November, December, and January Gardening Guidelines

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We get busy, especially at this time of year with the start of the holidays. It can be overwhelming in the best of times, let alone times of recovery. Being in the garden is a great way to relieve stress, especially if you have a plan of action. Every month brings its own distinctive set of tasks and trials, and whittling down your to-do list will help you achieve a sense of accomplishment from your garden. Consistently sticking to these monthly endeavors will not only enhance your decision-making process, it will keep your garden gorgeous through the year. Take a look at the To-Do’s below, and add whatever fits your garden situation to your plan for late fall activities.


Plan to have your soil tested for next year’s gardening activities. The soil test is free through November. Be sure to get the samples to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ lab before the holiday office closures affect their receiving schedule. We have the soil sample collection kits in the lobby of the McSwain Center in Sanford. From December to the end of March, the test fees are $4 per sample.


Watch for freezing temperatures and bring your potted houseplants inside after you check for hitchhiking insects. Treat as necessary before you end up with unwelcome visitors! We don’t want to push growth in the winter when the day length is less, so cut back your fertilization rate to about half of what you used when the plants were growing outside. To enjoy holiday blooms indoors, plant amaryllis or paperwhite narcissus in pots. Amaryllis bloom about 6-8 weeks after planting, paperwhites in about 4-6 weeks. Also, now is the time to take cuttings of rhododendrons and camellias for propagation. Layering is another method of propagation that can yield good success. Contact your local Extension agent for more information on propagation techniques that are recommended for specific plants.

Don’t forget our feathered friends! Keep bird feeders and birdbaths clean and filled. A good tool can be a good friend too! Take care of your tools and they will take care of you, so check your gardening tools for the next growing season. Do any need sharpening? Should some be replaced? You will save yourself time during the busy growing season if you take care of this task during the off-season.

Plan to winterize your irrigation set up. Drain and store garden water hoses to avoid damage from freezing. Do you need an insulated cover for your outdoor water spigot? A broken water pipe inside a wall from an exposed and undrained water spigot can make for a very bad day.

Do you keep a garden journal? Take time on inclement days to study what you have previously written and use your notes to help with planning your garden. If you have not kept a journal in the past, purchase one for the upcoming seasons.


Are you growing vegetables this fall? Cold frames or row covers help tender, cool-season vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Swiss chard, lettuce, mustard, onions, radishes, and turnips can help extend the harvest season. If your edible garden includes strawberries, blackberries, grapes, and/or blueberries protect those roots with a fresh layer of mulch.


Take time to dream up next year’s bounty and browse seed catalogs so you can plan and purchase for next year’s growing seasons.


In your landscape garden you can still plant shrubs, trees, and vines in November, just remember “right plant, right place at the right time” and “Know Before You Grow.” Avoid mounding mulch too close to the trunk bases of trees and shrubs. The mulch will provide cover for rodents to nibble on the juicy bark and may cause the trunks to rot from added moisture.

Speaking of moisture, during periods of cold weather, make sure your shrubs or trees have adequate moisture to carry necessary nutrients from the soil up through the plants. You may have to water your shrubs or trees before predicted cold temperatures. The laws of physics work – especially gravity, so when freezing precipitation is expected, tie together the limbs of columnar evergreens like Sky Pencil Holly to prevent snow or ice breakage. After winter weather events, remove damaged branches.

For additional information about resources in this article, please contact the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center.

Becky Garrett is an Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteer with North Carolina Cooperative Extension In Lee County.