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November: Month-by-month guide to planting, gardening and produce – with recipes

Chinese Pistache (Pistachia chinensis) in autumn unveils brilliant reds, deep oranges and bright yellows, and grows up to 25 feet.
Chinese Pistache (Pistachia chinensis) in autumn unveils brilliant reds, deep oranges and bright yellows, and grows up to 25 feet. lsterling@sacbee.com

Stalwarts in the sun-loving, water-efficient garden must include plants such as rosemary and lavender. But there are hundreds more plants that perform admirably in our climate, many of which offer year-around interest.

Generally, best bets are plants with silver or gray foliage since they are uniquely adapted to dealing with heat and sunshine. Many silver-leaved plants have a downy or hairy appearance, which lets them reflect light and conserve water so they can easily survive hot, dry conditions. Plants with small, needle-like leaves – English lavender, for example – are also suitable for low-water gardens. Unless it is a plant intended as a focal point, avoid planting just one of many different plants because it makes the garden look choppy.

Instead, plant in groups of odd numbers, because this looks more natural. Choose at least three of one plant. This gives the garden continuity and cohesion.

Here are a few of my favorites. I’ve chosen plants for each month of the year sometimes because of beautiful foliage, sometimes for their flowers, sometimes for autumn color or striking berries. Most provide year-round interest, although a few are herbaceous and die back when the weather turns cold. Include plenty of these plants in your garden, and you’ll have flowers to pick, foliage to enjoy and beauty in the garden all seasons of the year.

Chinese Pistache ( Pistachia chinensis): Each autumn without fail, the Chinese pistache ( Pistacia chinensis) trees turn to flame. The entire tree suddenly explodes with color: brilliant reds, deep oranges, and bright yellows.

It grows slowly to 15 to 25 feet tall with a nearly equal spread.

There are male and female plants, but until one of them makes berries (they will reseed themselves lightly around the garden), you won’t know what you have. The berries are quite pretty in shades of green and purple and red, and are good for fall arrangements. Even the tiniest of seedlings will turn shades of scarlet in the fall.

The Chinese pistache thrives in heat and drought, but adapts well to regular watering. It tolerates all sorts of soils, and can be planted alongside the patio, along the street, in the lawn or on the edges of the garden.

Choose plants in fall when you can see their fall colors. Once established, it can go all summer with no water. It is related to the edible pistachio nut P. vera.

Sweet Olive ( Osmanthus sp.): I ordered a variety of sweet olive called Osmanthus fragrans aurantiacus years ago because it sounded interesting.

I had no idea this would become my favorite tree in the garden. It’s not spectacular in leaf. In fact, it’s probably best described as a plain tree. The smooth, oval-shaped leaves are medium green, and somewhat leathery. It doesn’t grow tall – to about 15 feet tall and 10 feet across at the top – so it fits small gardens and allows gardeners to grow other plants all the way up to the trunk.

No, the allure of this humble tree comes late October or early November. Suddenly one day the air all around the garden will be filled with the most heavenly fragrance, not too heavy, not too sweet, not overpowering at all. I know immediately the osmanthus is blooming. Funny thing about the sweet olive: The fragrance travels around the garden.

Rarely will I detect the fragrance near the tree unless I stick my nose in the tiny, string-like, apricot-colored flowers covering the bare branches. It’s the highlight of my gardening year.

I have to admit that I have ignored this tree most of its life. It’s planted around the back of the house alongside the deck stairway. I always intended to develop a garden back there, but never did, so the tree rarely gets any water. Still, it rewards me every year with its flowers.

Osmanthus is fairly easily available, although the spring blooming, white flowering types are more popular. It also comes with holly-like leaves ( O. heterophyllus).

What's in season in November: Kale

Kale is a member of the cabbage family, minus the head, and is grown for its leaves. Kale is the go-to green these days, and you'll find it in salads, soups and more. The nutritious leaves come curly and crinkled or smooth. It has been in cultivation about 2,000 years.

Kale prefers cool growing conditions. Set out transplants in late summer for a fall crop, or sow seeds directly where you want them to grow. Plants should be spaced about a foot apart.

Kale dislikes heat, so doesn't perform well in our summers. Harvest leaves as you need them.

You can store them in the refrigerator, but they will only last a few days before going limp. The center stalk is quite tough, so strip the leaves away from the stalk to use.

Kale planted late summer will continue to bear well into autumn. You can harvest leaves until winter frosts cause the plant to die. Some cooks say leaves harvested after the first light frost are the sweetest.

- Pat Rubin

Fresh: Shrinks when cooked so plan accordingly. Remove stems by folding the leaf in half lengthwise and ripping out the stems. To wash, bounce the leaves in a bowl of water to dislodge the soil. Leave them damp until you are ready to cook. The flavor pairs well with cheese, bacon, cornbread and pork.

Preserving: Best used fresh, but dehydrated kale makes a tasty snack.

- Gwen Schoen

Classic kale and white bean soup

Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 2 hours

Serves 6

This recipe, based on one from Gourmet magazine, is a classic white bean soup. The addition of the cheese rind to the broth adds a punch of flavor and thickness.


1 pound dry white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini or navy

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, coarsely chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely diced

5 cups chicken broth

2 quarts water

One 3-inch square piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 smoked kielbasa sausage, sliced into ¼-inch wheels

8 carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces

1 pound kale, stems and center ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped

Parmigiano-Reggiano or dry Jack cheese


Place beans in a large kettle and fill the kettle with water. Bring the water to a boil. Remove the kettle from the heat and let stand uncovered at least 1 hour. Drain the beans and rinse thoroughly.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, salt, pepper, bay leaf and rosemary. Simmer uncovered until beans are tender, about 1 hour.

While the soup simmers, cook the sausage in batches in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, turning frequently until it is completely cooked. Drain on paper towels.

Remove the bay leaf. Add carrots to the soup and simmer five minutes. Stir in kale, sausage and the remaining quart of water. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally until the kale is tender, about 15 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls. Grate the cheese over the top before serving.

Success in the November garden

Shop for Japanese maples while they are in fall color so you know what you’re getting.

Cut fall foliage to bring inside for arrangements.

There’s still time to plant broccoli, garlic (cloves), lettuce, onions, peas, shallots and Swiss chard.

Bulbs to plant include crocus daffodils, freesias, hyacinths, ranunculus, fritillary, star of Bethlehem and tulips. Gophers love tulips so pots may be a good alternative.

Clean and fill hummingbird feeders.

Keep raking and cleaning gutters.

Be vigilant about finding and killing slugs and snails. They’re hiding beneath big-leaved plants, on the bottoms of pots and beneath piles of lumber.

Now is the best time to take rose cuttings.

Sow seeds of California poppy.

Mulch citrus trees. Don’t let mulch touch the trunk.

Plant sweet pea seeds for spring blooming. Soak seeds overnight in lukewarm water to hasten germination.

Plants spending the winter under eaves against the house will need to be watered. If the weather is going to be dry, you can get a jump on spraying weeds that come up in paths and along fence lines.