Gardeners' Dirt: Fall in the garden

By Suzanne LaBrecque - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Sept. 26, 2013 at 4:26 a.m.

Fall is the time to plant colorful cool-season annuals. Mixing edibles like Swiss chard and other greens, parsley, calendulas and violas adds texture and interest to your beds.

Fall is the time to plant colorful cool-season annuals. Mixing edibles like Swiss chard and other greens, parsley, calendulas and violas adds texture and interest to your beds.

Editor's note: Today's article continues the series of seasonal gardening tips from the Victoria County Master Gardeners. Reference material is from Doug Welsh's Texas Garden Almanac. Welsh was the first statewide coordinator for the Texas Master Gardener program.

A friend once said, "There are two kinds of people: inside people and outside people." Outside people tend to fall into two categories. The gardeners are those who are the growers of plants, flowers, vegetables, fruits and nuts while the "yardeners" are those who maintain the appearance of the lawn, shrubs and trees. Of course, some outside people do all aspects of planting and harvesting - and everything along the way.

Gardening activities

In Texas, fall gardeners finally get to enjoy cooler weather and being outdoors. There are activities and projects that amend the soil for cool-season planting and allow for choices in plant selection.

Add organic matter to soils

October is the time to add organic matter to the soils to prepare for planting cool-season annuals and vegetables. Beds of flowers, vegetables and shrubs need additional mulch and compost. It is a good idea to use shredded or mowed fallen leaves in all garden beds. It is important not to bag fallen leaves for the landfill, especially when they can be used to enrich the soils and protect plants during winter months.

Plant cool-season annuals

After preparing the garden soil, it is time to plant cool-season annuals that add new color and interest to flower beds. According to Doug Welsh, retired Texas A&M horticulture professor, cool-weather plants that do well in the Coastal Bend area include alyssum, ornamental cabbage, calendula, dianthus, Johnny jump-up, pansy, snapdragon, stock, sweet pea and viola.

October through November is the best time to plant these, and according to a bit of folk wisdom one should plant pansies around the time of the full moon in late October or early November for strength in blooming.

Be sure to water and fertilize new plants so they will develop strong roots and be able to withstand cold weather. Also remember to deadhead roses so they will continue to bloom until the first frost.

Plant butterfly host plants

To attract butterflies, Dr. Welsh says now is the prime time to select and plant perennials such as butterfly weed, lantana, purple coneflower, salvias and verbena.

Grow fall vegetables

Some vegetables that do well in Texas during the fall include beet, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collard greens, leaf lettuce, snow peas, sugar snap peas, Swiss chard and turnips.

Ornamentals attractive to landscape

Vegetables mature as the days get shorter and cooler and tend to have a less-bitter taste than the same vegetables grown in the spring. Some of these vegetables like ornamental kale and cabbage are attractive additions to the landscape. Also, insect problems are less in the fall than in the spring and summer.

"Yardening" activities

Early in October, "yardeners" need to observe their mowing patterns for proper lawn care. Also, landscape updates are timely with trees and shrubs as well as new colors or theme gardens.

Fertilize turf after soil test

When two weeks pass between mowings, it is time to fertilize the turf. To avoid winter weeds in the lawn, apply a granular pre-emergent herbicide now. October is a good month to have a soil test before the early spring rush. In addition to private labs, Texas A&M and Texas Tech are two universities that provide soil testing. Soil testing information is available at the Victoria County AgriLife Extension Service office.

Plant/re-plant trees and shrubs

October is a good time to analyze your landscape. You may want to redesign the appearance of the yard. It's time to remove less desirable trees and shrubs in favor of new ones.

Select new colors for gardens

Some "yardeners" select new colors or themes for their gardens. For example, a monochromatic white garden or variegated white and green foliage is especially attractive in early morning or late afternoon light. Blue gardens promote tranquility while red gardens appeal to most people and attract hummingbirds.

Plant new theme gardens

Some other theme gardens that can be planted this month are children's, patriotic, alphabet and family gardens. Another theme garden gaining popularity during drought times are the prairie gardens composed of various native grasses and wildflowers. Plant prairie gardens in the fall in full-sun locations, away from the house and mature trees to avoid fire hazards.

Choose plants with berries

If you would like to plant ornamental berry-bearing plants, buy container plants now while they have berries, and you can select plants with the color berries that enhance the landscape. Some ornamental shrubs that Dr. Welsh recommends include American beautyberry, dogwood, possumhaw and yaupon.

Monitor watering patterns

Since the fall months tend to yield more rain, gardeners can turn off irrigation systems for the winter. However without rain, water once every three or four weeks to keep plants healthy during their dormant period.

Fall season projects

Both gardeners and "yardeners" can find plenty of outside seasonal projects to improve their preferred aspects of developing and maintaining vegetable gardens and a healthy, beautiful landscape.

In planning your outside projects, consider completing one significant one per week and you will be rewarded with new growth and color as you welcome autumn.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or or comment on this column at



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