VIU Milner Gardens and Woodland

November Garden Tasks

by  Vancouver Island Master Gardeners Association

 November is the month our gardens shift to winter mode. The winter veggie patch perks along while gardeners begin the weekly check of stored harvest crops, complete the outdoor work, and tuck tender plants into the protection of shed and garage

Last of the Outdoor Chores

Check around drip lines for root systems loosened from combined summer drought and sudden autumn rain. It is less the frozen ground than the freeze-thaw cycle in exposed areas that causes heaving and exposes root systems. Throw extra soil on the area. The soil will trickle down and fill in air holes around the roots. Make a note to replant in spring. Fir branches broken off in the wind, or pruned fern fronds will keep the ground around the shrub from freezing if heavy mulching is not appropriate for the plant.

Our changing climate can mean changing drainage patterns, so take advantage of these if you notice new soggy areas developing. A seasonal runoff trench can stop lawns from backing up into areas that need to stay dry. Scraping out a low-lying area and letting it fill with water over winter can be the beginning of next year’s rain garden.



  • Store organic and seed meal fertilizers in a dry area in boxes or totes with tight lids against mice and rats
  • Drain your irrigation system, and check frost valves on outdoor spigots
  • Trim or stake bushy herbaceous perennials to prevent wind and wet snow damage
  • Plant more bulbs
  • Now that the storms have begun, check that row covers remain secure against winter winds.


Autumn Housing, Winter Food

Get lazy! Leave the rest of summer’s spent flower heads and stalks not cut for dried, indoor bouquets. Many wild pollinators over-winter there so don’t rob your garden of next year’s pest patrol heroes. Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Sedum and Echinops will feed birds along with Pyracantha, Cotoneaster, Sorbus, and Arbutus berries. A single zinnia feeds a chickadee for a whole day. Seed heads also act as umbrellas against rain, freezing winds and snow loads, protecting ground-feeding birds – and the ground around the plants.

Begin bringing in the hummingbird feeders at night. Room temperature syrup hanging under the house eaves in early morning will keep the fierce beauties protected and healthy to withstand winter’s storms while guaranteeing cheerful company during your morning repasts.


The Season’s Changing Perspective

Late-season sales at garden centres offer gems that will fill in a barren spot with winter interest now and offer flowers next year. While you are picking up pansies, violas and a few more bulbs consider Erica, winter Daphne, Gaultheria, Hellebore, Hebe, Heuchera, Viburnum, or even Bamboo and  Nandina for those now-empty planters. Drop the small commercial pots into your larger home planter with fresh soil and compost. Tuck in some very early bulbs like Galanthus, Aconitum, Iris reticulata or Crocus tommisianus to take you into spring. When the weather warms, all will be ready to move. You can spread roots properly when moved to the larger landscape, or finish potting up and keep as a year-round feature colour in your favourite planter. Warning! Be very careful with Nandina and Bamboo: All are invasive, even clumping bamboo, so keep these in containers.


Tools Need Love Too

Check tools before you put them away. Set up the clean-and-repair project ahead of time by gathering all your supplies on the work bench or in a bucket. When you are feeling cooped up on a stormy day, ten minutes of sanding, sharpening, and oiling preserves a tool for many seasons, and makes the $85 spent on secateurs or a limb saw well worth the price when you grab them after a sudden storm that damaged your pet landscape shrubs. Looking out from the garden shed or greenhouse with a small heater nearby and hot chocolate at hand is a pleasant way to view the garden during winter months.

Indoor bloom-time Begins

Hyacinthus, Crocus, Muscari, Narcissus ‘paperwhite,’ Iris reticulata, Cyclamen coum and persicum, with Narcissus cultivars called mini daffodils offer many options for indoor colour. After forcing, the bulbs can be planted out to finish in late spring, except for paperwhites which are too tender. C. persicum can go outside if well protected as it is only half hardy.

Put Schlumbergera (Christmas cactus) in a cool dark place and water very little for 4-6 weeks then bring back into the living area. These epiphytes will bloom in good light, medium water, and no drafts.

Hippeastrum’s (often called Amaryllis) loud trumpets are bold statements well worth the price of the bulb. The RHS has a basic video on Hippeastrum. Hippeastrum live several years, can bloom twice yearly, and will produce offsets that bloom in year two. Here is a complete how-to: Our house plants: hippeastrum.

For something different, try rosemary. Bring a young plant inside, and prune it into a mini-Christmas tree shape, ready for tiny twinkling lights. The key to keeping it healthy and blooming (it likes its roots on the dry side, while leaves absorb moisture from the air) is to set it in a low dish on some pebbles, and keep the water level below the pebbles’ tops. Spritz it heavily twice a week. Replant in spring.


OMG, I forgot!

You can still plant fava beans and garlic as long as the soil is not frozen. You don’t need a large area for garlic as it is easily tucked into bare spots among perennials or in with other winter food crops.

You left those hanging baskets of fuchsias and yerba buena or other evergreen vines out for a final flash of autumn colour. Now, just hang them where they won't freeze. Water minimally, and don’t cut back until spring, then pot up after pruning when they’re ready to come out of dormancy.


And finally …

Leave the garden to walk through forest and field. Both offer amazing shows of wild fungi this month. The tree frogs may be hibernating, but winter birds are flockin’ & talkin’ as they settle into the rainy season’s rhythms. Return to your garden with fresh eyes. Begin the winter hobby of enjoying textural interest of red osier dogwood, watching subtle changes in conifer bark colour, and smiling at stalwart primula, cat-faced pansies and stout decorative kale standing strong next to delicate violas, all of whom will remain undeterred as frost covers leaves or snow blankets the blooms.