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A Note From Rick | November at Bridge Gardens

How-to
Bridge Gardens
November 16, 2020

By Rick Bogusch

November Can Be a Busy Time for the Gardener

As daylight shortens and triggers the dormant period for many plants, its easy to feel like your work is done for now. But I find November to be a very busy time. Cutting back the gardens begins, we finish up this year’s plantings and begin to plan for 2021. November is also the perfect time for many garden activities that I don’t have time for during the growing season, like turning the compost piles. Cutting back the gardens generates lots of garden waste. I layer it in the compost bins with 6-12 inches of brown leaves, mostly oak, along with daily scraps from the kitchen. The brown layer provides aeration and for some reason, seems to encourage earthworms to make their ways up into the pile.

I’ve also been adding to the parking lot plantings and restoring the “shed bed” at the entrance to the overflow parking lawn. It was bulldozed in half during the construction and needed restoration and a new planting design. Existing plants like the tall coneflower ‘Autumn Sun,’ the native beach grass ‘Dewey’s Blue’ and bluestar have been divided and moved and new plantings of ninebark, ‘Bonfire’ winterberry and New York ironweed added. The latter is a clump-forming wildflower native to Long Island, a tall (4-7 feet), vertical presence in any border, blooming in August/September with deep purple flowers.

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The freeze we had recently put an end to the vegetable garden for this season. We had a great final harvest for the food pantry, including cabbage, peppers, eggplant, brussel sprouts, lettuces and other greens, to name a few, but now only spinach, arugula, kale and cilantro are left. Without much to water or weed anymore, I’ve taken to digging out the garden paths and adding the decomposed mulch, straw and plant clippings to the garden beds. This replenishes, deepens and enriches the soil, ensures large crops in small spaces and is something we do here every 3-4 years.

Not much is blooming in the gardens now and many leaves have fallen, but there are still bits of fall color. Leaves of oakleaf hydrangea are just coloring now, turning a rich burgundy that will last into December. Virginia sweetspire is a standout with its bright red-orange leaves and the golden yellow leaves of the native pawpaw tree catch your eye from a distance.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

Some perennials, like the bluestar located under the wisteria arbor, also have good fall color and brighten the landscape this time of year. The plants at the bases of the arbor’s columns include native Berkeley sedge, ‘Bronze Wave’ coralbells, both perennials that are evergreen or semi-evergreen. They need to be cut back in spring after a long hard winter, but during January and February they provide green and color in an often bleak landscape.

Other shrubs and perennials to consider for your landscape are Yellowroot (pictured at the top), fothergilla, and moor grass, all of which offer fall color at the end of the season.

As the season winds down, its a good time to plan for next year. Think about projects to accomplish, new plantings and how many you’ll need of each.

And make sure you’ve planted your spring-blooming bulbs. As long as the ground’s not frozen, there is still time. We’ve just planted a couple hundred daffodils in rings around each of the trees in our new orchard. Besides providing their cheerful blooms in early May, they will discourage any visiting voles from gnawing on bark and roots.

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As the leaves of deciduous trees begin to fall, evergreen trees and shrubs begin to take center stage. Here at Bridge Gardens we have a number of native and non-native evergreens that offer shelter and sustenance to birds and other wildlife, as well as superb winter color and privacy screening. These native eastern red cedar trees provide shelter from the wind, roosting sites at night and fruits for overwintering birds and migrant birds returning in spring.

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Aucuba Cedars

Non-native aucuba is an understory shrub and provides shiny variegated yellow and green leaves all winter.

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Yuleberry holly

‘Yuleberry’ holly’s show-stopping red berries provide food for birds, as well as holiday decorations.

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White Pine

White pine, a Long Island native, has a pyramidal shape in youth but develops a graceful, informal outline composed of horizontal and ascending branches as it ages. Dozens of insects feed on white pines, mostly without negative effects. These in turn provide food for many bird species. Birds and small mammals also feed on the tree’s seeds and its branches provide shelter and nesting sites.

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Cryptomeria

Cryptomeria, a non-native Japanese forest tree, towers over native winterberries and neighboring ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae.

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Camellia

You’ll find this impressively large camellia on the north side of the Garden House where its evergreen leaves are protected from winter wind and sun. Come spring, its creamy white blossoms are always eye catching.

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Leatherleaf Viburnum

Other evergreen and semi-evergreen plants of interest are boxwood honeysuckle, ‘Prague’ viburnum, leatherleaf viburnum (pictured above), hellebores and autumn fern.

Come visit soon to witness autumn’s transition, I look forward to seeing you.

~~ Rick

What Should You Be Doing Now?

  • Cut back gardens. I like my gardens to go into winter clean and tidy. Even though it’s recommended to leave grasses and perennials as food and shelter for our avian friends, I find leaving dead leaves and plants in the garden provides homes for unwanted wildlife like voles. Large, open spaces make it difficult for these destructive creatures to move about safely and help predators like hawks to find them. For me, cutting back now makes getting back out in the garden in spring much easier.
  • Besides spring-blooming bulbs, there is still time to plant garlic and any trees and shrubs you may find on sale at the local garden center.
  • Bring in your houseplants, if you haven’t already. I always spray them with a mix of horticultural oil and insecticidal soap before I bring them in to eliminate pests and their eggs. Stop watering amaryllis plants and let them go dormant for at least 6-8 weeks before you gradually start watering again. Cymbidium orchids need temperatures in the 30’s to set flower buds so don’t bring them in too soon.
  • Dig your dahlias. I had a lot of questions about dahlias this year, probably because so many community gardeners grew them. It’s time to dig clumps of tubers now that above-ground parts have been killed by frost. Cut stems about 6 inches from the top of the clump, turn the clump upside down and set in a rain-free place to dry out for a week or so. Shake off excess soil and store clumps in a cool, dry place. A basement bulkhead works well. Don’t let tubers dry out, soften and shrivel during the winter. Wrap them in layers of newspaper or place in flats or boxes and cover with dampened vermiculite. Inspect clumps periodically and add a sprinkle or two of water if they seem dry. Sometimes this storage method works for me and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s worth a try. Second year tubers usually grow bigger plants with more and earlier flowers.

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