November TIPS of the Month

For more great November TIPS check our top contenders below!

TIP #4: Check for and Remove Tree Hangers
Tree hangers are branches that have partially or fully broken off from the crown of a tree. They get caught up in or rest on lower branches. The danger with tree hangers is that they can fall to the ground at any time, especially when there is a wind or other significant disturbance strong enough to dislodge a hanger. Considered a danger, tree hangers should be removed; many of them may require the services of an arborist.

TIP #5: Move House Plants Close to Windows
If you have had your house plants outside most of the growing year, they are used to changing outside conditions. Once you bring them inside, they have to adapt to inside conditions. Avoid positioning them close to vents, radiators or drafty windows as they can dry out or get either too hot or too cold. Instead, position your indoor pants according to their lighting requirements. Place them on a side table near a window but not against the window. If it freezes at night, the air near windows can become very cold. Place plants up to 10 ft away from southwest-facing windows and east or west-facing windows.

TIP #6: Assess Your Landscape Lighting
As the days become shorter and cooler weather closes in it's time to assess your landscape lighting. You can keep your lighting going all winter long! Lighting can make your winter landscape a warm, creative and inviting place. Start by doing a complete 'walk about' of your property in daylight. Inspect every light fixture and the condition of all wires. Buff out scratches on light lenses or replace them altogether. Clean all fixtures, tighten screws on your transformer's terminal blocks and remove debris from the cabinet housing. Replace timer or motion sensor batteries. Trim back any overgrown landscaping plants, leaves or mulch that are blocking or impeding your light system in any way. Debris piling up around heat emitting fixtures can present a fire risk. Resolve damaged or exposed wires, straighten leaning or fallen over parts and reset timers to match changing daytime hours.The time you put in will save you cost and effort in the spring. Maybe you want a new look to your system; in this case, try finding fixtures with a cast bronze finish - winter offers the perfect aging elements to turn cast bronze finish into a gorgeous old-penny look. To avoid the aging process, apply a couple of coatings of WD 40 or clear matte coat finish to protect against winter wear. Many people like the idea of adding different bulbs to their lighting system. For example, add a blue bulb accent to highlight your evergreens against winter snows. White lights provide a warm winter glow. Reposition your lights to capture winter silhouettes and take into consideration that leaves are no longer on the trees; find lights that work with bare branches. Winter is also the perfect time to add string lights to your yard, deck or patio. And lastly, use lights to mark where objects or pathways are hidden in the snow.

TIP #7: Mulch Your Roses
Mulching roses in mid-November protects roots from winter die-back and helps roots establish in the ground. Mulch keeps the soil warmer than un-mulched soil but it will also prevent rapid fluctuations in soil temperatures which can often lead to soil heaving. Mulch also breaks down over time while releasing valuable nutrients for your plants. Ensure you use the right mulch and pile it at least a foot deep (depending on your location) around each rose. Avoid mulching roses before mid-November because roses require cool, fall temperatures to develop some winter hardiness. If they are babied too early, roses may become weak and vulnerable to winter weather. The best mulch for your roses is good quality compost, composted straw or bark, well rotted manure, shredded leaf mulch or medium to medium-fine wood mulch (i.e. Nature's Gold). Be sure to remove the mulch in spring. Mulch left piled around roses well into spring can quickly lead to fungal infections or rot.

TIP #8: Protect Over-Wintering Vegetables
You may be surprised to learn that some vegetables like kale, leeks, Swiss chard, purple sprouting broccoli, carrots and parsnips do just fine in winter. Unless they are growing in a greenhouse, these crops require some protective measures to ensure better, cleaner quality leaves and roots. Add about 4-6 inches of shredded leaves, straw, cardboard, dried grass clippings, well rotted manure or aged compost as a cover around or over these crops. Ironically, it is the soil that needs the greater protection because in a wet winter, constant rain can leech nutrients away, compact the soil and enable weed growth. Conversely, a cold winter can freeze and thaw the ground making it difficult for roots to absorb water and fine root hairs to survive. Alternatively, cover your crops with a plastic sheet. The draped sheet will raise the temperature underneath and protect the soil and plants from drying out. Take this a few steps further by constructing a hoop tunnel or cold frame.

If you love carrots - good news! - you can grow your own super sweet or candy carrots, beets, rutabaga and broccoli. Super sweet refers to the process of chill-sweetening when stored carbohydrates change into simple sugars. The simple sugars along with special freeze-resistant proteins accumulate and protect plant tissues from frost damage. It's kinda like nature's antifreeze! The key to growing this crop is to plant carrot seeds 60 days before your first predicted frost. This 2-month growing time is critical to ensuring a good winter crop. The weather, 60 days before frost, is often hot and dry so you must baby the carrot seed. Water at least once per day, sometimes twice depending on the magnitude of heat and wind. Ensure the top soil is moist at least an inch in depth. You can add a shade cloth over the bed or cover lightly with moist burlap until the seeds germinate. Burlap also works to help protect carrot seed from hungry birds. Plan your summer garden so your root crops mature in fall or winter and cover them to protect them during winter. Try growing other root vegetables in winter and see how sweet they will become.

TIP #9: Take Care of Your Christmas Cactus

The true Christmas cactus is called Schlumbergera buckleyi which flowers early December until late January and sometimes into February.  The other, more commonly found, Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata, flowers from early October until late December. Ensure you know what kind of cactus you have. Unfortunately, it is common to find Thanksgiving cactus mislabeled as Christmas cactus, even in nurseries and other garden centers.To differentiate the Christmas cactus from the Thanksgiving cactus, look for key attributes listed below:

Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)

  • Stem fragments are claw-like
  • Flowers are more erect (do not hang down)
  • Flowers around Thanksgiving
  • Comes in a variety of colors (many hybrids)

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi)

  • Rounded, flattened, smooth stem segments with scalloped edges (not toothed). Stem margins have small, visible points or nubs
  • Flowers dramatically arch and hang down towards the ground
  • Flowers around Christmas
  • Not commonly found

Note that the true Easter cactus, Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri is much different:

  • Stem fragments are very round with hairs at the tip
  • Small, star-shaped flowers
  • Flowers March until May

Below is a rough sketch showing the stem differences between each cactus


Once you know which cactus you have, the next step is learn how to care for it. Most people have questions about cactus issues so lets cover those first. The Christmas cactus typically suffers few problems but sometimes the leaves may become red-tinged or go completely red. This is a symptom of poor growing conditions, nutrient deficiency, infections or inadequate care. Cultural stress is the number one issue especially if the cactus is exposed to direct sunlight in summer or doesn't receive enough water. Because this is a tropical plant it needs to grow in partial shade during the summer months and full sun during winter. The plant needs slightly more water than other cactus species so irrigate only when the soil feels dry 1 inch below the soil surface. To mitigate leaf reddening, evaluate the amount of light exposure and move to a better location if necessary. Adjust the soil moisture and don't allow the plant to dry out too long between waterings.

Over-watering is a big issue as well as it can lead to root rot which presents itself as a musty or sour smell, mushy plant tissue, wilting leaves or pink to reddish leaf discoloration. If this is your problem, replant into fresh, unused medium don't water for 2-3 weeks. Remove damaged or dead parts.

Pests such as the cactus cyst or nematode (Cactodera cacti) can arise if your cactus is potted in bad soil or propagated from an infected plant. Symptoms of this infestation include: stunted growth, reddish leaves, wilting and tiny, pearl-like masses on the roots. If this is your problem, treatment is seldom successful. All you really do is replant your cactus into new, sterilized medium. If the infestation is serious, discard the plant.

A magnesium deficiency can also lead to leaf reddening and wilting. The Christmas cactus has a higher requirement for magnesium than other plants. Use Epsom salts (Magnesium sulfate) to try to help the matter. Dissolve 8 heaping tablespoons of Epsom salts in 21/2 gallons of water (or 1 tsp per gallon of water) and mix in 1-2 drops of dish washing liquid (i.e. Dawn). Mix well and pour into a spray bottle. Spritz the tops and undersides of your plant and reapply every two weeks until the foliage returns to normal color.

Prevention is key so work to ensure your cactus is healthy before issues arise. Ensure bright, indirect light during colder months and provide shade in warmer months. When watering, soak thoroughly when the soil feels dry to the touch and allow to completely drain. Let dry until the soil requires another watering. Fertilize your plant with half strength soluble fertilizer - Epsom salts works well. To promote branching, pinch back the stems in early summer. If segments droop or look weak and, it's not a watering problem, it could be a humidity problem. Set a pan of water near the plant; as the water evaporates, it will add moisture to the air.

For more information on how properly care for true Christmas cactus, check out the website - Dave's Garden, "How to care for the Christmas Cactus".

TIP #10: Take Care of Your Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

Few plants shout "Christmas!" like bright, showy poinsettias. Caring for these gorgeous plants is pretty straightforward. The TIPS below should help you on your way:

  • Situate the plant in a well-lit room with ample indirect sunlight
  • Keep room temperature below 20 degrees C (16-17 degrees C)
  • Keep plant away from heat sources and cold drafts
  • Water in moderation with tepid water when soil is dry to the touch. Avoid leaving water standing in the saucer. Thoroughly soak the soil and let it drain before the next watering.
  • No need to fertilize when the plant is in bloom
  • After flowering is finished, bracts will start to fade in color. Keep the plant going by pruning and re-potting in late April. Cut back stems by 1/3. Mist with water to limit seepage of plant juices and drying out. Replant in aerated, well-drained, fresh medium. Prune the plant again in late July or early August. Pinch back the stem ends leaving 3-4 leaves per stem. This will encourage bushy, compact growth
  • Gradually transfer the plant outside once all risk of frost is over and temperatures are above 13 degrees C. Place the plant in a semi-shaded or even, sunny location

TIP #11: Take Care of Your Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)

Gardeners love the many varieties of cyclamens for their small, sweetly-scented blooms on long stems that arise high above the leaves. Cyclamens are tuberous perennials that die down to thick tubers during summer dormancy and rebound with new growth each fall. Flowers come in shades of pink, red, purple and white. Leaves are heart-shaped and sometimes are marbled silver. You can grow cyclamens outside and inside but be aware that the plant is toxic to both animals and humans. Below are some TIPS on care:

  • Remember that this plant goes dormant in summer but regrows and re-blooms in the fall. Dormancy depends on growing conditions - warm temps propel dormancy but keeping your house cool may halt that progression
  • Provide bright, indirect light in winter when the plant is growing. In the summer, keep in a cool, dark place with ample air circulation
  • Grow in rich, well-draining soil with a slightly acidic pH. Peat moss can create a more acidic soil environment
  • Water when leaves are present but do not get the leaves and the crown (where the stem meets the root) wet. Water when soil is dry to the touch 1 inch below the soil surface. Water infrequently when leaves are gone. Best way to water is to place the plant pot on a tray so the roots can uptake the water
  • Avoid placing plant in extreme heat, drafts or dry air. High humidity in winter is critical. Raise humidity by placing the pot on a tray filled with water and pebbles but ensure the pot is not touching the water.
  • Bring the plant indoors well before frost arrives
  • Fertilize with a diluted liquid low in nitrogen every couple of weeks while the plant is in full leaf. Do not feed while dormant
  • Encourage blooming by snipping off dead flower stalks at the base and any yellowing leaves. As blooming slows, let the plant dry out for 2-3 months

TIP #12: Take Care of Your Kalanchoe

Kalanchoe is a long-flowering, beautiful perennial succulent that absolutely requires warm temperatures to grow well. This plant requires plenty of space to grow as it can reach up to 11/2 feet wide and tall. Below are some great TIPS:

  • Ensure ample sunlight (8-10 hrs /day)
  • Grow in light, sandy soil or cactus mix
  • Water when soil feels dry but do not wet the leaves. Too much moisture can rot the roots. Reduce watering while plant is in its resting period between blooms
  • Remove dead, damaged or wilting parts. Deadhead to encourage blooming
  • Fertilize during periods of new growth. Use 1/2 to 1/4 of the manufacturer recommended amount and do so every two weeks
  • Grow in clay pots for better aeration and drainage
  • Bring in before frost



If you want more information on any of the topics above, head over to GrowerCoach where you will find many videos and articles pertaining to late fall and early winter garden TIPS.