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  • Waterwise Gardening | David Salman

Late October/November To-Do List

These next weeks before Thanksgiving will be the end of this year's gardening season. Now is your last chance for essential tasks like fertilizing and watering. So be sure to deep irrigate your landscape and spread soil-building fertilizer like Yum Yum Mix. Time spent this month in the garden will pay off next spring with healthier, more robust plants.

1. Watering

– The monsoons were plentiful this summer, so the soil is moist down deep. Therefore, it isn't as important to deep water established trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials. But keep checking the soil moisture around plants planted in 2022. If we do not get additional rain or snow now through December, you will need to hand water.

– Late winter watering is essential for all new perennials, shrubs and trees planted this past growing season. When snow or rain over the winter is scant, begin to irrigate around Valentine's Day in February when day temperatures are above 45⁰ -50⁰F. Continue once every 3 to 4 weeks through mid-April.

After you've given your landscape a last deep watering, turn off the water to your irrigation system. Then drain the solenoids in your valve box and the back-flow preventer so they don't freeze and crack over the winter. And set your irrigation timer to the "off position".

2. Fertilizing (Feeding the Soil)

For a healthy, resilient garden and landscape, healthy living soil is essential; so when we fertilize, use organic and natural fertilizers like Yum Yum Mix and good quality composts to “feed the soil”. The web of life depends on the soil’s ability to break down fallen leaves and other organic materials and recycle the nutrients into the soil. This is accomplished by the incredible diversity of microbes, fungi and earthworms that live in the soil. Mid-October is a good time to get started. Mix up a wheelbarrow of high-quality compost and Yum Yum Mix and top dress your flower beds, shrubs and younger trees and lawn. Just scatter the compost/Yum Yum Mix over the top of the soil and scratch it in lightly. Apply mulch, set a sprinkler and water it in.

3. Mulching Mulching is an essential tool for conserving precious soil moisture, building the soil's humus content and keeping the soil cold in the spring so plants don't wake up and bloom too early. I like to mulch after I've fertilized to cover the soil and the organic fertilizers so to help facilitate the organisms in the soil to break down the fertilizer and make it available to the waking plants in spring.

Older fruit trees and other early blooming flowering trees and shrubs benefit by having the ground well mulched out to the drip line of the tree branches. This keeps the soil cold in spring and helps them to be dormant longer thus protecting them from flowering prematurely from warm mid-spring temperatures.

– For Xeric and Native Plants use 1 to 2” thick layer of pine needles, crushed pecan shells or small crushed gravel.(3/8 to 1/2" diameter).

– For Plants that Like more moisture and richer soil like fruit trees, flowering shrubs, and evergreens apply a 2” thick layer of composted bark, shredded bark and wood, shredded leaves and coarse textured composts like Soil Mender BTE cotton burr compost. Use clean wheat or barley straw for your fall and winter vegetable beds.

4. Protect Plants from Feeding Animals

–Treat for gophers: Gophers can be tremendously damaging to your garden plants, especially young trees and fruit trees as well as thick-rooted succulents (Yucca and Agave) and perennials, by eating the roots. They are active now and can be spotted by looking for freshly mounded soil around your plants and trees. Use a gopher repellent like Chase Mole and Gopher Repellent (a natural emulsified castor oil product). Spread the granules over the top of the soil and water in thoroughly. Re-apply in the spring.

–Protect young trees and shrubs from rabbits: Rabbits will often eat the bark at the base of young woody plants over the winter, so use corrugated paper tree wrap around the bottom 3 ft. of the tree now and remove in April. Vulnerable shrubs should be encircled with a cylinder of chicken wire or mesh secured to stakes.

–Bothered by deer? Deer feed on woody stems over the winter and spring months. So use a deer repellent spray like Bobbex, on trees, shrubs and evergreens now. And re-apply in early spring at the frequency recommended on the Bobbex label. Wet winters require more frequent applications.

5. Garden Clean Up Enjoy the beauty of the fall and winter garden provided by dormant plants and grasses. In your flower beds and landscape plantings, let the perennials and ornamental grasses stand over the winter, unless the plants were diseased. In which case, these can be cut back. ​​Letting plants stand over the winter improves cold hardiness of plants like Hummingbird Mint (Agastache), Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria) and native Sages (Salvia).

Leaving plants untrimmed also helps protect beneficial insects and pollinator populations. The eggs and cocoons/pupae of beneficial insects, butterflies and moths are often attached to the dormant stems of your garden plants so let them stay and hatch next spring. Clean-up in mid-spring after a few weeks of warmer weather when you see the first butterflies or other winged insects. Wait to prune trees and shrubs until late winter/early spring.

November is the final month to plant your spring-blooming bulbs. Bulbs are a bargain and a great way to wake up your garden in spring but plant them where they will get some supplemental irrigation. Common bulbs like tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths and others need supplemental irrigation in the spring to bloom well. So plant them in irrigated beds. My favorite bulbs are perennial varieties that come back year after year and multiply in numbers (naturalize). These include - Crocus- Muscari (Grape hyacinths) - Narcissus (daffodils, which are gopher-proof), - Allium (ornamental onions) which are also highly resistant to gophers and Tulipa (tulips); especially 'Lilac Wonder', Tulipa tarda and Gregiii and Kaufmaniana types. Where gophers are active, mix granules of Chase Mole and Gopher Med into the backfill soil. Or soak the bulbs in Bobbex small animal repellent for a few hours, then let dry prior to planting. But be sure to use waterproof gloves to handle soaked bulbs; they will be very "fragrant" and so will your hands.

7. Planting Shrubs, Trees and Evergreens

Most cold hardy plants benefit from fall planting. Fall-planted trees and shrubs have extra time to establish their roots before winter and will bloom more robustly and grow more quickly next summer than spring transplants. Finish planting woody plants by early November.

8. Raking Leaves Keep your leaves and pine needles on your property as they are an essential resource for soil building and mulching. But be careful when mulching with whole leaves as they can mat down keeping moisture and oxygen from reaching down into the soil below. If possible, rent or buy a shredder that will grind up your leaves into a coarse pieces. Or you can run your bagging lawn mower over low piles of leaves. Then take them out of the mower bag to use as mulch. Coarsely ground-up leaves are a superb mulch and a great soil builder.

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