After the oppressive summer heat, many folks in Southeast Texas are looking forward to cooling off a bit in the fall, getting out in the garden once temps fall from the 100s to a more moderate 80 and 90 degrees. Texans in this area enjoy a long growing season almost year round, but with daylight getting shorter, and the potential for early freezes, it’s important to plan and take action when necessary to continue growing and harvesting before winter sets in.
Get Your Soil Prepared
If your DIY compost is ready, top dress the bed where you’ll be planting. Bagged commercial compost can also be used if you don’t have a large area to prepare, otherwise, check your area for a company that can deliver bulk compost to your home.
Before purchasing, make sure your product is fully composted, otherwise the process of decomposing will rob your plants and soil of nutritious nitrogen. Ask a knowledgeable representative, or if you have access, grab a handful to examine it. It should be fairly uniform without a bunch of recognizable leaves and twigs. It should also smell sweet and not have any sort of rotting odor.
Seeds or Starts?
Your decision to plant seeds or starts really depends on the amount of effort you want to take, and whether or not you’re the nurturing type who can provide the attention seeds need with proper lighting, warmth, and humidity. Planting seeds is more cost effective, and can be extremely satisfying when everything works out the way you want it. Unfortunately, if it doesn’t, you risk losing out on the fall growing season.
Soak larger seeds with hard seed coats like beans, peas, and okra before planting. Put them in a shallow dish filled with water, or between two wet paper towels. If you soak them in a dish, don’t let them sit longer than 24 hours.
Plant the seeds and keep them moist in a warm location. Once they sprout, increase the amount of light they get to keep stems from getting leggy. It’s still warm outside, so you can keep them on a deck protected from direct sun. Just be ready to rescue them if an early freeze or hungry critters get involved.
Or you could bypass all that effort and simply go with starts that are ready to be planted. Get them in the ground and don’t forget to mulch, mulch, much. A three inch layer of compost, fallen leaves, or bark can help keep roots moist and protected. Don’t lay mulch directly against stems or else they could be injured or start to rot.
Fall Crops Worth Trying
Mustard Greens: The slight bitterness in mustard greens is tempered when combined with the richness of pork or bacon. Different varieties have different requirements, but curled mustards can stand colder temps and will give you the opportunity to plant later in the season for a later harvest.
Green Beans: Fall is prime time for growing green beans. The cooler weather sweetens the pods so they are generally better tasting than those grown in spring. Keep them protected from pests and freezing temps by using row covers to help insulate them.
Winter Squash: Planted in good soil, squash can be extremely productive in the Texas garden. Sprawling vines take up a lot of space, so provide them room for growth. They require a long growing season to reach maturity, so you may need to hand pollinate if local pollinators are unavailable.
Dill, Cilantro, Parsley, Thyme: Herbs are particularly productive and easy to grow during the fall. Planted in containers or in the ground, they don’t require much coddling. Give them their basic needs and you’ll be rewarded with flavors for your culinary exploits.
Plant Some Ornamentals and Wildflowers: If you’re in the market for new plantings, now is the time to add them. Ornamental shrubs, roses, and perennials love fall planting so they can develop strong root growth before spring. Plants that have outgrown their spaces will undergo less stress if you need to move them. These cooler months also allow you to rejuvenate perennials that don’t seem to be flowering the way they used to. By dividing them, you can create multiple smaller plants to fill empty spaces or give to friends and neighbors.
Myriad colors from pansies, dianthus, snapdragons, and ornamental cabbage can enhance your surroundings when planted in beds or in containers. These are easily found in your home garden center, but don’t forget that Texas is home to some of the most incredible wildflowers. Planting seeds like bluebonnets or Indian paintbrush will reward you with low maintenance blooms in spring.
Get Holiday Bulbs Started
Bulbs may take a while to flower, but they are worth the wait. Start your plantings around Halloween, and plant until Thanksgiving for a spring display. Bulbs like ranunculus, crocus, anemones, lycoris, freesia, and alliums are well suited to the warm Texas winters. Tulips on the other hand, need a period of cold before they can bloom. If you insist on incorporating tulips in your garden, try to find suppliers that sell them pre-chilled and ready for planting, unless you have the space in your refrigerator to chill them for several weeks until planting time.
Paperwhites and amaryllis are traditional flowers seen around the holidays. Paperwhites will bloom by Christmas if you can get them planted by November. Plant in pots so you can bring them indoors to enjoy their fragrance. It’s a powerful one though, one that’s been described in varying terms that range from musk to cat urine. You’ve been warned. Amaryllis are also easy to grow, with huge flowers that tend to make them top heavy. A heavy pot, or one weighted down with gravel or rocks at the bottom will help keep this tall, stately plant from tipping over.
Give Your Plants Some Extra Time
Shorter day length will affect plant maturity rates. It’s best to add a week or two to the maturity dates listed on your seed packets to anticipate this change in the weather. You can also find varieties that mature faster and save the longer maturing ones for spring. If you put out starts instead of planting seeds, you're already on your way to a fall harvest.
Southeast Texans are fortunate to have weather that allows them to keep gardening in the fall, especially after being cooped up inside with the AC on full blast the whole summer. It’s still warm outside, so don’t forget to whip up a batch of margaritas when its time to take a break.