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November, the month for winterizing the garden

gardening by Mary Robson, WSU Area Extension Agent
November weather tosses winter into the gardener's mind. No matter how prepared we may be for the change of seasons, the blustery weather forces us all to realize that fall is gone. A sense of haste pushes us to make the most of shortened, cooler days.
   Lawn care is vital in November. Keep leaves raked off the grass, and don't neglect mowing when it's necessary. Grass will continue to grow, though more slowly, during November. If a frost comes, don't walk on the turf when it's frozen. Turf can be damaged.
   The final fertilization of the year, and one of the most important, must be done in late November, between November 20 and December 10. Choose a 3-1-2 ratio fertilizer (for instance, a 12-4-8 balance). The numbers mean 3 parts nitrogen, 1 part phosphorus, and 2 parts potassium. Nitrogen is commonly understood to "green up" the grass, but it's also necessary to have the other mineral nutrients available for root growth and winter hardiness. Apply enough fertilizer so that each 1000 square feet of turf receives one pound of actual nitrogen.
   During the winter rainy season, choose a lawn fertilizer that is formulated to release the nitrogen slowly. Check with suppliers for this feature of the winter fertilizers. A quick-release nitrogen can wash rapidly away in heavy rain. It's then not available to the turf, and worse, it can pollute surface water as it washes off the lawn. This is particularly important if the lawn slopes. Remember the water quality motto "we all live downstream." Even if a flowing stream isn't next to your lawn, city and county drainage systems carry all flow downhill, and eventually to Puget Sound. Choosing the slow-release winter fertilizer is a contribution to sensible garden stewardship.
   Some lawn products for winter carry labels including "moss killer" type components. Most of these products contain some form of iron, either as ferrous sulfate or iron chelates. The moss killers destroy the moss on contact, leaving a blackened mess where the moss used to be. Rake this out. It's too late to overseed the resulting empty spots, so some gardeners choose to wait until early spring to treat lawn moss, then overseed the area with fresh grass seed.
   Moss is a natural feature of the maritime Pacific Northwest winter. It moves into turf areas that are in too much shade, have poor drainage, or have compacted soil. Unless the growing conditions are corrected, moss conditions will return. Contrary to what many people think, applications of lime don't kill moss. The grass may grow better at a more neutral pH, and will then fill in sparse spots and keep moss from getting established. However, the lime has no direct effect on the moss. That's one of the discredited garden maintenance myths.
   If you think other garden tasks are more enjoyable than lawn care and moss murder, November's a good month for working in between rainy spells. Protect all plants in containers from potential freezing temperatures. Annuals such as petunias have by now succumbed, not to cold, but to wet dark days. Many summer annuals come to our gardens from tropical climates, and they don't continue to bud and bloom once the cold days hit. It's not possible to over-winter petunias, marigolds, zinnias, and other tender container plants. Add them to the compost (with a thanks for their contributions to the summer garden.)
   Fuchsias and geraniums, both of which have woodier or sturdier stems, can be kept over-winter. Cut back the foliage. Geraniums kept in cold, dark areas will live over well until warmer weather. Check them monthly and water slightly if they are completely dry.
   On a fuchsia, leave about 6-inch stubs. This looks brutal, but the plant will then go dormant. Keep it in a cool, dark place such as an unheated garage where it will not freeze. Don't let it dry out. Some fuchsia growers lay their trimmed plants down in trenches, about 12-14 inches deep, covering them over with soil or mulch. Freezes seldom penetrate that far in the Pacific Northwest, and winter rains keep the plant watered. Remove them from storage in spring and repot when bringing them into light. If the fuchsia is too warm, or too light, it will keep putting out leaves, and the object is to keep it dormant.
   Mulch over the roots and bud onions of roses. Don't prune roses now. Remove the leaves to force roses into dormancy, and to get rid of disease organisms that over-winter on the dead leaves. Winter temperatures in the maritime Puget Sound area go up and down. The point of forcing the the rose into dormancy is to keep it from sending out tender growth that could be killed back if we get a sudden, intense cold snap.
   Protect outside faucets from freezing. Gather tools, clean and oil and store them. Put a new pair of gloves and some good clippers on your holiday wish list, and hope for some bright days to use them!

Visit WSU's Agriculture Site on the World-Wide Web at http://www.cahe.wsu.edu.