Yes, perennial gardeners, there are still things we can do in November to keep our perennial beds in their best possible shape and to set the stage well for the year ahead.
Get ahead while there is still time to take advantage of your plants and gardens this year. Prepare a bit now, too—you'll thank yourself come next season.
Here are the things to check off your perennial garden checklist this month:
- 10 Tasks for Smart Perennial Gardeners
- 1. Plant any Remaining Potted Perennials in the Ground
- 2. Bring in Potted and Tender Perennials to Overwinter Indoors
- 3. Dig Perennials to Grow Inside
- 4. Bring in Perennials that Can Grow as Houseplants
- 5. Reverse Harden Outdoor Plants for Indoor Living
- 6. Mulch after Freezing
- 7. Pile Compostables onto Dormant Beds
- 8. Divide Older Bulbs
- 9. Dig Tender bulbs and Tubers Before a Deep Freeze
- 10. Plant a Bulb Lasagna Container Garden
- Bonus: Running behind? Plant Fall Planted Spring Flowering Bulbs
- Don’t Forget to Clean and Store Pots and Tools
10 Tasks for Smart Perennial Gardeners
Here are the things to check off your perennial garden checklist this month:
1. Plant any Remaining Potted Perennials in the Ground
If you still have unplanted perennials hanging around in pots, and they are hardy and meant to be perennials in your location or zone, put them in the ground. If you know where you want them to live permanently, plant them.
If you don't know and don't want the place you plant them to be permanent, then just heel them in the ground—basically, plant them while still in the pot, in a temporary place. This could even be in the loose ground of your dormant vegetable garden.
Being tucked in the ground and surrounded by soil will protect the roots from the complete freezing and severe cold they would endure in a pot. Perennials in pots don’t have any distance between the roots and the freezing cold air. Pots also dry out more completely and more quickly, which means sure death, even to dormant plants.
2. Bring in Potted and Tender Perennials to Overwinter Indoors
If the plants you have potted are not hardy enough to live outdoors all year round (as in, if they’re not rated for year-round ground living where you live), you’ll need to bring them into a protected place to overwinter them.
This can be an unheated basement, a cool space in your home, or an unheated or minimally-heated garage, shed, or greenhouse. This is adequate for all but the most tender perennials and for tropical plants (which would need heat and winter-long care and usually need to be grown as houseplants in the winter).
Even if the plants are hardy enough for where you live, but they are in containers (such as container garden perennials), they should be protected and brought into a place where they are cool or cold but protected from the elements, severe freezing, and wind. Potted perennials are just too exposed outdoors.
One key to successful overwintering is to make sure even dormant plants are watered when they come inside and that they are not allowed to dry out completely through winter. Give them a light watering from time to time to keep the soil moist.
3. Dig Perennials to Grow Inside
If frost hasn’t hit too hard, you may have some perennials in your garden that can come inside and that you can enjoy as houseplants throughout the winter (and save them for outdoor growing again next year—money saver!).
Don’t forget about your herbs! Many herbs tend to be more on the tender side than truly perennial in cold locations. Bring them in, plant, or propagate them for fresh herbs all winter long!
4. Bring in Perennials that Can Grow as Houseplants
A lot of what we grow as patio plants and container plants can live indoors. Inside, you can grow things like palms, mini citrus trees, ferns, begonias, hibiscus, and geraniums as houseplants. There’s no need to throw these things out when we can enjoy them indoors for the winter months. And, like your dug-up garden perennials, you can save yourself from having to buy them again next year.
5. Reverse Harden Outdoor Plants for Indoor Living
Any plants that you dig or bring in from outdoor living should be reverse-hardened to acclimate them for indoor living. Remember that outside; your plants are used to abundant, full sunshine and frequent watering from rain. The humidity levels of outdoor living are much higher, too.
Do this opposite to how you harden plants to move them out in the spring and summer. Reduce their access to direct sunlight a little at a time. Provide them with higher humidity and adjust them down to what you can maintain indoors—such as by spraying or with a pebble tray or humidifier.
Introduce them to their new space and indoor conditions gradually over a week or two, and they’ll make the adjustment easier.
6. Mulch after Freezing
This may be a November task for you, or it may be something that needs to wait another month. In many areas, November is the right time for this task.
A moderate layer of mulch is right during the growing season, so you don’t completely smother roots and crowns. Over winter, your perennials could use some added protection. You want enough cold to get into the ground to put the plants into dormancy and give them that added protection, but you don’t want to fool them if it’s not time. You also want to allow the last liquid moisture to get down into the ground and then to mulch to keep it there.
After your first decent freeze, add another layer of winter protection—mulch. It can be straw, leaves, grass clippings...whatever you have. Add another two or three inches of mulch. Pull it off before spring growth so you don’t smother your plants in the spring.
7. Pile Compostables onto Dormant Beds
Instead of moving yard waste and leaves around, if you’re cleaning up your yard, pile that “waste” onto gardens and perennial beds instead. This will give you some of that extra mulching material you need, and it will compost in place as it breaks down over the winter. By spring, you’ll have nice, mostly decayed matter that is now valuable, nutrient-rich compost that will feed your waking plants.
November is a good month to do this because it helps you kill two or more birds with one stone—the mulching you need to do to satisfy number six, at a time that it’s good to do it, without having to turn and manage compost bins or piles.
8. Divide Older Bulbs
While your ground is still workable, this is a good time to divide older perennials and bulbs. After about three to five years, many perennials and bulbs will choke themselves out, and the way to revive them is by dividing them.
In general, plants that flower in the fall should not be divided in the fall—they should be divided in the spring. But plants that flower in the spring and summer are better off being divided in the fall.
9. Dig Tender bulbs and Tubers Before a Deep Freeze
It’s smart to wait until after a frost to dig up tender bulbs and perennials that can’t survive the winter where you live. This way, you know they’re dead and dormant, but they haven’t frozen enough to be killed.
Before the freeze gets down into the ground, dig those tender tubers—like dahlias, gladioli, and calla lilies—up. Store them in an unheated/cool (not freezing) space. Bulbs usually prefer hanging in a net bag so they can cure a little, but tubers want to be protected enough so they don’t dry out.
10. Plant a Bulb Lasagna Container Garden
Before you put your planting away for the season, do yourself a favor and build yourself a pretty promise for spring. “Lasagna” bulb gardens are the next big thing. They can be planted in containers or in the ground, too.
The idea here is that you use bulbs of different sizes that will flower in the early spring to create a varied and ongoing blooming container or garden (or container garden). All you need to do is plant the bulbs in layers in a deep container, starting with large bulbs like tulips, then daffodils, working down through smaller-sized, shallower bulbs like hyacinths, crocus, and snowdrops.
These are all bulbs that need cold treatment, so plant them now, stick them outside, and enjoy them in the early spring!
Bonus: Running behind? Plant Fall Planted Spring Flowering Bulbs
No worries if your spring flowering bulbs aren’t in the ground yet.
Hardy, spring-flowering bulbs, like daffodils, tulips, snowdrops, crocuses, muscari, and hyacinths, can be planted pretty much up until the time your ground freezes solid. Sure, it might be better to plant them a month or a month and a half before this time, but if you missed that window, there is still time, and the bulbs should do well.
Lilies and daylilies can be fall-planted, too, and even though they flower later in the summer, they appreciate being in the ground early. They also appreciate not having to struggle for moisture as they get established like they might in the spring and summer next year.
Don’t Forget to Clean and Store Pots and Tools
Finally, with the work of the planting season coming to an end, it’s time to put your trowels and tools away for the year. Before you do, give them a good cleaning.
Spray off the excess muck, sanitize them, dry them, and then put them away in a protected space out of the elements.
If you take care of your tools in the fall, they’ll take care of you. And they’ll be ready and waiting when it’s time to start planting new perennials in the next growing year.