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Over the Garden Fence

Late fall yard tasks - from mower to snowblower

Sometimes life gets in the way of doing things on time, especially in the yard, and even if we know better. This past gardening season for homeowners may have had a way of pushing those garden activities back since our year has been so different in so many ways. The weather pattern is most likely to blame, and we have to blame something!


Now that we have had some good frosts, fall color will continue for a while yet, but at some point, all those leaves have to come down (especially with any high winds). Some trees will drop leaves all at once, others over time. Leaves can be used in a number of ways in the yard and not all of them need to be “kicked to the curb.” Leaves can provide good winter cover and hide the perennials from the rabbits, or they can be mulched up, added to the garden soil, and worked in for next spring. Leaves can be part of the “brown stuff” we need to add to the compost pile so you have the proper mix of brown and green for an active composting cycle.


The last lawn mowing of the season will likely need to be done before the middle of November and that will put both ground up leaves and grass in the bag, if you catch your clippings, and that makes for a good mix for the compost pile. Be sure to prep your mower for winter storage after you are finished for the season. Clean the deck above and below, as our mowing often involves wetter than normal grass and leaves. And consider sharpening that mower blade to get a jump on spring duties.

Late cleanup

The late season activity of perennial plant cleanup still can be done, even in this colder weather. Our perennials are now completely dormant and any above ground parts can be removed and composted. One benefit of getting the garden cleaned up so late is you have had the time to enjoy some of the fall color offered by those perennials. For example, big-leafed hostas showed off those strong yellows and golds.

We do not often think of ornamental grasses as a perennial in the general sense, yet they are and they also need to be handled properly. You see the landscape firms cutting the grasses down in the fall, yet as a home gardener, you can leave the tops on for winter interest and cut them down next spring instead. A wildlife bonus is birds will use the grasses for nest building.

Last but not least

A few of the regular late fall activities that are not yet behind us are: late season watering, cleaning the leaves from the gutters, and putting away the hoses. The latter includes removing it from the frost-free spigot, draining it, and putting away for the winter. Homeowners new to gardening often leave the hose on the spigot, which if left full of water will freeze and could burst the spigot causing some serious repair expense!

One of the last things to do – and it really is not about gardening at all – is to dig out the snow shovel and snow blower. Remember, our modern gas can go stale after a few months, so be sure to get fresh gas and a stabilizer in the lawn mower and the snow blower. Winter will be here before we know it!

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.