In most years, November does not have too much going for it. The weather usually is miserable, getting colder, damp and cloudy. The garden has only shreds of plants to remind us of the past year, and it is too early to start working toward a new spring.
But this year, we were blessed with a lovely Indian summer. The warm, sunny weather was one last chance to finish up garden tasks, rake leaves without gloves to protect those freezing fingers and to take a hike in one of our beautiful city or county parks.
And now we are back to reality with dark, chilly and dreary weather. The only redeeming feature seems to be Thanksgiving, the one holiday on the calendar that has not been taken over by card, gift, toy and decoration retailers. Emphasis on family and food at this time warms the heart and takes away from the dull and dingy world outside.
To bring a sign of spring to your Christmas decor, plant some paper-white narcissi now. The bulbs can be purchased in a handy kit which includes a pot, soil and several bulbs (never as many as the package makes it appear), or you can assemble the components yourself.
This is some of the easiest gardening that you can do. Just plant the bulbs in a container of potting soil, packing them tightly together up to their shoulders with the pointed tips still showing. If you are out of potting soil, just push the bulbs into a pot of gravel or marbles. This is one time that crowding doesn't matter; it is a one-time show.
Keep them watered, but not covered with water, and set them aside. Once they sprout, put them in a sunny window, but do not let them get too warm or they will grow leggy. If they start to topple over as they get to blooming size, use straws from an old broom to prop them invisibly. After they have finished blooming, the narcissi are ready for the compost pile. They have given their all, and are not hardy enough to go in the garden.
Regular readers know I am no expert on asparagus, and many of you sent me advice when I planted my first crop two summers ago. My bed of this favorite vegetable weathered weeks of neglect, and now all I have done is to pull the weeds and cut back the brown fronds, looking forward to next spring when I finally will be able to eat some wonderful, homegrown spears.
Some sources recommend leaving the ferny stalks in place until spring, but I relied on my favorite advisor, the late Jim Crockett of Victory Garden, and cut them back to soil level. Then, they went in the compost bin, and eventually will end up helping a future crop to grow.
I have not emptied out my compost bins as I generally do in October, but for this precious asparagus I dug some out and just covered the bed with a couple of inches. The rest of the compost will have another winter to get really brown and crumbly for the spring.
Check any perennial vines at this time as you are removing the remnants of the annual ones. Blustery winter winds, along with the weight of snow, can pull branches away from their supports and damage the trellis. Last January, I found some clips in an after-Christmas sale that were intended for hanging strings of lights, etc. They work beautifully to attach vines to their supports, and I have plenty of them on hand to keep those honeysuckle and climbing roses safely supported through the winter.
Now, with the garden put safely to bed, it is time to see November out and turn our attention to Christmas season, and clear some space for the seed catalogs that will soon say "Happy New Year" to the gardener.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program.
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