Holly Wise

Almanac: November-December 2018

by cathym on November 25, 2018

What To Do in the Garden in November & December

Multiflora rose

The deciduous trees have lost their leaves, gardens are being put to bed, and winter is not far behind.

Adding a few inches of shredded leaves or compost to your garden beds before the ground freezes will aid in your garden’s health providing better soil structure and more nutrients. Incorporate the organic matter into the vegetable garden now or wait until spring to work it into the beds.

Reduce the possibility of pest problems this winter by raking fallen leaves away from the foundation of the house, making it less desirable for mice to take up residence there or find their way inside your home through small openings.

Now that the outdoor garden chores are done, keep garden tools at peak performance. Clean, oil, repair broken handles and sharpen blades. After sharpening or removing rust be sure to wipe tools with mineral oil to keep it at bay.

There’s nothing like bringing in the outdoors for the holidays. Now’s the time to gather grape vine, pine cones, wild rose hips, seedpods, twigs, winterberries, dried flower heads, and more. You can use them au naturel or spray paint seedpods, flower heads, pine cones, etc., to add color and glitz to your arrangements and wreaths.

Black chokeberry (Aronia

Some annuals are happy overwintering in pots. Great choices are geraniums, gerbera daisies and Coleus, to name a few. Place in a sunny window or under artificial lighting and water when dry. You may need to pinch back growth if they get leggy and do remove any yellowing leaves. Fertilize lightly with a liquid fertilizer once a month. The flowering plants will brighten up your winter with colorful blooms.

Enjoy using fresh culinary herbs (such as basil, thyme, parsley, oregano, rosemary, etc.) in your cooking during the holiday and winter season. Transplant from the outside into 4- to 6- inch pots or purchase from a garden center. Place on a sunny windowsill or under grow lights.

Add blooming fragrance to a home and/or office this winter with paperwhites. You can find them in local garden centers or purchase them through catalogs. They look nice nestled among decorative stones in a shallow container. Place bulbs with their points facing up and make sure to keep them watered. Plant in early November to have blooms 6 weeks later.

Cutting pine, fir and spruce boughs to decorate your home for the holidays adds fragrance and color to mantels and centerpieces. Keep in mind that not all evergreens are created equal. Consider using white pine, Fraser fir, cedar, or juniper, to name a few. Remember that cut boughs mean running sap that can damage clothes and furniture, so be aware. Homes that burn wood or have fireplaces will tend to dry fresh greens more quickly, so keep them away from heat sources.

In New York State, Christmas trees are divided into two main groups: the short-needled spruces and firs and the long-needled pines. The ideal Christmas tree has good needle-holding ability, attractive color, a full or bushy appearance, a conical symmetrical shape, a pleasing fragrance, and branches sturdy enough to hold ornaments and gifts. Make sure to purchase a fresh tree and keep it watered. Spruces tend to drop their needles readily when they eventually dry out, while firs and pines often hold onto their needles.

Poinsettias add color and freshness to your holiday décor. Unfortunately, these plants have gotten a bad rap about being poisonous if eaten. The truth is they are nontoxic and will only cause an upset stomach if eaten but it is still a good idea to keep them away from chewing pets and toddlers. If you have cats that love to chew your plants, then you may want to skip the poinsettias altogether.

Wow your holiday guests with simple but elegant table displays. Fill sparkling glass containers one-third of the way with water, float fresh cranberries, and add sprigs of winter berries, wild rose hips, pine, spruce, boxwood, juniper or any evergreen available. Consider larger, lower containers to add a large burning candle to the center.

Spruce up your holiday banquet table by adding depth and natural decor. Use rocks with a flat surface, small slabs of cut wood, or anything you can use on top or under your table covering to add depth. Add a variety of evergreen sprigs, berries, seed pods, and dried flower heads to give your buffet an alfresco air. Use elevated sections to hold hot or cold dishes, add string of twinkle lights intertwined and voila!

Consider adding warmth and freshness indoors with a terrarium of succulents. Using a large glass Container, layer the bottom with colorful stones for a drainage area, add a nice layer of soil and then a variety of succulents now readily available at your local stores and garden centers.

It’s best not to add a lid as succulents tend to enjoy it a bit drier—think more desert-like, where they depend on moisture from the soil, not the air. Add interest by robbing your fairy garden stash of gnomes and other tiny garden figures.

—Holly Wise, horticulturalist, and Linda Wimmer, Master Gardener, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County


May is here; air and soil temperatures are warming back up after bouts of winter-like freezing weather in April. Gardeners will enjoy spending time tending to their landscapes. Below I have highlighted some gardening /landscape tasks for May and June.

As gardeners, we should be aware that the tick population is on the rise. We should take steps to reduce tick bites and the spread of Lyme disease. Cornell Cooperative Extension has created brochures and fact sheets to help you, your children, and pets to minimizing interactions with these pests while outdoors. Find the brochure titled Ticks, Create a Tick Safe Zone at cceonondaga.org/environment/invasive-nuisance-species/terrestrial-animals/ticks. One can reduce tick populations in the landscape by creating buffers, fencing off ornamental and vegetable beds, detaining rodents, and mulching. Take action now to help safeguard your gardening and outdoor experiences this season.


Mowing your lawn, make sure mower blades are sharpened. Set the mower deck to 3 to 3 ½ inches high. This will help increase your lawn grass density while shading out the weeds. Also let grass clippings fall back into the lawn, they will break down and add nutrients back to the soil.

Lawn Care

Cornell University Department of Horticulture Turfgrass has booklets and video that can be downloaded to help guide lawn care. The site address is hort.cornell.edu/turf.

Now is a good time to repair the bare lawn spots from winter’s wear and tear. Select grass seed from the kind you already have growing. Consider the location; sun and shade grass varieties are available. Make sure to water what you have seeded. Irrigate in the morning hours.

Does your lawn need fertilizing? Did you test your soil to see how much phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) fertilizer your lawn needs? Lawns should have a pH in the range of 6.0 to 7.0, which is slightly acidic. Check with your local Cornell Cooperative Extension Office to see if these tests are offered. If your lawn falls below or above these soil pH ranges, add either lime or sulfur to bring the pH to the proper range. Follow the instructions given from the pH test.

The ideal time to fertilize grass is when it is actively growing, usually the end of May to beginning of June or around Labor Day in September.

Make sure your mower blades are sharpened. Set the mower deck to 3 to 3 ½ inches high. This will help increase your lawn grass density while shading out the weeds. Also let grass clippings fall back into the lawn, they will break down and add nutrients back to the soil.

Tree & Shrubs

Spring flowering deciduous shrubs produce blooms on last season’s growth. These shrubs should be pruned after the flower blooms are spent. Pruning by pinching off or cutting will help boast next year’s flower production and adds to the shaping of the shrub. Lilacs, spireas, rhododendrons and azaleas are a few of these shrubs that benefit from pruning in the spring.

Needled evergreens such as yews, hemlocks, pines and arborvitaes can be trimmed and shaped in May. Just snip off the tips of soft new growth which will help promote compact bushy growth.

Flowers and Vegetables

Leave the foliage of spring flowering bulbs growing until it turns yellow; nutrients are going back into the bulbs. In early June, dig up tulip bulbs. Clean off the soil and make sure the bulbs are dry before placing them in storage (cool, dry and a dark location) until fall planting. Other spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinths, and crocus can be moved to a new location after they have bloomed and the foliage has past.

Cool season annuals and vegetables seeds can be sown directly in the ground or transplanted in the soil or in containers.  Make sure to harden off transplants before transplanting. It is better to transplant on a cloudy day.

Many folks plant their dahlias, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants over Memorial Day Weekend or early June. These are considered tender annual flowers and vegetables. Usually by those dates we are safe from a frost here in Central and Western NY. Be cautious. They may need to be covered if a frost is predicted later than those planting dates.

May and June is a good time to plant perennial plants. Be sure to follow the plant labels for placement in your garden.

A good guide for growing vegetables in the home garden can be found at Cornell Garden Based website at blogs.cornell.edu/horticulture/vegetables/. You can also rate the vegetables that they grow by participating in Cornell’s Citizen Science Vegetable Varieties program. For more information on rating the vegetables that you grow check out the website at vegvariety.cce.cornell.edu.

— Holly Wise, Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County Consumer Horticulture Resource Educator


Depending on the weather, last minute gardening chores can be squeezed in during early November, leaving December a time to relax and enjoy looking through 2015 gardening catalogs as they arrive by mail or online.


Piles of fallen leaves should not just sit on top of a lawn all winter long. They can mat together, causing damage to the turf grass crowns. Leaves should be shredded using a mower, with the small pieces allowed to filter between the grass blades, or can be added back as a thin layer of mulch to garden beds, where they will break down and add natural nutrients. Some folks rake and bag their excess leaves, saving them to be shredded in the spring. Then they add them as a mulch and weed barrier around perennial flowers and/or vegetable plants.


If one has not had time to tend to roses after the hard frost in October, November can be a good month to winterize them while temperatures are still relatively mild. Soil should be mounded up around the base of the Hybrid Tea, Grandiflora and Floribunda plants 10 to 12 inches deep. The mounded soil will add winter protection. Prune back the rose canes that are taller than two feet or tie them to a stake so they don’t not get wind-whipped.


Loosen the canes of climbing roses from their structure and tie them together. Bend the canes arching them near the plant base to avoid breakage, and lay them at ground level, pinning them down with crossed stakes. Mound the canes with soil and mark them so once spring comes you can carefully remove the soil and reattach the canes to their structure.


Ornamental grasses can be cut back or left for the winter months. Taller ornamental grasses may need some staking to prevent the blades from getting weighed down with snow. Grasses can add some winter interest in a landscape and offer a place for the birds to congregate.


Gardening tools and equipment should be cleaned and prepped for winter storage. Lawn mower blades can be sharpened, spark plugs changed, oil changed and gasoline drained. Some folks will instead add a fuel stabilizer to a full tank of gas before storing their mowers. Garden tools and planting containers can be cleaned and stored. Soak planting containers with a bleach and water based solution to disinfect them.


Last winter, many trees and shrubs were damaged from the sub-zero temperatures, winds and warm sun. Evergreens needles and leaves transpire moisture during the winter leading to desiccation, the drying out of needles. If an evergreen dries out too much dead brown areas may be seen come spring on the plant material. An autumn without much rainfall may increase the chances of this happening. To help reduce moisture lost during the winter months, give your evergreen trees and shrubs a deep soaking of water before the ground freezes.


Deciduous trees that have thin bark may show signs of splitting on the trunks caused by sunscald. This can happen when the air temperature on a sunny day warms the tree trunk, especially on the southwest side. After the sun goes down temperatures fall back causing cracking/splitting. To help reduce this cracking, the trunks can be wrapped with burlap strips or commercial tree wrap, or even shaded with a wooden board. All of these preventive methods reflect sunlight and will help reduce the buildup of heat during the day, thus reducing the temperature fluctuations that cause splitting. Once spring has arrived make sure all trunk wraps are removed, to prevent insect or moisture damage.


Rodent damage to trees can be prevented by making sure mulch is pulled away from the base of the trunks. Hardware cloth, galvanized screening or tree wrap can be used to protect young, thin-barked deciduous trees and shrubs from mice and rabbit damage.


— Holly Wise, Consumer Horticulture Extension Educator, CCE Oneida County