Fall Vegetable Gardening in Texas: A Comprehensive Guide

Are you tired of only having a vegetable garden in the spring? Well, good news! In Texas, it’s possible to have a fall vegetable garden too, with just a few adjustments. In this guide, we will explore everything you need to know about planting a successful fall garden in Texas.

Locating the Fall Garden

If you had a successful spring garden, the same location should work well for your fall garden. When planning a new garden, keep in mind that vegetable crops need at least 8 hours of direct sun each day and should be planted in well-draining soil.

Preparing the Soil for Fall Gardens

If you have an established garden area, pull out all plant material from your spring crop and any weeds that have grown up. Avoid putting plant residue from a spring garden into your compost bin, as it may be contaminated with insects and disease pathogens.

For a new garden site, remove all grass and till the soil to a depth of 10 to 12 inches. Rototillers may not penetrate adequately, but they can be used to loosen and mix shoveled areas.

Next, spread 1 to 2 inches of coarse, washed sand and 2 to 3 inches of organic matter on the garden surface. Till these amendments into the soil to improve its physical quality. Remember, soil improvement is an ongoing process, not something that can be achieved in just a season or two. If you’re building a raised bed garden, make sure to use weed-free loam or sandy loam soil for optimal results.

Adding fertilizer is the next step. You have two options: either apply 1 pound of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) per 100 square feet before planting and then sprinkle 1 tablespoon of ammonium sulfate around each plant every 3 weeks, or apply 2 to 3 pounds of a slow-release fertilizer (19-5-9, 21-7-14, or 25-5-10) per 100 square feet of garden area and apply 1 tablespoon of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) around each plant every 3 weeks. Be cautious not to add too much ammonium sulfate or put it too close to the plants, as it can cause serious damage.

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Instead of commercial fertilizer, you can also use horse or cattle manure at a rate of 60 to 80 pounds per 100 square feet of garden area. However, never use poultry manure on a fall garden.

Once you’ve added fertilizer, mix the soil thoroughly and prepare the beds on which you will plant your rows of vegetables. Make sure the beds are 30 to 36 inches apart to allow for easy movement as the plants grow larger. Pile and firm the planting beds, then water the entire garden with a sprinkler for at least 2 hours. Afterward, let the area dry for several days before planting.

Planting Fall Vegetables

Fall crops generally do better when started from transplants rather than seeds. This is especially true for tomatoes and peppers. To ensure healthy transplants, make sure they have plenty of water. Transplants in peat pots or cell packs with restricted root zones require at least 2 weeks for their root systems to enlarge enough to support active plant growth. Until then, they may need to be watered every day to prevent stunting or death.

When planting, buy the largest transplants possible. Although they may cost more, their root systems will spread faster and the plants will produce more fruit sooner. Alternatively, you can grow your own larger transplants by planting small ones in potting soil mixed with slow-release fertilizer pellets.

It’s important to plant shade-tolerant crops between taller growing vegetables like tomatoes. Proper timing is crucial for successful fall gardening. Refer to Table 1 for average planting dates in various regions of Texas and make sure to compare the temperature extremes in your area to those indicated in the USDA Hardiness Zone Map.

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Fall vegetable crops can be categorized as long-term or short-term crops, depending on their cold tolerance and the date of the first killing frost. Group frost-tolerant and frost-susceptible vegetables together for easy removal after frost damage. Frost-tolerant vegetables include beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, collard, garlic, kale, lettuce, mustard, onion, parsley, spinach, and turnip. Frost-susceptible vegetables include beans, cantaloupe, corn, cucumber, eggplant, okra, pea, peppers, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, and watermelon.

Pick the Best Vegetable Varieties for Texas

In Texas, not all vegetable varieties are well suited and adapted to every region. To ensure success, choose varieties that have been proven to do well in your area. Consult with your county Extension agent for a recommended list of varieties.

Fall is for Herbs

Herbs are not only flavorsome but can also add ornamental value to your garden. Some commonly used culinary herbs include basil, chamomile, catnip, comfrey, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, rosemary, chives, coriander, dill, parsley, sage, and thyme. Each herb has its own unique characteristics and uses in cooking.

When planting herbs, select a sunny and well-drained location. Some herbs are annuals, while others are perennials. Choose the appropriate type for your garden. Herbs can be established through seed planting, direct planting in the garden, or by starting seeds indoors for later transplanting. Many herbs can also be propagated by cuttings or division.

How to Care for Vegetable Plants

Watering is crucial for the health and productivity of your vegetable plants. Water thoroughly, soaking the soil to a depth of 6 inches, and only when the plants need it. Avoid light, frequent watering, as it promotes poor root development. Sandy soils require more frequent watering compared to heavy clay soils.

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Protecting your plants from insects and diseases is also important. Identify the cause of any problems correctly before taking action. Many pesticides are available to help protect vegetables. Read the product label carefully and always follow the instructions.

In addition to pesticides, you can also protect your plants by using covers that keep insects away. Covering your plants with clear plastic or row cover fabric can significantly reduce insect damage. Make sure to ventilate plastic covers during hot days to prevent overheating.

Nematodes can be a common garden problem. Planting cereal rye in the fall or solarizing or pasteurizing the soil in July can help combat nematodes.

Harvesting Fall Vegetables

To get the best results from your garden, it’s important to harvest produce properly and at the right time. Harvest beans before they are fully mature, beets when they are about 2 inches in diameter, broccoli heads when they are firm and compact, Brussels sprouts before the lower leaves turn yellow, cabbage when the head becomes solid, and cauliflower heads when they are firm and 4 to 8 inches in diameter.

When it comes to carrots, harvest them when the crown size is at least 3/4 inch in diameter or when the tip is orange. For cucumbers, harvest them when they are bright, firm, and green, ideally 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Greens should be harvested while the leaves are young and tender. Harvest peppers when they have full, well-formed lobes, and spinach when six or more dark green leaves have formed.

Remember to chill your harvested vegetables immediately to maintain their freshness.

With this comprehensive guide, you now have all the information you need to plant a successful fall vegetable garden in Texas. Happy gardening!

Ames Farm Center

Acknowledgments to Jerry Parsons, former Extension Horticulturist, for his contributions to this guide.