybees, are attracted to the colorful blooms.
Sowing Seed in Fall and Winter
The trickiest part to seed sowing is knowing when and how to best grow the seeds. Not all seeds need to be started in trays. In fact, many of the cool season edibles and flowers benefit from being sown directly in the garden as they do not transplant well. Here is a general guide for what to sow, how, and when: How to Start Cool Season Crops.
Leafy greens like arugula, lettuce, kale, mustard, and spinach can be sown in containers and directly in the ground to fill in open spaces. Flowers such as calendula, nasturtium, snapdragons, and violas should also be started from seed in the middle of summer and then transplanted into your garden in fall as they thrive October-May in the southeast.
In contrast, late fall is the time to direct seed flowers and grains for a showy spring display. Flowers such as poppies, larkspur, nigella, and bachelor buttons should be sown directly in place on black Friday! These plants all require cool soil to germinate and the do not transplant well, which is why they need to be direct seeded.
Larger, heading vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are best started in trays and then transplanted into the garden. My approach is to sow small amounts (10-15) of each of these heading vegetables every other week August-October. This will lead to plenty of harvests over a long period of time. Succession planting starts with seed, and this is the easiest and least expensive way to extend your ability to grow what you love to eat!
Seed Sowing Basics for Transplanting
Sometimes I take seed sowing for granted because it is second nature to me. But for many this experience can seem daunting and time consuming. To de-mystify the “magic” of seed starting, here are some tips for gardeners of all ages:
- Purchase seed from a reputable supplier and store in the refrigerator to ensure good germination.
- Re-use trays from past purchases. Be sure to rinse out any old soil and set in sun for 6+ hours.
- Fill trays 3/4 full of well-drained potting soil - I like to start seeds directly in Soil³ compost
- Carefully drop 1-2 seeds per hole.
- Cover the tray with more soil and lightly tap to get everything settled.
- Water in and place in an area with part shade.
- Check daily and water “as needed” when the soil is dry.
- Germination of fall veggies should occur within 2 weeks of sowing.
- Once you see green sprouts, fertilize with a liquid formulation to ensure strong development.
- As the plants grow move the trays into more sun.
- Transplant into garden or large containers when the roots fill out completely and no soil breaks off the root ball.
These basics steps will get you off to a good start. Want to learn more? I went into much more detail about starting seeds and other propagation techniques in this article.
Succession Planting for Extended Harvests
The best way to enjoy fall and winter vegetables is to stagger the seed and planting dates to allow for harvests over a long stretch of time. This approach is called succession planting and can be done with crops year-round, but it is especially useful when growing heading veggies like cabbage. After all, no one needs twenty heads of cabbage at once. By having a few to harvest each week the garden will provide a meaningful impact to your cooking and eating.
I hope you will be inspired by this month’s blog to get outside and scatter some seeds! I promise your November efforts will evolve into a spectacular spring scene. Until next month, happy gardening!
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Did this help you out? Have any questions for clarity? Leave a comment below!