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Warm weather is holding on a bit longer this year and it looks like the first frost is going to hold off another week or so. If you have not, bring inside tropicals and tender perennials. A frost is possible at 39 degrees, if the dew point is below 40 at sunset and there is little wind. To be safe, cover your warm weather crops if 39 is predicted. Many cool weather crops survive easily down to 28, with the exception of seedlings, which can expire at 33 degrees. So cover them if you got a late start on your fall garden. A general rule of thumb, and there are several exceptions, most plants freeze when the temperature gets down to 28 for five hours.Gardeners who nurtured their warm weather crops through dry spells and insect attacks this past summer are now reaping the benefits of those efforts. I’m still harvesting tomatoes, green beans, okra, peppers and zucchini.Cool weather fall crops have also benefited from the mild conditions, although my first round of lettuce went to seed due to the warm weather accelerating growth. Later plantings are showing vigorous development. Pods have formed on the sugar peas. Onions are being harvested as needed. Baby carrots thinned for salads. Late planted garlic has come up and leaves are being chopped up for soups. Kale, collards and Swiss chard are my winter pot green choices this year and doing well.My friend and mentor, Lalla Ostergren, used to say she had a garden plan for every month of the year. Her infectious enthusiasm got me to look more closely at my approach to gardening and spurred me on to more effort during what some call the “off season.” Let’s take a look at what can be accomplished in November.Fall gardens don’t need much weeding or insect control but they do need to be watered. Since plant growth slows with cooler temperatures and less sunlight, less water will be needed. When you do water, water deep, and let the surface dry before watering again. This is particularly important inside season extenders since too much wet can promote mold and fungal growth. Letting things dry out between waterings helps slow that down.It’s not too late to plant trees and shrubs. Remember to water through the winter since their roots have not grown out and down yet.Spring flowering bulbs can still be planted Suitable candidates include crocus, daffodils, snowdrops, Siberian squill, chionodoxa, hyacinth, tulips, anemone, grape hyacinth and alliums. If you like potted flower displays, plant bulbs in pots and then sink them in the ground or cover thickly with mulch. Come late winter pull them out and place in decorative locations. These too should be watered during dry periods. And if you have existing areas with bulbs in your yard, now is a good time to fertilize.Cut the lawn low on the last mow of the season. If you have a mulching mower use it to shred fallen leaves for your compost pile, flower beds and garden. Drain the gas from your mower before storage.Before I bought a mulching mower, I would rake all my leaves into huge piles. The dogs loved to play in them and used them for sleeping. Through the winter I would turn them over and rake again. Between my efforts, and the dogs’, the leaf piles by spring looked like compost, and made a great addition to the garden.Don’t forget to turn the compost pile regularly. Add coffee grounds if you use them. And unless you are a master level composter, remove your diseased garden clippings to a distant location or burn.Now is a good time to make notes about what worked in the summer garden and what didn’t and why. Better yet is to keep an ongoing journal of weather, insects and critter impact on the garden, productivity, varieties and products used, costs, layout, bloom times, photos, etc. Such a record can be invaluable for planning next year’s garden. A successful garden happens more frequently for the informed.Now is a good time to get your soil tested to see what amendments it needs to get a jump on spring. Soil is composed of living and dead organic material, minerals, water and air. Improving your soil will increase plant vigor and productivity.An important item to check for is soil pH. That’s the measurement of how alkaline or acidic your soil is. Due in part to the large numbers of pine and oak here, many locations in the county tend to the acidic. Most garden plants prefer a near neutral soil, so it’s likely your location will need amendments to achieve that balance. Testing kits are available commercially.If your soil turns out to be acidic, garden lime or limestone is usually recommended to reduce acidity. It contains calcium and magnesium, both essential for healthy plants. This is often not a quick fix and may take several applications. Fall is the best time to get started.On a related note, gardens that use extensive amounts of compost rarely have pH imbalances. Finished compost will naturally lower pH level in soil that is too alkaline and raise it in soil that is too acidic. It has the ability to balance pH levels, making for yet another reason to start a compost pile.In November, Lalla always spread sulfur and lime around her fruit trees, grapevines, and the area where she planned to grow next years tomatoes. She would then cover it over with shredded leaves. In addition to the pH balancing, and minerals added by the lime, she used the sulfur to slow fungus growth. She was sure her “perfect” grapes were a result.She also had protected her garden peppers and tomatoes with frost blankets she had made by sewing used dryer sheets together. Sometime in November she would dig up a couple of pepper and tomato plants, put them in 5 gallon buckets and moved them into her greenhouse. I was impressed and have started this practice myself. Cherry tomato and hot pepper plants have worked the best for me. I move them in when it gets cold and out when it gets warm.Potatoes can be planted now. Plant about four inches deep in loose soil and cover with eight inches of mulch. Keep adding mulch as it settles.And finally, I encourage frequent walks This is one of the most beautiful times of the year, as all the foliage turns color and drops to the ground, once again revealing the incredibly picturesque lay of this land we’re blessed to live in. It contributes to my mental health and nourishes my soul.Lalla was a great example of healthy living and she was a good storyteller. Here’s one of her stories.“We were dirt poor and toys were not to be found in our house, so we made due with what we had. I remember a sunny but cold November Saturday with my nephew. We sat in the sun, out of the wind in the chimney corner. We were happy as larks, smashing black walnuts and picking out the goodies with horseshoe nails. When I got my first handful of hearts, I ran in the house and offered them to Moma. She was busy in the kitchen as usual but took the time to eye the gift lovingly cradled in my dirty, grubby little hand. ‘Honey, you eat them,’ she said. I returned happily to my nephew, wondering how anyone could possibly turn down black walnut hearts.”Hope to see you in the garden next month.
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