As anyone who has gardened in Portland for very long at all can attest, Novembers in our corner of the Pacific Northwest come with some interesting weather: Overnight temperatures dip, the wind blows, and the rains come more frequently. But these variable conditions bring about their own moments of beauty. Cold nights trigger the leaves to turn all manner of glorious colors, blanketing our landscapes with the change of seasons. And after the dry conditions of summer, November rain showers are truly restorative, providing much-needed soil moisture to plants across the landscape. So this month, we're giving thanks for the change of seasons by donning our rain clothes and simply enjoying whatever Mother Nature throws at us. Why not join us? This refreshing fall weather is perfect for mind-clearing walks and gathering ourselves before the winter ahead.
When we hear November, we think of mulch. This time of year, there is an abundance of fallen leaves just waiting to be collected for use as mulch around our perennials, winter root crops, and resting vegetable beds. This natural leaf mulch can help to protect your plants' roots from freezing temperatures, and has the added benefit of providing cover for beneficial ground dwellers like earthworms and ground beetles. With that said, it's important to take care not to mulch too close to the crown or center stem of your plants to allow for good air circulation. Similarly, if you haven’t spread compost on your landscape beds yet, adding it now will benefit your plants by helping to deter weeds and adding nutrients that winter rains will help distribute through the soil.
Here in Portland, November often brings our first frost — on average, around Thanksgiving — so citrus and other tender plants enjoying outdoor living need to be protected from cold damage with frost cloth or cloches. Similarly, potted tender plants will need to be transitioned indoors as temperatures fall.
If temperatures below freezing are in the forecast, it's a good idea to do a quick check to make sure your garden is ready for the cold weather. Make sure your water spigot is protected from freezing temperatures, and winterize your fountains by draining them and removing any internal components like lights or pumps that could be damaged by the freeze and thaw. It is also good idea to cover them with a breathable, water-resistant cover that is pulled taut so that rain and snow can't pool inside, causing damage. In our climate, this is generally sufficient, but in colder zones that stay below freezing for longer periods, it is best to relocate your fountains to a dry place like a garage during the winter for extra protection.
There's also still time to prune back any out-of-bloom perennials you may wish to clean up in your beds, but many can simply be left in place — as with the leaves we mentioned earlier — to provide food and habitat for wildlife, including birds and beneficial insects. We would encourage you to give this a try! If you choose to leave dormant ornamental grasses standing, these can also help provide depth to your garden well through the winter months. While you're in cleanup mode, though, you might consider performing some light pruning on trees and roses to remove crossing or “wild hair” branches that could whip around in the wind and cause damage to the plant.
There is still plenty to harvest in your vegetable garden in November. Parsley, kale, squash, and Brussels sprouts are just a few of the fresh items ready to grace your table this month. As previously mentioned, if you are growing root veggies like carrots, parsnips, radishes, or turnips, these would benefit greatly from either mulch or row covers to help protect them from frost.
If you haven't quite gotten all of your planting energy out of you, it isn't too late to plant garlic and shallots for sprouts in January and February. As an added bonus, these crops also provide a bit of protection against deer, as they are deterred by the scent. To help build up your soil for the next harvest, cover crops can also still be sown before the first freeze hits, particularly frost-tolerant fava beans. (For more information, check out our video tutorial on cover crops.) Don’t forget to plant fresh parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary, mint, oregano, marjoram and other herbs for gourmet holiday cooking, either. Indoor gardeners can get in on the action, too, by growing potted herbs under artificial lights. Our Kitchen Garden greenhouse is loaded up with a wide variety of possibilities to inspire you!
Planning and Planting
This is a fantastic time to plan your landscape design. As trees drop their leaves and perennials and annuals fade, the bones of your garden are exposed, allowing you to more clearly envision how your space could be transformed. Consider consulting with a landscape designer to plan a beautiful and bountiful garden that can be enjoyed for years to come. We are proud to offer personalized garden coaching services with our designer Bill to help you brainstorm and generate ideas for your outdoor space, which can progress to a full design and planting if you so choose. And our lead kitchen gardener, Cythia, is at the ready to help you plan out your edible garden beds for the year to come.
If you already have a good idea of what your garden needs, this is still a great time of year to head to the nursery to see what late-season color you can add to your landscape. It's not too late to plant spring bulbs, perennials, shrubs, and trees to your landscape that can be enjoyed for years to come. Hellebores, pansies, and ornamental kale provide bright pops of color in the early winter garden, and as such make for great additions to cool season planters. And if you're looking to garden on a bigger scale, evergreen conifers not only provide color, structure and texture throughout the harsh winter months, but they can even double as living Christmas trees!
With Thanksgiving around the corner, we look forward to ushering in the holiday season with a few seasonal touches in November that really help it feel like home for the holidays. Fresh bundles of cedar, spruce, pine, and more can be used to create a festive wreath to adorn your door — and if you're particularly resourceful, you might even be able to source the materials from your own garden!
For gardeners already itching to see spring blooms, consider forcing bulbs indoors to use as holiday centerpieces. You'll need to plan ahead to ensure that your plants are blooming in time for a certain date, but Paperwhites and Amaryllis are both great options that require no additional chill period. (See our guide to forcing holiday bulbs indoors for a full how-to.)
Handmade wreaths and potted Paperwhites also make great housewarming gifts for loved ones. After all, one of the true joys of gardening is sharing!