Clean up the flower garden. Remove dead annuals, cut back dead tops on perennials, thin out groundcovers, trim a few unruly shrub branches, stash stakes and pull weeds. Leave some tops on heavy seeder perennials for the birds.

A few autumn leaves will not hurt a perennial bed. Do not leave a heavy cover of leaves over plants as they can mat and cause rotting of the plant’s crown during the winter.

Lift tuberous begonias, cannas, dahlias and caladium bulbs, shake off the dirt, do not rinse, set out to dry off for several days,  and store in container with inert materials such as vermiculite, sawdust, or cat litter. Put away in a dry, cool place.

Bearded Iris – Now is the time to clean up spent leaves and and garden debris in the area to help prevent iris borers. Discard as refuse. Do not compost.

Plant spring bulbs through mid-November if you have not done so already. They need to get into the ground so as to develop a good root system before soil temperatures fall.

Mulching for weed control can happen throughout the year. However, a heavy layer of mulch is best applied after the ground freezes in early December. Plan ahead and make arrangements for delivery of some type of organic mulch now so as to be on hand then.

Take cuttings of any potted plants you may want to propagate. Water prior to taking cuttings. Select healthy stem 2”- 3” long. Use only sterile medium. Dip stem cut end into rooting hormone.


October & November yields a significant amount of plant material for the compost. Mix grass clippings with your leaf pile (preferably chopped) as it will speed up the decomposition of the leaves. Leaves are high in carbon and low in nitrogen. Grass is just the reverse – thus a perfect recipe for compost.

However, there are some plant remains that should not end up in the compost heap:

  • Iris leaves should be set out for refuse pick up, not composted
  • Peony leaves and tomato plant remains should not be composted, especially if the plant did poorly this year.
  • Do not blow away leaves from under shrubs. Leave them as protective mulch.


It is not time to take a break for the season yet.

  • Continue to mow cool season lawns as needed.
  • Rake leaves regularly throughout the fall. Piles of leaves can become wet blankets after rain and can smother your grass.
  • November 15 is the last day homeowners can apply lawn fertilizer for this year. The blackout dates for applying nitrogen and/or phosphorus fertilizers for homeowners are from November 16 – February 28. More information on the 2011 fertilizer law can be found on the Rutgers website.
  • Apply lime if needed (check pH level before applying).

Trees & Shrubs

Plant trees and shrubs etc. now through early December. When planting, pay attention to the correct planting depth. Water well and apply a 3 inch layer of mulch, being careful to pull mulch a few inches away from the stem (think donut, not volcano!).

Keep all newly planted materials watered through November/early December if temperatures are above normal.

Do not fertilize or prune shrubs now. Late-season nitrogen or new growth can reduce winter hardiness.

Hemlock trees – inspect them for signs of hemlock woolly adelgids. It is a good time of year to treat smaller trees with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.


Remove old canes from raspberry and blackberry patches

Strawberry plants are setting their buds for next spring’s fruit. Pull weeds and irrigate, if needed. Mulch with straw when night temperatures are regularly falling below freezing.

House plants

Clean up house plants before moving back indoors. Take the time to cut them back and remove dead leaves and flowers. Inspect carefully for insect infestation and treat before bringing the plants indoors.

Keep plants that were outside over the summer away from house-bound plants until you are sure they are clean. Hand-picking or using denatured alcohol on a cotton swab or cosmetic pad will help contain a minor infestation.

Once the heat is running in the house, check house plants frequently for water needs until you figure out what their winter schedule needs to be. They may need watering more frequently, or less frequently, depending on their location and the type of heating system.

Grouping plants together actually increases their surrounding humidity, but it is not usually sufficient enough to compensate for very dry air.


Remember to use herbs still in the garden – parsley, rosemary, sage and chives should still be green.

Be certain all water and irrigation systems are turned off and drain all hoses.

Have your sheers and clippers sharpened now so they will be ready to go in the spring.

Bring concrete or clay containers for ornamentals in out of the weather to protect from freeze damage.

Now is a great time to have your soil tested. To have your soil tested by Rutgers, you can either get a kit from the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Essex County or print off the forms from the Rutgers Soil Testing Laboratory website.