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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


November 2012 To Do Lists: Zones 10 & 11

Susan Wells
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November 2012 To Do Lists: Zone 8

The control of invasive plants is vital to the preservation of every ecosystem and the survival of many native plants. Wildlife depends on the unique biodiversity of native plants for their survival, so they are also affected. Our most effective strategy is to not introduce known invasive/potentially invasive plants into home landscaping. We can, instead, use native species where possible. Use only exotic plants that are not considered invasive. Identifying, removing and safely disposing of invasive plants from your property will prevent the spread of seeds into the wild.

For example, the aggressively invasive Brazilian pepper trees were first introduced in the 1800s as an ornamental shrub. Flowering in the fall (Sept.-Nov.) the fruit is a small red berry that is eaten and dispersed by birds. Leaves have a “peppery” smell when crushed. Brazilian pepper trees are estimated to occupy over 700,000 acres in central and southern Florida alone. Related to Poison Ivy, the sap is an irritant. Smoke from burning wood is also toxic. Remove and dispose of invasive trees and plants safely. Wear protective clothing & gloves when working around the Brazilian pepper tree.


  • Plant successive runs of tender, fast-growing greens, such as cilantro, spinach and chervil.
  • Harvest beans, peas, lettuce, squashes, carrots, cucumbers, early melons, and kale.
  • Continue to start tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, but be prepared to protect tender seedlings from cold with your floating row cover.
  • Continue sowing lettuce seeds twice a month through March. Sow in flats in a cool location to plant out as soon as the temperature begins to cool down.  Lettuce is also a great crop for your favorite planter or pot.
  • Keep harvesting ripened fruit. Clean up dropped fruits to prevent disease and the onslaught of yellow jackets.
  • Cut back dead raspberry canes.
  • Continue to keep a watchful eye out for slugs and set out bait if you need to. Mixing yeast with water in a shallow pie pan placed at ground level is a good way to catch them. (Beer and rotten fruit also works well.) Slugs will attack your leafy greens, so it’s good to get rid of them sooner than later.
  • The middle of November is good for continuing to plant peas, squash, corn, and tomatoes. (The Sweet 100 tomato is as sweet as candy!)
  • Never lose sight of the benefits of a healthy soil. It will maintain a balance between beneficial bacteria, fungi and microbes. Run a soil test to see if your garden’s pH is balanced for what you want to grow. Now is the time to add lime to the soil if needed.
  • A good fall cleanup of the garden is one of the most important steps we can take this month and throughout the gardening calendar year.  Many diseases will over winter on plant material. 
  • Cleaned tools are also important, since they can carry the pathogens to other plants.


  • If you have grown tired of Poinsettia and Christmas cacti as your holiday houseplants, consider bringing in pots of the multi-colored, edible and ornamental hot peppers. (Keep them away from kids and pets.) 
  • Feed roses some low-nitrogen, organic fertilizer.
  • Plant callas, gladioli, and dahlias for spring and summer bloom.
  • A gardener’s keen observation is the first, best tool. Before deciding what types of wildflowers to grow, take a walk around your property and observe the different kinds of sites you have. Try to gauge the length of sunlight in particular locations. Is this space shaded part of the time or receiving dappled light through leaves?
  • Wildflowers common to prairies and large, open meadows normally grow in full sun and will do best when they receive half a day or more of direct sunlight. Plants classified as savanna or open woodland species prefer growing in partial shade, with sunlight reaching the ground between trees. Woodland plants grow best in partial to full shade, beneath a dappled or solid canopy of trees.
  • Some flowers that grow in shady woods manage to get the sunlight they need by flowering before the trees completely leaf out.
  • Other major factors to consider when looking over your property are the types of soil you have, their acidity or alkalinity as measured by soil pH, and the amount of water they retain at various times of the year. Many wildflowers will tolerate drought conditions or relatively poor soils. Yet even these tough plants, (such as black-eyed Susan), will grow taller and more vigorously if planted in a richer soil. You may want to plant black-eyed Susan in an area with relatively poor soil, to curb its enthusiasm.
  • To collect native plants from the wild is unethical and often illegal (in the case of rare or threatened species like lady’s-slippers and pitcher plants). Fortunately, there are many reputable nurseries that propagate interesting and beautiful native plants from seed.
  • Many wildflowers are dormant in the fall or spring, making this a fine time for transplanting them. Collecting seeds of wildflowers is appropriate so long as you harvest seeds judiciously, taking only a small sample so the existing plant colonies will be able to reproduce themselves.

  • Today, wildflower seeds are quite widely available, so we’re frequently better off purchasing from them. Check the seed racks at your neighborhood Home Depot or order online. Growing plants from seed is certainly more economical than buying mature plants. The main disadvantage is that many native plants require a long time to mature or even to germinate from seed.  Many types of seeds need pretreatment before they can be planted. Most often this involves stratification (planting the seeds in a pot and then refrigerating them for several months until the seeds are fooled into believing that it’s time to break dormancy and germinate). Sometimes pouring very hot water over the soil covering them will help them germinate more quickly. Experiment and make notes in your garden journal.
  • Growing a wildflower lawn or meadow lets you sow mixed seeds directly on top of the ground in either the fall or spring. You’ll appreciate the opportunity to leave your mower in the garage while enjoying the color and textures of a mass of wildflowers.
  • As plants that exist happily in the wild without human care, native plants tend to be quite efficient at reproducing themselves through seed dispersal and other means. Do some research and try to avoid creating problems with invasive specimens down the line.
  • Vinca (also known as periwinkle) gives us year long blooms in pink, rose or white. They prefer to be planted in sandy, dry soil. Cut them back when they become too straggly and they’ll recover rapidly. Don’t pamper your vinca.  They are very rugged.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Apply a dormant oil spray to fruit trees to kill insects and eggs.
  • Feed mangoes a shot of compost tea as soon as flower spikes appear.
  • If rainfall is scarce, provide at least one inch of water per week for your shrubs and trees.
  • Be fearless when pruning branches of your bougainvillea that ramble into your pathways. If you trellis them, use well-anchored, metal frames. A young plant gets heavy branches very soon and will weaken most wooden trellises in no time at all.
  • Use your pole pruner’s hooked blade to remove dead palm fronds. The telescoping length of these tools allows us a terrific reach.  Wear protective eyewear when pruning overhead.

  • If the diameter of a branch is too wide for your tool’s initial cut, let gravity work with you.
  • With branches other than palm fronds, make your first cut on the underside of the branch. This keeps the branch from ripping the bark as it falls from the tree.
  • Use care to notice a knuckle at the branch union to the tree and cut just to the outside of that line.   
  • Finish your pruning of the native Beauty Berry bush this month. The longer you wait to prune, the happier the birds will be.
  • Another favorite for the birds is the native evergreen, Firebush. With tubular red flowers changing from red to black berries, this showy tall shrub is an excellent choice. Plant away from areas with foot traffic. 
  • This time of year, take advantage of late-season tree sales.
  • When buying trees in pots loosen the roots before planting.  Amend the soil if needed.


  • The fall is not an active time for warm-season grasses. Turf growth slows this time of year and some varieties of grass turn brown. When we take the time to get to know our lawn (and gardens) we’ll be able to better take care of it in the future. Visually inspect the overall condition of the turf throughout all seasons. Take notes to refer to later. Assess the grade of your property, water retention or run-off, weeds, soil condition, pH and the strength of the grasses’ roots.
  • Now is the time to lime if your lawn needs it. Different types of soil have different requirements. Keep in mind the following guidelines:
  • Sandy soil, with a pH under 5.0, use 40-50 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft.
  • Sandy soil, with a pH 5.0 – 6.0, use 30-40 lbs./1,000sq.ft.
  • Sandy soil, with a pH of 6.0, use 15-lbs./1,000 sq.
  • Loamy soil with pH under 5.0, use 105-135 lbs./1,000 sq. ft.
  • Loamy soil, with a pH 5.0 – 6.0, use 80-105 lbs. / 1,000 sq. ft.
  • Loamy soil with a pH of 6.0, use 40 lbs. / 1,000 sq. ft.
  • A healthy lawn helps to filter carbon dioxide, reduce storm water run-off, and cut down on glare from the sun plus a myriad of other benefits. Healthy lawns grow vigorously enough to crowd out most weeds.
  • If your soil becomes poor and the grass weakens, weeds may thrive. Study about the weeds that are popping up in your yard. Particular weeds can indicate a problem (knotweed = dry, compacted soil).
  • If you have several types of weeds taking over the turf, you may have overused commercial fertilizers.
  • You may need to provide supplemental watering for your turf this month, if there is no rain.  Supply about an inch a week.
  • It is beneficial to mow at the correct height for the particular grass planted. This varies slightly during cooler weather. (Bermuda: 2”. Centipede: 2”. St. Augustine: 2”. Zoysia: 1½”.)
  • Though St. Augustine turf grass can tolerate light shade, most lawns grasses prefer full sun, provided they are well drained.  Fertilize St. Augustine only once in the fall and once in the spring. 
  • Use a mulching blade on your mower to add more organic material to your soil.


Winter is a great time to assess your tool situation and see what you might be missing. Here is a brief review of the tool optionsavailable for pruning at your local Home Depot. We all know that the correct tools make every job easier. Depending on plant type, branch diameter and height, you will need one or all of the following: hand pruners, loppers, pole pruners, pruning saws, chain saws and hedge shears.

Hand pruners can be ‘anvil’ or ‘bypass.’ Anvil pruners have a sharp blade that cuts against a flat anvil and are ideal for cutting small to medium size dead limbs and dry branches.  Bypass pruners have a scissors-type action with curved blades that make cleaner cuts than anvil pruners. These are good for precision cutting around buds and tender areas on the plant and for “green” and growing limbs. They are also well suited for thinning out hedges.

Loppers are long-handled hand pruners with either bypass or anvil action. They work well when you need a little more reach and leverage, and they’re good for cutting thicker branches (usually up to 2″ in diameter). In recent years, tool manufacturers have been thoughtful enough to make ‘telescoping’ handles, which allow the user to adjust the handles for an extended reach. The downside of this is added weight to the tool. Some loppers also have a ratcheting feature that makes cutting through thick green branches easier.

Pole pruners are ideal for high, overhead cutting without the need for a ladder. They use a rope and pulley system to make cuts to upper-level branches in a tree’s canopy while you stay on the ground. Pruning saws are used for larger branches that pruner or lopper blades can’t navigate. Pruning saw blades can be curved or straight. (I prefer using a ‘cross-cut’ saw. It cuts in both a forward and reversed direction.) The more teeth the blade contains, the more precise the cut will be. Large-toothed saws should be used for the largest limbs. Bow saws are good for making precise and fast cuts on large branches.

Chainsaws are your choice for larger, heavier branches or entire trees. Chainsaws can be gas powered or electric. (The electric chainsaws are not intended for larger limbs but can be quite hard workers. They are also significantly lighter than gas powered chainsaws and are great for pruning needs nearer the house.)  The manufacturers have been terrific in making available to the consumer market chainsaws on poles to reach overhead branches safely from the ground, to limited heights. Some of them will change out with your weed or brush-cutter heads and work off the same engine.

Practice safety at all times when using any tools, but be particularly vigilant when using a chainsaw. Wear protective eye gear.  If you are not experienced with a chainsaw but need to use one anyway, try to not work alone. When in doubt, call a professional.

Hedge shears are used to shape and trim shrubs and hedges. For large-sized hedges or to make quick work of pruning shrubbery, consider power shears. Power shears use either electricity or gas and can make the job quicker and easier. For use on a non-fruiting shrub, like a Yaupon holly or boxwood, they can give you a nice tight effect. But for a hedgerow of forsythia or loropetalum – any shrub with a naturally arching habit — you’re likely to create a ‘meatball’ effect, which is unnatural, to say the least. We suggest pruning wood the diameter of pencils with hand pruners, or loppers, for these and many other shrubs.  It will allow the hollies to continue to produce berries.)

Research the appropriate time of year for pruning. It varies according to growth and bloom habits of each species. 


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