"My November To Do List," by the Whistling Gardener

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Before I bombard you with an endless list of chores for this month I want to make sure you take the time to appreciate this fall. It has been one of the finest I can remember.

We can thank the warm summer and dry fall for the most fantastic parade of oranges, yellows, reds, and purples that I have ever seen.

The lack of a heavy frost has also allowed those colorful leaves to hang around much longer, so enjoy them while they last. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Now, onto the “List”…

LAWNS: It’s too late to do any hard-core overhauling, but you should absolutely apply lime and a slow release organic fertilizer. Normally, trying to control weeds like buttercup and clover would be a waste of time in November, but a product called Weed Beater Ultra will actually work in temperatures as low as 45 degrees - keep that in mind if you are overrun with these nasty interlopers.

FRUIT TREES: Don’t do any pruning yet, but rather practice ‘good housekeeping’ by raking all the leaves underneath them and applying a dormant spray to control insects and diseases. Copper combined with horticultural oil is easy to use and is relatively nontoxic.

VEGETABLES: Now is the last chance to plant garlic. Some gardeners like to plant a “cover crop” this time of year and then plow it under come spring, but I prefer to broadcast some lime and then cover the soil with an inch of fresh compost. This will keep the weeds down and improve the soil by spring.

BERRIES: For raspberries and blackberries, it is most important to remove 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” this last season, it is absolutely essential that you clean underneath your plants and apply some fresh compost.

ROSES: Remember to prune “Hip high in the fall, knee high in the spring.” Climbing roses need to be secured to their trellis and the long canes shortened up just a little bit. After pruning and thoroughly cleaning around the base of the rose, apply some lime and then pile up some mulch about 10 to 12 inches high to protect the graft union from a really ugly winter.

PERENNIALS: Tidying up the perennial border is a process for me. It’s always best to let plants die back naturally and at their own pace, but I will often cut back my hostas before they become a slimy mess. I generally leave the rest of my perennials (and ornamental grasses) to their own demise and tackle them in February, when I do my major cleanup. Just make sure all the ground is covered with either leaves or mulch or you will have a major weed problem.

CONTAINERS: Container gardening can be so much more than a collection of summer blooming annuals. While I will admit that I empty out and put away a whole bunch of pots for the winter, I always make sure I have a half dozen or so of attractive plantings to lift my spirits during these dark days of winter. Cluster them near your entrance where you will see them every day.

Finally, remember gardening in the northwest is really a year ‘round sport. Check out the “winter players” at your favorite garden center this month.

Sunnyside will be hosting our last classes of 2017 – “Winter Pruning” Saturday November 11th at 10:00 am and again Sunday November 12th at 11:00 am.

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

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