After the oppressive summer heat, many people in southeast Texas are looking forward to cooling off a bit in the fall and getting out into the garden when the temperature drops from the 100s to a more moderate 80 and 90 degrees. Texans in this area have a long growing season almost all year round, but with daylight becoming shorter and the potential for early freezing, it is important to plan and take action when needed to continue growing and harvesting before winter begins.
Prepare your soil
If your DIY compost is ready, dress up the bed where you will plant. Bagged commercial compost can also be used if you do not have a large area to prepare, otherwise you can check your area for a company that can deliver bulk compost to your home.
Before you buy, make sure that your product is completely composted, otherwise the decomposition process deprives your plants and soil of nutrient-rich nitrogen. Ask a knowledgeable representative, or if you have access, take a handful to investigate. It should be fairly uniform without a lot of recognizable leaves and twigs. It should also smell sweet and not have any kind of rotting odor.
Seeds or begins?
Your decision to plant seeds or starts really depends on how much you want to do and whether you are the caring type that can provide the attention that seeds need with proper lighting, heat and moisture. Planting seeds is more cost effective and can be extremely satisfying when everything works the way you want it to. Unfortunately, if it does not, you risk losing out on the fall growing season.
Soak larger seeds with hard seed layers such as beans, peas and okra before planting. Put them in a shallow dish filled with water or between two wet paper towels. Do not let them sit for more than 24 hours if you soak them in a dish.
Plant the seeds and keep them moist in a warm place. When they germinate, increase the amount of light they receive to prevent the stems from becoming bony. It’s still warm outside, so you can keep them on a deck protected from direct sunlight. Just be ready to save them if an early freeze or hungry critics get involved.
Or you can bypass all that effort and simply start with starts that are ready to be planted. Get them in the ground and do not forget to mulch, mulch, a lot. A layer of compost, fallen leaves or bark can help keep the roots moist and protected. Do not apply mulch directly to the stems, otherwise they may be damaged or begin to rot.
Autumn crops worth trying
Mustard vegetables: The slight bitterness in mustard vegetables is tempered when combined with the richness of pork or bacon. Different varieties have different requirements, but curly mustard can withstand colder temps and allow you to plant later in the season for a later harvest.
Green beans: Autumn is the first time for growing green beans. The colder weather sweetens the skis so that they generally taste better than those grown in the spring. Keep them protected from pests and freezers by using row covers to insulate them.
Winter squash: Planted in good soil, squash can be extremely productive in the Texas garden. Spreading vines take up a lot of space, so give them room for growth. They require a long growing season to reach maturity, so you may need to hand pollinate if local pollinators are not available.
Dill, coriander, parsley, thyme: Herbs are especially productive and easy to grow in the fall. Planted in containers or in the ground, they do not require much coddling. Give them their basic needs and you will be rewarded with flavors for your culinary accomplishments.
Plant some ornamental plants and wildflowers: If you are looking for new plantings, it’s time to add them. Ornamental shrubs, roses and perennials love autumn planting so that they can develop strong root growth before spring. Plants that have grown out of their spaces will undergo less stress if you need to move them. These colder months also allow you to rejuvenate perennials that do not seem to bloom as they used to. By sharing them, you can create several smaller plants to fill empty spaces or give to friends and neighbors.
Countless colors from pansies, dianthus, snapdragons and ornamental cabbages can enhance your surroundings when planted in beds or in containers. These are easily found in your home garden center, but do not forget that Texas is home to some of the most incredible wildflowers. Planting seeds like bluebonnets or Indian brush will reward you with low maintenance flowers in the spring.
Get started on holiday onions
Bulbs may take a while to bloom, but they are worth the wait. Start your plantings around Halloween and plant until Thanksgiving for a care display. Bulbs such as ranunculus, crocus, anemones, lycoris, freesia and allium are well suited for the warm Texas winters. Tulips, on the other hand, need a period of cold before they can bloom. If you insist on incorporating tulips into your garden, try to find suppliers who sell them cold and ready for planting, unless you have room in the refrigerator to cool them for several weeks until planting time.
Paperwhites and amaryllis are traditional flowers seen around the holidays. Paperwhites bloom for Christmas if you can get them planted by November. Plant in pots so you can take them indoors to enjoy their scent. However, it is a powerful one, one that has been described in various terms ranging from musk to cat urine. You have been warned. Amaryllis are also easy to grow, with large flowers that tend to make them heavy. A heavy pot, or one weighted with gravel or stones at the bottom, helps keep this tall, stately plant from tipping over.
Give your plants a little extra time
Shorter day length affects the maturity of the plants. It is best to add a week or two to the due dates indicated on your seed packets to anticipate this change in weather. You can also find varieties that ripen faster and save the longer ripe ones for spring. If you lay out starts instead of planting seeds, you are already on your way to an autumn harvest.
Southeastern Texans are fortunate to have weather that allows them to continue gardening in the fall, especially after gathering inside the AC with full blast all summer. It’s still hot outside, so do not forget to whip up a lot of margaritas when it’s time to take a break.