Dawn before the storm November sunrise Pamm Cooper photo

Dawn before a November storm


“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

-Albert Camus

November is the time of falling leaves and bare trees, perhaps a first snow, woolly bears and the arrival of northern birds that come down to stay for the winter. Geese fly overhead in their v-formations, remaining autumn fruits are visible on trees and shrubs and the weather is definitely shifting toward the colder end of the spectrum.

wooly bear in November 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Woolly bears travel late in the year and the amount of rust or black is only indicative of its stage of development, not the severity of the coming winter

Most northern birds that migrate here for the winter typically arrive in late September or early October. This year many stayed in the north until recently as temperatures there remained warmer than usual and food was abundant as well. The first juncos I saw arrived on October 30, but that is just in my area, but it is the latest arrival of that species since I started keeping track of such things.

cowbirds on fall migration Horsebarn Hill UConn

Cowbirds on migration Horsebarn Hill UConn

This past October was one of the warmest on record, and anyone with some annual flowers in their gardens may still have some blooms now in  November. I had Mandevilla vine, Thunbergia, salvias, Cuphea ( bat-faced heather), Mexican heather, Tithonia sunflowers, Cosmos, balloon milkweed, ivy geraniums, fuschias and several more annuals still blooming  on November 5. Native witch hazels and some perennials like Montauk daisies, butterfly weed and some hyssop varieties are also blooming. As of today, though, with temperatures in the low 30’s, most annuals should fade away into the sunset.

fuschia still blooming November 3 2019

Fuschia still blooming on November 3, 2019

Mandevilla vine in bloom November 3 2019

Mandevilla vine still blooming on November 3 2019

geraniums blooming November 2 2019

Geraniums still blooming in Manchester on November 3, 2019

October being so warm, many trees still have some leaves, although oaks, dawn redwood and Bradford pears are the main ones with leaves right now. Some sugar maples slow to turn color this year are fading, but many Japanese maples are still full of colorful leaves.


Sugar maple on left and Japanese maple on right


Old house with bittersweet and a Japanese maple in full autumn color

This is the time of year when it becomes evident where paper wasps built their nests. According to farmers in earlier times, perhaps mostly by experience and observation, the position in height of these nests was an indicator of the amount of snow to come during the winter. The lower the majority of wasp’s nests, the less snow, and vice versa.

paper wasp nest in chute of wood chipper November 2019

Paper wasp nest in the end of a wood chipper chute

There are many plants that are great to use for fall interest. Fothergillas has a wonderful orange-yellow leaf color into November, and Carolina spicebush has a nice yellow color right now. Several viburnums, winterberry, many Kousa varieties and native dogwoods have fruits that are of  interest for fall and even winter color. Red osier dogwoods also have red twigs that are a standout in the winter landscape if pruned periodically.

cranberry viburnum berries

Viburnums can add colorful interest in the landscape for both fall and winter

blueberry fall color

Blueberry fall leaf color

Honey bees and some syrphid flies are still active as long as food sources remain. Witch hazel is valuable as a food resource for many late season pollinators. Also, the American oil beetle, a type of blister beetle, can sometimes be seen crawling over lawns in early November on its way to find a suitable spot to overwinter. Stink bugs and other insects are still out, but soon should be seeking shelter for the winter as temperatures drop. The invasive brown marmorated stink bugs seek shelter indoors, while native species remain outside.

honey bee on Montauk Daisy

Honey bee on a Montauk daisy

syrphid fly on Cosmos November 2019

Syrphid fly visiting Cosmos flower November 2019

Animals like deer and coyotes may sometimes be seen out and about on sunny fall days. Deer will eat crabapples and acorns, as well as smorgasbord items like Arborvitae hedges and other plants that pique their interest and taste buds. Sometimes they will nibble on young crabapple twigs and those of other small trees and shrubs. If this is a problem, consider wrapping lower branches loosely with bird netting or something else breathable for the winter. Squirrels have been known to clip off the flowers of hydrangeas and cart them off to line their nests.

coyote hunting during the day in fall 2019

Coyote hunting for voles and chipmunks along a small brook during the day

When autumn leaves are just a memory, sunrises and sunsets can provide a spectacular display of color during the fall and winter months. Sometimes there will also be a pre-glow red or orange color in the sky that will light up trees and houses just before dusk. The color will only last for minutes and changes can get more brilliant as the sun settles down over the horizon. In the morning, colors are at their peak just before the sun arrives over the horizon.

pre- sunset December glow 12-3-15

Orange glow just before fall sunset

The warm weather is retreating into fond memories, and the cold and bare landscape is coming to stay for a few months. As Clyde Watson wrote in his poem-

“November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows…”

Pamm Cooper

Years ago, when Organic Farming & Gardening magazine was printed in black and
white, and small enough to stuff into one’s pocketbook or jacket pocket to read
as time allowed, it was always filled with intriguing tips and commentaries for
growing better vegetables and controlling garden pests. I remember reading
about white geraniums being deadly to Japanese beetles. Not growing many
geraniums back then, I filed this piece of information somewhere in the back of
my mind until this past weekend.

While watering some pots of ‘Orange Appeal’ geraniums that I had started from seed
and strategically placed in an old blue, wooden wheelbarrow, I couldn’t help
noticing that there were belly up Japanese beetles nestled in the leaves! On
Saturday I just thought, how curious and flicked them off. A repeat performance
the next day triggered those latent memories and also brought back to mind a
more recent posting from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

Paralyzed Japanese beetle on geranium leaf

According to the ARS, the negative effect that geraniums have on Japanese beetles (an
obnoxious pest – at least here in New England) has been known since the 1920’s
but not until recently have scientists started exploring this relationship more
closely. It seems that within a half hour or so of nibbling on either the flowers
or (as I saw) leaves of the geranium (Pelargonium zonale), the beetles become paralyzed for about
24 hours. Had I known they were not dead, I would have finished them off. Under
laboratory conditions, the beetles generally will recover. In the wild,
however, they are often snacked upon by other critters since they don’t have
much of a chance of getting away in their paralyzed state.

An entomologist at the ARS, Chris Ranger, along with a scientist at Rutgers,
is working on developing a botanical insecticide from these paralytic compounds
which hopefully will be available sometime in the near future. Read more about “Geraniums
and Begonias: New Research on Old Garden Favorites”
in the March 2010 issue
of Agricultural Research magazine.

Not only are my few pots of geraniums helping to control the Japanese
beetles in my yard but as I hand pick them from my roses, 4 o’clocks, hollyhocks
and dahlias, I also have been noticing that a fair number of beetles have
little white spots on their green thoraxes. These are eggs of the Winsome fly.
The larvae will hatch and burrow into the beetle where it will begin feeding.
This apparently affects the beetle’s behavior and it will bury itself in the
soil where the larvae continues to feed and overwinters in the hollowed beetle
shell. The following year, an adult winsome fly emerges to continue its quest
to find more Japanese beetles to lay eggs on.

The white dots are eggs of the Winsome fly. Photo by Joan Allen, UConn

But enough of this backyard reality show! It’s summer1 The gardens are
glorious and, if you are looking to travel to the western part of
Massachusetts, do check out the house and grounds at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s
summer home.

The Mount, Lenox, MA

Edith Wharton was not only one of America’s greatest writers but
she also designed The Mount and the accompanying landscapes. There are 150
acres filled with mossy woodlands, meadows, tree-lined drives and walkways, her
restored greenhouse and formal gardens. The house which has in large part also been
restored can be toured as well and it is well worth a slow stroll through the
rooms which have many fascinating and little known facts about the life of
Edith Wharton and her great compassion and drive to help others during WWI and
later. Not only was she a great gardener, interior decorator, and writer but
she was also a great humanitarian. Take a step back in time and experience her
world in the early 1900’s.

One of the formal gardens at the Mount

Good gardening to you!