In the summer of 2022, thanks to excessive heat and persistent drought throughout the state, it was hard to convince the average home gardener that it’s time to get busy with Fall Vegetable Gardens at the end of July and early August. But yes, August is a jumping off point for so many vegetables sowing dates for Houston. It may be even harder to believe that in northern part of the state, July is the month for many sown seeds.
But even though the sowing seeds date, and even the “transplants” planting dates, are all over the place from mid-August through October 10th, what I like to convince people about “getting started” with Fall Vegetable Gardening is actually preparing the beds as early as mid-July.
In the past, I’ve written pieces about Fall Vegetable Bed Building with titles like: August Means Fall Vegetable Gardens! Wait! What?? Every time I say that, I’m reminded of a conversation I had several years ago, with a recent transplant from New York:
New Yorker: Yeah, while I love what I get for my money down here, I’m not liking this heat.
Me: Here’s your trade-off — we get to garden pretty much year-round. While you’d be suffering from snow, ice and freezing temperatures — and rarely going outside November through March — we’ll be enjoying production from our fall veggie gardens and citrus trees. Especially November through January! And still playing golf!
New Yorker: When in hell are you supposed put in a fall vegetable garden while it’s this hot?
New Yorker: Youse guys are crazy!
Me: Y’all are bunch of snowflakes!!
When I said August, the dumbfounded look on his face was priceless. Yes, my GardenLine faithful, August is the time to start thinking about fall veggie gardens. If you want one, you should be getting busy right now, despite the heat.
If you don’t already have a bed dedicated to fall gardening, or if your spring garden has petered out, this is the perfect time to build or rebuild. Acting now allows some time for the soil to rest and let organic matter mellow a bit. If you build it, they will come! The veggies that is… (Yes, I watched Field of Dreams last week.)
Many novice gardeners — and even some veteran gardeners who are new to Houston — overlook this opportunity to set up a fall garden. If you hold off planting until temperatures have moderated, many vegetables won’t have enough time to reach maturity before the onset of cold weather.
Whenever possible, choose vegetables that will mature early. They can be planted after early summer vegetables have been harvested and still be ready to pick before freezing temperatures hit. In general, transplants are best for fall veggie gardens, because of the continuing summer heat
No matter where you are in Texas, here is a pretty simple chart to understand about sowing vegetable seeds in different zones, as published by Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension Service:
Now, when it comes to using “transplants” (already grown out) in Fall Vegetable Gardening, you can simply use the aforementioned chart and move forward in the calendar about 3 weeks.
And beyond what we consider year-round vegetables, like Tomatoes, Peppers, Squash and the like, we are well-versed at growing Cole crops in southeast Texas in winter months. Cole crops include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuces of all kinds and Brussels sprouts. They’re all cool-season crops which can be grown successfully in most Texas gardens if the right varieties are planted at the right time. Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are the hardest to grow, while broccoli and cabbage are the easiest. For most gardens, broccoli is an ideal choice because it produces quickly, and each plant can be harvested several times.
Some greens to consider planting beyond simply lettuces include mustard, collard, kale, spinach or Swiss chard plus the specialty greens pak choi (aka bok choy), radicchio, tatsoi and molokhia. Most greens are considered cool-season only crops, so many folks believe they should be grown only in early, early spring. However, seasoned Texas gardeners get greens and lettuces rolling in October and just protect them with covers on frosty nights and mornings. That way, they can have greens and lettuces November through April. In fact, some greens, like kale, can withstand temperatures below freezing and be grown all winter in many areas.
Some additional tips during August, especially in existing beds:
- Remove old plants that have stopped producing to eliminate shelters for insects and diseases.
Peppers and tomatoes planted earlier this year may not set fruit during the summer heat, even though they may still be flowering. But, if they remain healthy, fruit will reappear once temperatures remain steadily below 90 degrees.
- Side-dress established plants with enriched garden soils or high-end compost. Add a hit of fertilizer, too.
- If you are new to fall vegetable gardening and don’t know the importance of raised beds, read this tip sheet about making them perfect.
- It’s wise to let newly built beds rest or mellow for a couple of weeks before planting seeds or installing transplants.