Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

What to do in the garden in November & December

by cathym on November 2, 2020

It seems that gardening is never finished, but would we want it to be any different? 

Protect carrots and other root crops, such as parsnips. with straw to keep the ground around them from freezing. After mowing your lawn for the last time, have blades cleaned and sharpened now for a head start on spring. Drain and store garden hoses and turn off outside water spigots. If you haven’t cleaned your garden tools, do it now. Don’t forget to disinfect and sharpen your tools as well. Sharpened pruners, hoes and shovels make work much easier next spring.

Finish any necessary garden cleanup you still haven’t completed. Be sure to remove and discard any plant material that was diseased. Leave up perennial seed heads up to become nature’s bird feeders. Leave hollow stemmed plants to act as winter homes for overwintering insects.

You can still plant spring-flowering bulbs until the ground freezes so hurry up as time is awastin’.

If you’ve moved or planted any trees, shrubs, or perennials they will need adequate moisture. Water deeply anytime there is less than one inch of rain per week, until the soil reaches 40 degrees F.

Protect plants from winter and critter damage. Continue watering until the earth freezes. Once the soil is frozen put protective mulch over tender perennials and shrubs. Discarded pine boughs or mulched leaves make good mulches. Use burlap or shrub coats to protect susceptible shrubs from winter wind and deer damage. If you have critter problems now is the time to erect fencing and other barriers. The trunks of young trees can be wrapped with trunk wraps or chicken wire to protect them from the nibbling of mice and rabbits and rubbing by deer. Be sure the protection goes high enough so critters don’t sit on top of the snow to browse. Plan to keep off frozen grass to prevent soil compaction and poor drainage.

Erect teepees to protect foundation plants from breakage when snow and ice slip off the roof.

Keep removing weeds (burdock for example…yikes!) as long as you can see them…otherwise they will have a head start next spring!

To reduce the amount of water that broad-leafed evergreens like rhododendrons lose during the winter, you can spray the foliage with a wax-forming antidesiccant or erect barriers against the wind to prevent “windburn,” a form of desiccation.

Got outdoor fish? Use netting to prevent leaves from falling in and depleting oxygen.

Do you have grafted roses? If you didn’t mulch over the graft union get out there and do it now!

Roses can bloom well into November, but make sure to mulch above the union of grafted plants. Photo by Jane Milliman

Mound five to six inches of soil around the bases of roses to protect them from a freeze-thaw cycle which is harmful. Use soil from another part of the garden so you don’t damage the roots of your roses by digging near them.

Check stored firewood for insect infestations. Remember not to use or move firewood from out of your area to help prevent the spread of invasive insects like the Emerald Ash Borer and Spotted Lanternfly.

Have a broom ready to knock snow off plants before it freezes and causes damage.

Houseplants need a winter rest, too. Reduce the fertilization of most indoor plants from late October to mid-March. An exception might be plants under grow lights.

Keep your houseplants on the dry side to discourage fungus gnat larvae from devouring the roots. Watering from the bottom helps. Watch for insects or disease and take appropriate action before they spread.

Water house plants with tepid water. How would you like a cold bath?

Move most houseplants away from very cold windows to avoid damage. Begonias seem to like cool windows, though.

Continue to add kitchen plant scraps to the compost bin. 

Be sure to remove foil or other wrapping from around the pots of plants you may receive as gifts so proper drainage can occur.

Plant amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus bulbs now. Paperwhites can go into your compost after blooming. Amaryllis flowers can be cut off after blooming is complete. Keep the plants in light and watered so the leaves can refurbish the bulb. Keep leaves growing until the leaves die down on their own. They will begin regrowth when they are ready to bloom again.

Select poinsettias with green leaves and colorful bracts. Keep in bright light away from pets, children, drafts, and direct heat. 

Start cuttings of your favorite Christmas cactus (or Easter or Thanksgiving). Make a cutting with four or five joints. Let dry for about three days. Insert the basal end into a pot of dampened vermiculite. Place in a brightly lit area. Rooting should occur in three to four weeks.

When selecting a live Christmas tree, check the needles. You should be able to bend them. If they snap the tree is too dry. Try lifting the tree a few inches and bringing it down on the stump. Some inside needles may fall but outer needles should not drop off. Make a fresh cut across the base of the trunk to prevent the formation of a seal which prevents the tree from taking up water, and immediately place it in water. If you plan to have a live tree for the holidays, dig the hole for the tree now before the ground freezes. It’s best to only keep the potted tree inside for one week then plant it outside.

Feed the birds sunflower and black nyjer seeds. Be sure to keep feeders clean and dry to promote bird health rather than bird disease.

Use hairspray on seed heads and dried flowers in wreaths or other displays.

Give gardening hints to family and friends so they buy you gardening gifts (or buy them for both friends and yourself). Ideas: books, clippers, butterfly kits, mason bee homes, terrariums, orchids, perhaps beekeeping equipment.

Purchase gifts at local nurseries and garden-related not-for-profits like the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Give others as well as yourself memberships in the Botanical Gardens, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, Xerces, or Reinstein Woods.

—Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera, Master Gardeners, Erie County


From the Publisher: November-December 2020

by cathym on November 2, 2020

Dear friends, 

With this issue, we close out our 25th year of publication—wow! I’d like to thank all our readers, advertisers, and allied organizations for making it possible. I’m very proud of each issue we publish, and I love to hear your feedback when I’m out in the world. It’s usually complimentary, but then our readers are civilized people who, when they have nothing nice to say, generally don’t say anything. 

I’ve said it before, but I want to thank our team, without whom there would be no UGJ. Debbie Eckerson started helping out in 2008 as our subscriptions manager. Since then she has added calendar editor and managing editor to her responsibilities, and she is invaluable. 

One year before that, Brian Eshenaur joined the team as our technical editor. This came about when we published one of probably many scientific errors, prompting my friend Laurie Broccolo to get in touch and suggest we right this situation by bringing Brian on board. Some of the best advice I’ve had. (A lot of Laurie’s advice is some of the best I’ve had.)

In the year 2000, I was approached at GardenScape, Rochester garden’s and landscape show, by a delightful lady who wondered if we had considered expanding into Buffalo (at the time we only covered Rochester). I said I would love to, but the trouble was that, with a two-year-old at home, it was difficult for me to get out that way to work on selling advertising and meeting people. No problem—Maria Walczak is an old pro in ad sales, loves to garden, and was prepared to take right over! Maria has since retired, though she and her husband continue to make Buffalo-area deliveries. 

I suppose if we are moving back in time, I should mention my sainted mother, Sarah Koopus, next. She’s proofed the magazine since the beginning and also is, you know, my mom, so she’s had to put up with me for a long time and deserves an extra shout-out.

Cathy Monrad joined the UGJ in 2012, and Cathy is my right arm, probably half my brain, and then some. She is involved in all our publications and projects and is one of the hardest-working people I know. I live in fear that Cathy will relocate to Myrtle Beach. 

Last but not least is our newest addition, Caroline Kunze. Caroline came on board when we acquired (585) magazine in 2019 as an advertising salesperson, and she is doing a great job getting to know some of our existing advertisers and bringing in new ones. 

Thank you again for all of your support over the years. Print is a tough business these days, but I know readers love to curl up with a copy of the Upstate Gardeners’ Journal, and as long as that’s the case, we’ll keep on growing. 


Jane Milliman, Publisher


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