What to do in your garden in November? Plant, plant and plant

Time to plant winter greens.
Time to plant winter greens.
(Rosley Majid / EyeEm / Getty Images)

Plant, plant, plant. November offers the optimal combination of cool moist air, warm soil and, hopefully, rain for planting. This is the ideal time to plant ornamental trees, shrubs, perennials and so on.

1. Plant at least two trees this fall and winter, and encourage your friends to do the same. Trees are critical in the battle against global warming. They cool the air, filter out particulates, generate oxygen, shade our homes in summer, create habitat for birds and other animals and do so much more.

2. Before you select a tree, measure the space available, make note of the sun exposure, consider the irrigation schedule for that bed, then choose a tree that fits the space.

3. How to prepare a planting hole: Dig a hole 1 or 2 inches deeper and slightly wider than the plant’s rootball; make it slightly square and rough up the sides of the hole. This helps encourage plant roots to grow out beyond the hole. Fill the hole with water and let the water drain out. Toss a handful (for a one-gallon plant) or two or three (for a five-gallon plant; more for larger plants) of worm castings into the hole.


4. How to plant a shrub or perennial: Water the plant in its container and let it drain. Turn the container on its side and gently press on it to loosen the rootball. Carefully slide the rootball out of the container, then loosen the roots so they no longer wrap around the rootball (skip loosening with Bougainvillea or Matilija poppies). Place the plant into the hole and refill with the soil you dug out. Don’t amend the soil. Do wet the soil as you refill the hole and tamp the soil around the base of the plant. Soak the soil after you plant, then add drip irrigation and a thick layer of mulch, but leave bare dirt immediately around the base of the stem or trunk.

5. Clean rain gutters before rains begin. If the stuff you pull out of the gutter looks like compost, add it to your compost pile or use it as mulch in the garden.

6. Once rains start, turn irrigation off. Since plants don’t need as much water when the air is cool and the sun is lower in the sky, in that occasional long dry period of winter, run the irrigation half as often (not half as long) as it ran over the summer.

7. Protect bare and newly planted hillsides from erosion in a heavy rainfall. Lay straw wattles horizontally across the hillside. Wattles are mesh tubes filled with straw. Stake them in place to slow water as it flows downhill. By spring, the straw will decompose to the point that you can empty the straw onto the soil. Compost “socks” are similar to wattles but are filled with compost.

8. Jute mesh fabric is another option for protecting bare hillsides from erosion. Jute mesh is like huge, open weave burlap. Since it is biodegradable, there’s no need to remove it at the end of the season. And, if you are landscaping the hillside, you can plant through the mesh. Next spring, mulch over the jute and you are done.

9. By month’s end, strip remaining leaves off pears, plums and other deciduous fruit trees. Once they are bare, you can do your first dormant oil spray, to be followed by one or two more sprays through the winter.

10. Most established trees slow their growth this time of year; that makes this a good time to give them a haircut. Hire a certified arborist who is on site with the crew while all the work is being done. Never allow anyone to top a tree. If a tree is too tall, replace it with one that is naturally shorter.

11. Prune shrubs that flower in summer and spring now, before they develop new flower buds. If you prune them after the buds form, there won’t be any blooms next year.


12. Prune fig trees. Some people cut fig trees down to the ground every few years so the trees stay small and all the fruit is within reach.

13. Plan now for when fruit trees, grapes, berries and other bare-root fruits start to appear in the nursery at the end of the year. Some local nurseries offer preseason ordering, as do some online suppliers.

14. Bare root fruit trees have two parts — fruiting wood, which is grafted onto a rootstock. The fruiting wood forms the trunk and the branches that make fruits, so choose the fruiting wood that grows your favorite peaches, plums, apples, etc. The rootstock goes into the ground, so choose the rootstock based on your garden’s soil, drainage, common pests and so on.

15. Tomatoes and summer crops are winding down. Rather than compost them, put them in the green waste. They tend to accumulate diseases and pathogens that should not be recycled back into the garden. Commercial green waste facilities use a hot compost process that destroys the bad guys, so there’s no problem bringing their products back into the garden as mulch or compost.


16. This is the best time of year for people who love to grow greens. Plant now from seed or seedling: spinach, chard, collards, arugula, lettuces, etc.

17. Grow cool-season crops from the cole family from seed or seedling, including kohlrabi, broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower and cabbage.

18. Plant root vegetables from seed only: rutabaga, beets, carrots and turnips.

19. If you don’t plant winter vegetables, plant cover crops. Cover crops are “green manure” that grows through winter. Six weeks before spring planting, turn the cover crop plants into the soil so they can break down and add to the soil’s organic matter.


20. Plant wildflower seeds. Choose a mix specifically designed for Southern California. These mixes include plants such as California poppy, elegant Clarkia (Clarkia elegans), goldfields (Lasthenia californica), tidy tips (Layia platyglossa), and bicolor lupin (Lupinus bicolor). Two places to find regional wildflower seeds are Theodore Payne Foundation ( in Sun Valley and Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano (

21. To plant wildflowers, choose a spot in full sun and rake soil smooth. Water to saturate the soil. In a 1-pint plastic container, combine one part seeds with four parts construction sand. Sprinkle the mix by the handful over the seedbed. Rake the soil gently so seeds are barely covered. Water again using a very soft spray, wetting the soil only enough to settle it around seeds. Continue to water, gently, every few days (unless it rains) to keep seeds and young seedlings damp.

22. Stop watering Plumeria around Thanksgiving after they’ve mostly gone dormant. Wait until new leaves appear in March before watering again. Cover Plumeria or move them under the eaves when nighttime temperatures drop below 35 degrees.

23. Prepare for frost. Move delicate container plants into the warmest area of your garden. Cover permanent plants with floating row cover, held in place with small clamps or clothespins. Floating row cover is sold by farm and irrigation supply stores and is also available online.


Sterman is a garden designer and writer. Her website is