For The Answer
Week of October 27, 2003
Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Conservation Director, San Antonio Water System, and Horticulturist
NOVEMBER GARDENING CALENDAR
November is a “shut down” month for gardening in most climates but not here in San Antonio.
The tomatoes should be close to being full size by now and will begin ripening. Be ready to protect or harvest them if a freeze is forecast. If the lowest temperature that is predicted is only at or slightly below freezing, cover the plants with fabric. Plastic is useful if it covers the fabric because it can shed moisture and reduce wind effect but alone it allows plant parts that touch it to freeze. Often, if we can protect a tomato plant from the first cold wave, we experience two or three weeks more of good tomato ripening weather. Full size tomatoes, even if they are green, are often physiologically ripe. When a severe freeze is forecast pick all the fruit; it will ripen if laid out on the counter in a spare room or in the kitchen.
Spinach, cabbage, and broccoli transplants can still be planted this month. If the winter is cold the cole crops (cabbage and broccoli) may not produce until early spring, but the spinach will provide nutritious leaves for salad all winter. You can also plant English pea, rutabaga, turnip, and carrot seeds early this month. Keep your leafy vegetable crops well fertilized. Apply a cup of slow release lawn fertilizer every four weeks per 10 ft. now.
November is pansy month. These cool weather annuals are great winter performers. Use them on sites in full sun or with at least six hours of sun. There are clear-faced pansies (Universal, Crystal Bowl, and others) and monkey-faced pansies (Roc, Majestic Giant, Imperial Giant, and others). Prepare the soil by incorporating 2 inches of compost and a cup of slow release lawn fertilizer per 100 sq. ft. of bed. Pansies will not need to be protected from cold weather, but they will be damaged by slugs, snails and pill bugs, and devoured by deer. Use slug and snail bait or beer traps. Pansies are available in many colors such as yellow, white, blue, purple, and orange.
Another flower to consider for the winter landscape and planting in November is cyclamen. It is the best choice for shaded, sheltered beds. The flowers can be red, white, pink, or maroon. The leaves are also showy. At $3 to $5 per plant cyclamen are not cheap but they are worth the price.
Sometime in November the lawns should go dormant from the cold. St. Augustine is the last variety to go dormant, but it is also the most likely to receive cold damage. Dormant grass does not need irrigation but, if the weather is dry and sunny for three weeks, apply a half-inch irrigation to green grass. Watering a lawn when it needs watering helps reduce cold damage. Watering just before a freeze does not usually help.
Sod can be applied all year but another option to protect the soil for new lawns in the winter is to plant rye grass. It will die in May just in time to plant a permanent lawn of zoysia, Bermuda, buffalo, or St. Augustine grass. Putting 4 inches of shredded brush mulch down on areas you are going to eventually plant groundcover, perennials, shrubs, and trees also protects the soil and reduces weed growth.
Last year winter weeds were rampant because of the mild wet weather. It is too late to prevent the earliest winter weeds with a pre-emergent herbicide but, if you keep the weeds mowed, they can be attractive all winter.
November is a great month to plant trees and shrubs. Visit the website plantanswers.com for recommended species. Watch for sales at area nurseries.
It has been a good year for seed production so bird feeding may not save the lives of individual birds but it is the best way to concentrate them for observation. Cardinals (redbirds) are attracted to sunflower seeds and safflower seeds. Chicadees, bluejays, and titmice also will seek out sunflower seed. Use weight-sensitive steel feeders to reduce the amount of seed eaten by white wing doves and squirrels. Thistle seed fed in tube feeders is a favorite of goldfinches, lesser goldfinches, and house finches. Use suet cakes to attract insect eaters like kinglets and woodpeckers. They come in many flavors. Citrus flavored suet is very popular with birds but the squirrels also like it. Use pepper flavored suet to discourage the squirrels. All fruits are also good bird and butterfly foods.