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Fall gardening cleanup chores

For some reason, the word "chore" has a spine-shivering connotation to it. A "chore" doesn't seem to be something that's pleasurable. It's one more thing that you are required to do. Like making your bed, making sure you don't leave toothpaste in the sink, or washing your hands before you eat, when spitting and rubbing them on your pants won't do, when you were living with your parents.

David Robson
David Robson

Gardening "chores" never conjure up something pleasant or something you are just so thrilled to get out of the house and do. Chores equate to work, and that means sweat and smelly and dirty and messy and washing your hands before you eat, if your folks happen to drop in.

Now, one can look at chores as work where the reward is the satisfaction that comes with contentment this fall and readiness next spring. Or just as work that few appreciate.

October is the season of chores. It's essentially the month of getting ready for next year while finishing up this year.

It's the month when a killing frost will probably hit, somewhere around the middle of the month, give or take two weeks either way. Sorry I can't be more specific. Trust your weatherman. (Okay, I know. But you probably needed to chuckle about now.)

Plants collapse into a gooey, mushy mess. Hardly anything in the ground is exempt from hostas to peonies to tomatoes to geraniums to pumpkins, though some can survive and even seem to thrive on a touch of the cold. That cold is what makes fall lettuce, radishes, broccoli and cauliflower so tasty. But other plants seem to lose all their backbones and become masses of spitball-like material.


So, you have the chore of cleaning up that mess. You could leave it, and some of it will disappear by spring. You could move and let someone else worry about it.

A good deep snow will cover a lot of it over. That is, until the snow melts and you see an even worse mess. Garden gloves can keep the slimy stuff off your fingers, and it's not like it will kill you. It just involves a lot of cutting, pulling and carrying the debris someplace, or stuffing it into buckets or bags.

Some gardeners will just dig or till the debris into the ground, and let the freezing and thawing and heaving action of the soil break it down before next spring. That's a good practice, provided the material wasn't riddled with disease spots and wilts. Putting diseased material back in the ground is asking for trouble next year.

Raking leaves seems more chore-oriented than a fun day at the beach. You rake and rake and rake, and the leaves still keep coming.

If you live in the country, you have it made. Just rake the leaves next to a corn or bean field, and let the wind blow them away. Make sure the wind is blowing away from your yard, by the way. You might even be able to rake them up and burn them. Again, make sure you know which way the wind is blowing.

Others of us can't rely on the wind, or if we could, our neighbors would be a little peeved. So we are left raking, or mowing the leaves to small pieces. There are ways to make the time go faster, such as singing a song, or just whistling while you work. The song Autumn Leaves comes to mind, but then you realize it's really a depressing song though with a great tune. Sad songs and chores don't go hand-in-hand. So you need a jauntier melody. What song dealing with raking leaves could be escapes me. So, it remains a chore. At least with planting tulips there is an obvious happy song. Can you name that tune?

One of the last chores is cleaning all the tools and putting them away. They need to be free of dirt and rust, dry and oiled. Drain and coil garden hoses. Keep tools and equipment off the floor; in other words, hang everything up.

The good news is if you clean the tools thoroughly before eating, your hands should look pretty clean. Unless you still have to deal with your parents.

David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension. You can write to Robson in care of Illinois Country Living, P.O. Box 3787, Springfield, JL 62708. Telephone: (217) 782-6515. E-Mail:


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