by Denise Seghesio Levine, U.C. Master Gardener of Napa County
In other parts of the country, people focus on inside tasks in November. Garden tools are already oiled and hung for the winter; bulbs are dug and cellared. Treasured perennials, pots of citrus and fragrant herbs have been brought inside to wait out the winter in bright, warm rooms. With the exception of raking the last leaves or shoveling snow, gardening chores in these locales are largely complete for the next few months.
A few years ago, while visiting the Department of Energy's National Laboratories in Idaho, I lunched with one of the engineers. It was October, and the quaking aspens were aflutter with glorious chartreuse- and lemon-colored leaves. The skies were a true cerulean blue and I could not imagine a prettier or more wonderful time to be there.
My host had a different view. His favorite time of year was coming, when the skies turned gray and black and the white, quiet snowflakes came down. Each year, snow buried not only his garden, but also his tool shed where he housed his lawnmowers, leaf blowers, shovels, loppers and other garden tools.
The only survivor was the family's snowmobile fleet. Until spring thaws uncovered the first flecks of green, he had a vacation from garden chores. Snowmobiling with the kids during the day, hot chocolate and puzzles at night—no wonder it was his favorite time.
Here in Napa Valley, November brings is no rest for the garden weary. The list of potential planting opportunities and chores can be just as encompassing and just as long as in spring and summer.
November in Napa Valley is one of the best times to transplant. If you have plants that have outgrown their pots on the patio or their boundaries in the garden, or are underperforming in their current spot, now is the time to rehome them.
If you use a copper spray for peach-leaf curl, the first application is usually around Thanksgiving. Start watching for frost now and be ready to toss a cover over your citrus and other frost-sensitive plants.
If you want to add plants to your garden, stroll the nursery aisles and look for new discoveries. Read the labels to make sure you are choosing a plant that will thrive in your garden. Some plants are dormant now; others appreciate being transplanted when they will have months of moisture to sink roots deep before the stress of summer.
Local nurseries have beautiful bulbs to plant now for spring bloom and annuals like pansies and violas for winter color.
Tender green crops like lettuce, spinach, orach, arugulas, mint and cilantro all do much better in the cooler months. Plant seedlings or direct-sow seeds in small amounts every couple of weeks for a steady supply into spring. Arugula can be sown liberally in the corners of your garden where it can spread. Better a “weed” I can pick for salads than an inedible weed.
Peas, both pole and bush varieties, can be planted now, as can sweet peas. Wildflowers and many annuals can also be sown now and will germinate when the weather warms in spring.
Keep your flowering sweet peas and edible peas apart. While munching sugar snap peas and petits pois right in the garden is a delight, all of the ornamental sweet pea flowers and pods are toxic. Remind your young children: ornamental sweet peas are eye and nose candy only.
Garden and salad crops like each other, so it is easy to get the most out of a small winter garden patch. Green scallions do well when planted alongside lettuce and carrots. Pole peas enjoy a frilly bed of lettuce along the base, and I have never seen a radish that did not like being near lettuce. Always check seed packets to make sure the variety you have in your hand this month does well from fall to winter.
Your favorite nursery will have vegetable and flower seedlings for planting in November. Expect to find a variety of onion sets and seeds, broccoli seedlings, kohlrabi, rutabaga and perennial herbs.
Seeds can be planted directly outside this month as well. Read the seed packets and look for lettuces that thrive in the cold months. Other good options for winter include spinach, chard, Asian greens, mesclun, sorrel, miner's lettuce and cabbages.
If you have hopes of blooming amaryllis for Christmas, this is the month to pot up heavy, blemish-free bulbs. They will burst into bloom in time for the holidays. Follow the directions that come with your bulbs, and maybe by Christmas we can take some time off.
Library talk: Napa County Master Gardeners will give a talk on “Beyond Peaches and Apples: Unusual Fruits for your Backyard” on Thursday, November 7, at 7 p.m. at the Napa Library, 580 Coombs Street, Napa. Attendance is free.
Next workshop: “Holiday Décor Gifts with Succulent Plants” on Saturday, November 16, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. For more details & online registration, visit http://napamg.ucanr.eduor call 707-253-4221.
The UC Master Gardeners of Napa County are volunteers who provide UC research-based information on home gardening and answer your questions. To find out more about upcoming programs or to ask a garden question, visit the Master Gardener website (http://napamg.ucanr.edu) or call (707) 253-4221 between 9 a.m. and noon on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.
About 40 years ago I attended a lecture on best practices for tree pruning. Strybing Arboretum auditorium was filled because the speaker was a well-known arborist. When pruning side limbs, he said, the cut should be as flush with the trunk as possible. This allowed gravity to assist the tree in quickly closing the wound. I still recall the arborist’s name, but as subsequent research proved his advice incorrect, I won’t mention it.
Experiments by a university professor, whose name I won’t mention because I don’t quite remember it, showed that trees possess cells that form a barrier to decay just beyond the junction of a side branch and the trunk. You can see this little raised ridge, known as a collar.
Pruning just beyond this collar leaves the protective cells intact. It is true that a callus of bark would quickly form over a flush cut, but rot would permeate the trunk. Some trees became like a glove, with a healthy-appearing exterior but a decaying interior.
In my time as a landscape contractor, I used a variety of procedures that improved on previous methods but were later superseded.
At one time, conventional wisdom held that the planting holes for shrubs and trees should be twice as wide and twice as deep as the root ball. Later, the thinking was revised to twice as wide but only as deep as the root ball. Then the recommendation changed again: to twice as wide but square. The most recent advice I have read suggests digging a saucer-like planting hole that is two inches less deep than the root ball is high.
These revisions happened when people realized that the roots mainly grow in the top 18 inches of soil. Roots require oxygen, and there is little available below that depth. Gardeners and landscapers also realized that disturbing the soil beneath the plant caused the plant to sink later. A certain way to kill almost all shrubs and trees is to plant them with the crown beneath the soil. The square hole was intended to counteract the tendency of plants grown in round containers to keep circling their roots.
Another commonsense practice is to shear a plant before transplanting it. The thinking was that roots damaged by transplanting would have less demand placed on them. But now we know that this thinking is incorrect.
The top most stem of the tree or shrub generates a hormone known as auxin. This hormone inhibits lower side stems or branches, thus keeping the main stem dominant. As auxin flows down the connective tissue, the phloem, it diminishes sugar flow to leaves that, being in shade perhaps, are using more sugar than they are producing. But the major effect is that, upon reaching the roots, auxin greatly promotes root growth.
The roots also generate a hormone, cytokinin, which has the opposite effect. Cytokinin inhibits root growth but promotes shoot and leaf growth. Consequently, the best preparation for transplanting is to shear the plant but leave the main stem intact. The auxin from the main stem promotes root growth, which generates cytokinin, which promotes top growth. These hormones provide the best chance for plants to quickly flourish in their new location.
As we understand more of the inner workings of a healthy plant, we are better able to supply the care it needs. And the more we know, the more we realize how staggeringly complex nature is.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners present a workshop on “Edible Landscape Design” on Saturday, October 5, from 10 a.m. to noon. Location is American Canyon Library,
300 Crawford Way in American Canyon. Design your garden to be both beautiful and edible. Learn what to consider and how to integrate edible plants into your ornamental garden. Bring a detailed plan of your garden to work on with guidance from U.C. Master Gardeners. Learn about books to help you with your design from Napa County Library as part of the Eat, Move, Read program. Seating is limited. Register online at http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa or call 707-253-4147.
Garden Tour: Napa County Master Gardeners will host a self-guided garden tour, “Down the Garden Path,” on Sunday, September 22, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit seven unique gardens in and around downtown Napa, all maintained by Master Gardeners. Tickets: $25 advance/$30 day of event. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa or call 707-253-4147. Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions?