November Chore List: Get the Rakes Out

Leaves: Don't give 'em away

First chore: Grab a rake. Rake matted leaves off the lawn to avoid killing grass or use a mulching lawn mower (highly recommended). Rake out beds and borders where leaves are piled high (great mole/vole hiding place), but don't rake them to the curb for the city to pick up and put in landfills. Shred 'em, mulch 'em, or compost 'em because they're garden gold. Pound for pound they have twice the nutrient content of manure. They're organic roughage, aerating the soil for better drainage, root growth and gas exchange, and they're food for beneficial microbes. Here's some suggestions for what-to-do with your leaves, but before you start raking, check out the 12 Rules of Raking.

  • Create a leaf only compost pile. When the leaves break down, add the organic result to the garden as leaf mold. Shredding the leaves will quicken the break down process. If you don't have room for piles of leaves, put them in big, plastic bags, and poke holes in the bags, saving them for future use. Leaf mold holds up to 500% its own weight in water (hello drought) and helps cool roots and foliage, not to mention absorbs rain water run off. Pretty good for something most home gardeners throw away.
  • Shred them and apply as mulch to beds, around shrubs and over tender perennials for insulation this fall. 
  • Start a compost pile and add them as the "browns." Add perennial plant waste and grass clippings for your "greens."

This video shows how to make leaf mold. Be sure to watch. 

Compost: Here's How

Click! to learn how. Rodale's The Easiest Way to Composting

Autumn's harvest is more than the last of the fruits and veggies. It's leaves, vegetable plants, summer's annuals, perennial cut-back material, and even the weeds. We're cleaning up with an eye toward reducing next year's pest and disease issues, but all this plant debris is great for the compost pile. Determine to make a compost pile this year (the bin isn't necessary unless you're adding food scraps and live in city limits), and use the compost next year on garden beds. 

Soil Prep

Since rain has alluded us all summer, you may not remember where water travels in your yard, but now is a good time to fix any drainage issues. For that, you really do need a professional to avoid causing a drainage issue for your neighbor. Here's some great information from our landscape division. 

Tulips and daffodils. Great color combination. (Picture provided by Nancy Martemucci, in Nancy's garden.)

If you have wet spots, do soil prep now to get jump on spring. Add permatill (also good for voles) and soil conditioner to that spot where you want a perennial bed but it doesn't percolate well. As you're cleaning out the vegetable garden, add a layer of compost and shredded leaves, turning the leaves into the soil as you go. Improving the soil is the number one job for gardeners. 

And, don't forget, now is a good time for a soil test. Click here for information.


Yes, with this weather, the frost has not killed back the weeds and so weeding is still necessary (as is mowing). Keep in mind you're really weeding for next year. You want to eliminate the chance of weeds going to seed and roaring back into the garden come spring.


First year skimmia. I completely forgot I planted it and discovered it today during fall clean up. Not watered once since it was planted in May. Winner of the drought tolerant plant award in my garden. 

It may feel like June days, but don't let that fool you. Plant your bulbs now. If you don't have garden space but love those harbingers of spring, plant them in containers. Layer the container with different types of bulbs for longer enjoyment. Here's the how-to on bulbs in containers and layering bulbs in containers (or lasagna gardening).

Drought Resistant

Take stock of what plants flourished despite the lack of rain and consider adding more of those to next year's garden. Here's my own list of surprises in the garden (i.e. plants I gave up watering in July): skimmia, autumn ferns, soft shield ferns, epimediums, hostas, helenium, toad liles, and the one that killed it all summer, Kimberly Queen fern. 

AAP, Cinthia

Cinthia Milner is the garden coach, blog writer, and outside sales person for BB Barns Garden Center.

BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.