Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
November, 2004
Regional Report

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Primroses provide bright pockets of color in my winter landscape.

Strolling Through the Late-Season Garden

Things are definitely winding down in the garden. While I'm reluctant to put the trowel away, at least I don't have to worry about watering! I still take my daily stroll through the garden, umbrella in hand, to take inventory and escape a bit from the daily grind.

Cool, wet weather slows plant growth, but it also encourages slug activity. I've often been tempted to skewer the marauders with the point of my umbrella, but then I'd have to deal with the slimy aftermath. As an alternative, I'm not above pulling a plant stake out of the ground, deftly impaling the invader, and replacing the stake. It's a quick and efficient process that's immediately gratifying.

Soon I'll have to tote a flashlight along with my umbrella during my late-afternoon garden strolls. With both hands occupied, I wonder, "Will slugs seize the opportunity to take revenge?"

A Few Favorites
There's a lot of color in the garden at this time of year. Chrysanthemums are in their glory, winter pansies seem to smile through all kinds of weather, and there are even a few brave blooms left on the hardy fuchsias. Primroses are rugged and reliable performers in northwest gardens, producing clear and bright blossoms all winter long. I have them tucked into pockets throughout the landscape so that no matter where I look, I'm greeted by little rafts of vibrant color that seem to be floating in a sea of green.

Trees and shrubs with colorful leaves, bark, or berries provide a nice contrast to our persistent evergreen backdrop. Scarlet leaves on the dogwood (Cornus florida), and bright yellow foliage on the poplars will remain until our first winter windstorm. My favorite berry-producing shrubs include Viburnum setigerum, with pleated oval leaves and deep-red fruit, beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri), sporting clusters of shiny, violet-purple berries, and heavenly bamboo (Nandina spp.), with bright red berries and red-orange foliage.

If you have room in your garden for an outstanding four-season shrub, plant Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa). In summer it boasts long chains of white flowers partially covered by purplish bracts, which turn into cascades of dark red berries in the fall and winter months.

Appraisal Time
I think November is an excellent time to take inventory and honestly assess the garden's performance. If a plant isn't performing as expected, I move it to a different place, or remove it altogether. If it's healthy but reluctant to flourish, I try to pass it along to a friend or family member who may have better luck with it. We sometimes strike a deal, exchanging my unhappy plant for one of theirs.

Prepare for Winter
This time of year is also perfect for protecting landscape plants against winter damage. It's a relatively simple procedure that includes cutting back perennials, cleaning plant debris out of beds, and mulching. Because mulch moderates the temperature extremes of winter -- insulating the soil so that thawing does not occur during warm winter days with refreezing at night -- virtually any plant will benefit from a pre-winter blanket of mulch.

I use light, airy, fine-textured mulches, such as shredded leaves, shredded bark, pine needles, or mushroom compost, and spread a 2- to 4-inch layer all around my woody perennials. Mulch helps suppress weeds as well, which has great appeal to me. I'd rather collect pinecones for holiday decorations than pull weeds any day!

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