As November arrives, the true brilliance of native foliage color does as well. Evergreens are beginning to step forward in the landscape, off-setting the reds, oranges and yellows of native perennials, shrubs and deciduous trees. When a warmish day slips in, what a month it is!
It is amazing what a difference a month can make in our gardens. One of the accidental surprises in our small urban garden is the borrowed view. The brilliant orange tree behind the Colorado blue spruce is across the street. I'd like to say I planned it that way .... but no! As you may note, the Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) is not native to the eastern United States. Experts generally don't recommend them for planting in areas with high humidity. Our is doing ok; I certainly can't say it is thriving but it is not dying either. If I were looking for that blue evergreen foliage today, I would plant a variety of eastern blue cedar called Eastern red cedar 'Burkii' (Juniperus virginiana 'Burkii').
You may still have asters blooming. The bloom of asters (Symphyotrichum and Eurybia) in the shade and some in the sun have faded yet some are still just opening. This is why asters native to the mid-Atlantic are favorites everywhere.
Berries are at their peak at this time of year in native gardens, just in time to feed birds and wildlife for the winter. Mature vines like honeysuckle and Virginia creeper are covered with berries now. Trees like Eastern red cedar are as well.
The shrubs though, oh my! American beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana), red and black chokeberries (Aronia arbutifolia and Aronia melanocarpa), winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and native viburnums (Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium) Maple-leaf (Viburnum acerifolium) are just some of the commonly available shrubs producing gobs of red or blue berries in November. There are so many to choose from!
If you have these plants and they are not producing berries, this is a great time to problem solve. Asking these questions may help.
Did the berries ripen earlier than usual and birds have already feasted?
Sometimes a flock of birds can denude a shrub of berries pretty darn quickly. A flock of robins can eat all the berries from a winterberry in minutes.
Is the vine, shrub or tree mature enough to be producing berries?
Our Virginia creeper vine, planted as small plugs, took four years to begin producing flowers and berries. The female fringe tree took four years to begin producing as well.
Did the vine, shrub or tree flowering in spring or early summer?
If not, it may not be getting the sun or moisture it needs to produce flowers. Looking at the plant's location and googling conditions it needs may lead to answers.
Is this a plant that needs a male pollinator?
Female winterberry shrubs need a male plant, typically within 50 feet, to pollinate it. In nurseries, male and female winterberries are usually marked and located near one another. There are six or so commonly available types of male winterberries. The trick is getting a male and female that flower at the same time. This chart from the Norfolk Botanical Garden may help.
Perennials with Presence
There are certain perennials, some of them semi-evergreen, that may keep their color all winter unless the coldest of conditions arrive. Others provide texture or color or both. Those are now, noticeably, looking good!
Plantain leaf sedge (Carex plantaginea) is one of those semi-evergreen plants in our garden. It looks good practically year round and several years in is beginning to spread. It thrives in part shade and shade. Native to the Appalachian region, it requires no maintenance.
Dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) look great in November. The combination of yellow and green strappy foliage adds colorful texture. This is definitely not semi-evergreen here and will die back. When planted in conditions it likes, moist to average soils in shade to part shade, dwarf crested iris spreads and makes a great spring, summer and fall ground cover.
New Red Twig Dogwoods
November is an excellent time to take cuttings from your red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) to make new shrubs. Literally, all you have to do is stick cuttings in a place where it will get rain and wait. Last fall, I took six cuttings. Only one took but it is already a foot and a half high and wide. Cut stems that are young, the brighter colored ones, smaller in diameter than a pencil, into 8" lengths. Slanting the cut on the lower end of the branch will help you remember which end goes into the soil. Place them slanted ends down, into a pot with potting soil and leave in a sheltered place where they will get some moisture over winter. In April or so, you can stick them right in the ground and with any luck you should have new small shrub by summer's end.
Even though cooler temperatures have arrived, I hope you have a moment to grab a favorite warm beverage and a throw, sit in your garden or favorite outdoor space and take in the celebrated colors and splendor of a Chesapeake fall.