University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article
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CLEANING BIRD FEEDERS AND OTHER NOVEMBER GARDENING TIPS

Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant

Cleaning bird feeders, spreading mulch, and planting paperwhite narcissus are some of the gardening activities for this month. 
   
Clean bird feeders before winter bird feeding begins.  Old or moldy seeds in the bottom of feeders can harbor diseases that may harm birds. Scrub with a brush and rinse thoroughly. Disinfect with a bleach solution as you do for pots (one part bleach to nine parts water). Now is a great month to look for sales on bird seed and stock up for winter.
   
Spread winter mulch around established plants once the ground has frozen. If you mulch too soon, it will keep the soil warmer longer.  This can delay dormancy in plants that you want to go dormant so they aren't caught by surprise when winter arrives.
   
The exceptions to late mulching are bulb beds, including those for garlic, and newly planted perennials.  After you plant bulbs, spread mulch on top to help keep the soil warmer longer to allow for more root growth this fall. Roots will continue to grow until the soil temperature drops below about 40 degrees (F).  If you have bulbs, but haven't gotten around to planting yet, do so soon.  It is definitely better to plant now rather than wait until spring.  Or you can plant in pots to keep cool (around 40 degrees), then force into early bloom in spring.
   
Paperwhites are those narcissus bulbs with fragrant white flowers often seen during the holidays.  You'll find their bulbs for sale now.  Choose a container with no drainage holes, fill it with gravel, and set the bulbs so the top third pokes above the gravel. Add water until it's just below the base of the bulbs because the bulbs will send down roots into the water. Make sure bulbs aren’t submerged into the water.  Or, plant the paperwhite bulbs in a shallow container filled with potting soil. Placing the container in a cool (50 to 60 degrees F.), bright room is best for rooting and sturdier stems . Plants should bloom four to six weeks from the planting date.
   
Houseplants that summered outdoors may have brought in freeloaders that are now multiplying like crazy in our heated homes. Inspect the undersides of the leaves for webbing of spider mites. Leaf axils (where they attach to the stems) are favorite hiding places of the white, cottony mealybugs. Dark-colored scale insects hug the stems and veins of the leaves and can be invisible unless you look closely. Insecticidal soap is most effective on soft-bodied insects like spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs. Horticultural oil is the best control for scale insects.  .
   
Plastic spiral tree wraps and brown paper wraps can protect tree trunks from sunscald and gnawing by rodents. Put them in place before the snow falls so they will extend all the way to the ground, or else the critters can sneak underneath the snow and feed on the exposed lower bark.    If you've recently planted a tree this fall, and it is in a site exposed to winds, it will need staking.  Or, if you planted and staked a tree a year or two ago, check the ties around the trunk.  Be sure the ties aren't tight so the tree can sway in the breeze.  Wind stress actually can increase root growth and trunk girth, which results in a stronger mature tree.  If ties were put on a couple years ago, the tree may have grown in girth, making the ties too tight. 
   
Other activities for this month include getting mowers ready for winter—covering if outside, and adding stabilizers to the fuel, cleaning garden tools, draining garden hoses, cleaning dead plants from vegetable gardens, and storing clay pots in a dry location.

(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach; gardeningwithcharlie.com).

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