November Garden To-Do List

Every month, our horticulturist is filling you in on what needs to be done each month in the garden. Let's see what we need to do in the garden for the month of November.

Mulch Garden Bed

After the ground has completely frozen, add 2 to 3 inches of shredded leaves, composted manure, and/or garden compost to perennial borders and garden beds.

Fertilize the Lawn Once More from Halloween to the 15th of November

After the lawn is cut for the final time this year, apply a winterizing fertilizer with a slow-release organic product that is high in nitrogen. Chicago-area soils are naturally high in potassium and phosphorus, and most lawns don’t require more. This nitrogen application will help lawns green up faster in early spring.

Keep Feeding the Compost Pile

Continue to feed the compost pile with grass clippings and dried plant material removed from garden beds. Avoid adding diseased plants to the pile. Turn the pile regularly to speed decomposition.


Clean Garden Tools and Containers


  • With the outdoor growing season coming to an end this month, it’s a great time to inspect your tools and supplies, and protect them from the harsh winter weather. Disconnect outdoor water sources before temperatures drop to below-freezing, and drain hoses before storing indoors. Keep in mind, however, that some trees and shrubs may require watering, so time this according to your yard’s needs. 
  • Clean, sharpen, and oil tools. 
  • Store all unused herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and chemicals in their original, labeled containers. If cardboard containers have become wet, consider disposing of the product. Avoid storing chemicals in unmarked plastic or glass containers because it’s too easy to forget what they are. Check expiration dates on products to be sure they’re still viable. 
  • Clean ceramic, cement, and/or terra-cotta containers; store in a frost-free space. Soil from containers can be stored in a pile outside and combined with equal parts fresh mix for next year’s containers. 
  • Potting soil from window boxes can be discarded or stored for later use, provided there are no signs of disease.


Protect Garden Beds from De-Icing (salt) products

In the event of snowfall, avoid using salt-based de-icing products in or around garden areas. Shovel snow before it freezes on sidewalks and sprinkle sand on walkways close to plantings.


Keep Planting Spring Bulbs


  • Continue to plant spring-flowering bulbs early this month if the soil hasn’t completely frozen and weather conditions permit. Choose a sunny, well-drained area and plant your bulbs two to three times as deep as the height of the bulb. 
  • If the soil is heavy clay, add compost, such as composted leaf mold. 
  • Sprinkle a slow-release granular fertilizer formulated for bulbs into the top layer of soil above the planting hole. Water the area well. 
  • After planting, add a layer of lightweight mulch to delay the soil from freezing early. This gives bulbs time to develop a strong root system. 
  • If planting a large bed of bulbs, dig all the soil first, arrange the bulbs, and backfill with soil.  
  • If rodents, deer, or rabbits have been a problem in the past, consider planting varieties of the following pest-resistant bulbs: daffodils (Narcissus spp.), grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum), ornamental onion (Allium spp.), fritillaria  (Fritillaria spp.), and winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis).


Winter protection for roses 


  • Protect roses, especially newly planted shrubs, late this month or after several days of temperatures consistently falling below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Mound 12 to 18 inches of top soil at the base of roses. This mound will sink down over the winter. 
  • Tall rose varieties may need pruning to reduce their height to 2.5 to 3 feet; however, pruning of most roses should be kept to a minimum because spring pruning will also be necessary.


Keep perennials standing


  • If you can, don’t cut down perennials until spring. In addition to providing winter interest to the landscape, this approach also supports many desirable overwintering insects, including native butterflies, moths, and bees. 
  • However, do cut down and discard any diseased plants, which should not be added to a compost pile.


Keep watering, if necessary

If conditions are dry, continue to water trees and shrubs, especially evergreens, until the ground has frozen completely.  


Protect trees and shrubs from winter pests


  • If rabbits, rodents, or deer have been a problem in past winters, take precautions with valuable woody plants now. 
  • To keep deer from rubbing antlers on tree trunks, install garden netting or snow fencing around vulnerable trees. Physical barriers can be more effective than repellents. 
  • Protect tree trunks from gnawing rabbits by setting up hardware cloth at least 2 feet tacked into the soil, 3 inches away from the trunk.



Protect vulnerable trees from temperature swings

Extreme temperature fluctuations in winter may inflict frost cracks or sun-scald injury on newly planted softwood trees, such as conifers. Consider wrapping vulnerable tree trunks with protective wrap and remove the wrap in spring.

Protect plants from road-salt spray

If necessary, construct burlap screening supported by wooden stakes to protect evergreens in the path of salt spray.


Install wind breaks

Bitter northwest winds can be harmful to some woody plants. If necessary, construct burlap windbreaks at least 12" from any newly planted, sensitive shrubs to help buffer the winds’ damaging effects.


Winter tips for houseplants


  • Winter’s often-cloudy days, combined with drier conditions indoors, can be challenging for houseplants. Most houseplants appreciate a 10- to 15-degree difference in day and night temperature. Monitor plants for early signs of problems. 
  • Sun-loving houseplants might suffer during a cloudy winter season. If possible, consider using supplemental artificial lights. 
  • Avoid overwatering. Many species of houseplants require less-frequent watering in the winter than during their active growing season. 
  • When indoor heat is turned on, natural humidity disappears. Some houseplants require more humidity indoors and may benefit from occasional misting with a hand sprayer or a warm shower. Humidifiers and pebble trays can also help raise humidity. 
  • Keep fertilizing, but less frequently. Continue to fertilize orchids weekly with orchid fertilizer to set flower buds.


Jennifer Brennan

Jennifer Brennan is the Horticulture Information Specialist, advising and coaching gardeners at Chalet for over 30 years.