Here at the HouseWorks Project House autumn chores start early.

And they end only when snow flies.

I had a week off in mid-September, so I started in the flower gardens.

Cold-sensitive cannas came out of the ground first: I bundled their 6-foot-tall stalks and hauled them to the curb, and I packed their roots in an old drywall bucket full of sawdust (never in short supply here) to be stowed in the basement for the winter.

I could have left the cannas for a few more weeks of bloom, but I've found they're a lot easier to deal with before the first freeze of the season reduces those mighty summer flowers to limp stalks.

The annuals, including marigolds, nasturtiums and cosmos, were yanked out next, but I harvested their seeds before the tops went into the trash barrel. I spread them on old cookie sheets in the shop for a few days to dry, then packed them in envelopes for a winter rest.

The day of the final vegetable harvest saw a flurry of activity. Tomato, green pepper, potato and cucumber tops went into the trash, then still-green tomatoes went into the house to ripen under newspapers (also in ready supply), peppers were chopped and frozen for winter pizzas, and spuds and onions were stowed in wooden bins in the basement pantry.

I also clipped some sage, oregano and basil for a buddy before I ripped out the annual herbs and started cutting back the perennials.

With all that stuff out of the ground, I could clean my portable bunny fences and tomato cages, then schlep them to their winter home in the back corner of the garage.

Spring is even busier than fall — if you can believe it — so I always till the garden beds and leave them rough so the winter's freeze-thaw cycle can break down the soil for me. It also gives me a chance to dig in my precious compost, largely chopped leaves from last autumn.

Then there were the perennials.


With one hand clutching their withering tops and the other wielding Grandpa's trusty sickle, I mightily slew ribbon grass and irises, day lilies and sedums, borage and peonies, hostas and phlox, as well as several others whose names I've forgotten.

If I ever knew.

Quite a few of them I've named for the gardeners who happily shared them with me: Donna's weed, Mary's stuff, Penny's plants. Some of them are terrifically invasive, which likely is why those intrepid fellow-gardeners were so happy to share them.

Even more invasive is the English ivy, but I'm personally to blame. About five years ago, I harvested several sprigs that were growing wild in the city park out back, and I transplanted them where I thought a little ground cover would be nice.

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Well, it does cover the ground. As well as the retaining wall and the sidewalk and the lawn and the flower beds and nearby trees ....

I've discovered I can most successfully "prune" the ivy with a sharp shovel. Then I rake out the remains in an annual harvest that also goes to the curb — unless I can share it with some other gardener who is looking for a nice ground cover.

It all gets done eventually.

Now all I have to worry about is the tree leaves poised to commit suicide.

Of course, this year's leaves will become next year's compost.

What goes around …

(Send your questions to HouseWorks, P.O. Box 81609, Lincoln, Neb. 68501 or email