Springtime gardens get the limelight in Texas but, if you have the inclination, fall gardens can provide a bountiful harvest.
The trick is knowing what to plant — and when to plant it.
If you plant fall crops in the same spot as your spring garden, much of the work is done. Just clean out the old plants and work the soil. Planting early maturing vegetables ensures they’ll be ready for harvest by the summer’s end or early fall.
If you’re going to have a separate space for autumn vegetables, pick a place that gets at least eight hours of sunshine a day. Go through the toil of getting your soil ready — digging and putting down a layer of organic matter. Mix it well with the tiller. Top this with a couple of pounds of slow-release fertilizer for every 10-foot-square plot of ground you use and you’re ready to plant. Keep your soil rich and the weeds out and your garden will get better year after year.
Not all your spring vegetables will do well in a fall garden, but some you might not have tried before should thrive. Time for some experimentation! Brussels sprouts, anyone?
In Texas, the latest time to plant tomatoes is about July 1. You’ll be able to harvest this vegetable until September or October. Food-scaping (the art of landscaping with edible plants) is popular in Texas because of our long growing season. There’s also still time to plant summer squash and beans. Heat-loving cucumber plants can go in the ground as late as September 1.
Timeline for Fall Planting
Early September: Snap beans, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, potato, spinach and summer squash.
Early October: Beets, collards, garlic and leaf lettuce.
November: Carrots, onion (by seed), radish and turnip.
6 Expert Tips & Tricks to Fall Produce Planting
1. The garden denizen most closely tied to autumn — the pumpkin — has to be planted by early August, so keep that in mind for next year.
2. When possible, use transplants rather than seed. Buy the biggest transplants you can find. They may cost a little more, but they’ll reward you with bigger, more abundant veggies.
3. If you use peat pots, make sure your plants get plenty of water until they’ve firmly taken root. That may mean daily watering, but avoid keeping them soggy.
4. The average first killing freeze occurs in North Texas about November 10, so you have plenty of time to bring in some harvest. Beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach and cabbage can withstand some freezing weather.
5. Fall is an excellent time for herbs. You can set aside a place for them in your garden, or if you’re not inclined to plant a full-blown garden for fall, you can find smaller spaces for them.
For example, mint — a prerequisite for Texas iced tea — grows easily in shady, moist areas. The plant particularly loves nestling up to your outdoor water spigot where it can get the occasional drip. Spearmint does best in Texas.
Dill is easy and will grow like a weed left on its own. Sage, oregano, marjoram and chives add flavor to those Italian and Mexican dishes and stews that are so home-warming as the weather turns cool. Parsley is the most popular and least eaten herb, but it gives a host of meals a dash of color.
6. Although your garden needs water, avoid the temptation to stand with the hose and overdo it as the weather grows mild and pleasant. A good soaking that goes deep to the roots is better than daily spraying.
Throughout history, fall has been the traditional time for bringing in the harvest, so get in touch with your primal roots. Grab a spade and plant!
Cover photo courtesy Tom Sulcer
Olive Dawson is a gardening and landscape design writer and environmentalist. She is always searching for new ways to reduce waste and grow food organically. She is most proud of her native flower and vegetable garden.