August means fall veggie gardens. Wait! What?

I want to talk today about getting your fall vegetable garden started right now!

Yes … in the month of August.

Every time I say that, I’m reminded of a conversation I had about two 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?

Me: August!

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. (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. However, the following can be seeded or transplanted August through September:

  • Bush and pole beans (8/1 - 9/15)
  • Lima beans (8/1 - 9/15)
  • Broccoli transplants (8/1 - 9/15)
  • Brussels sprouts (8/1 - 10/1)
  • Cabbage transplants (8/1 - 9/15)
  • Chinese cabbage (8/15 - 9/15)
  • Carrots (8/15 - 10/15)
  • Cauliflower transplants (8/15 - 9/15)
  • Swiss chard (8/1 - 10/15)
  • Sweet corn (8/1 - 8/15)
  • Cucumber (8/1 - 9/15)
  • Kohlrabi (8/15 - 9/15)
  • Parsley (8/15 - 10/1)
  • Irish potatoes (8/15 - 9/15)
  • Summer squash (8/1 - 8/15)

Cole crops are considered the standard for fall vegetable gardening in Texas. They include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, 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.

You may be wondering about lettuce and other “greens” that aren’t technically cole crops. Well, they are actually capable of handling cold weather better than the others above. But you’ll need to wait until at least October to transplant or put in their seeds - they just won’t take the August heat.

Some greens to consider include mustard, collard, kale, spinach or Swiss chard plus the specialty greens pac choi, radicchio, tatsoi and molokhia

Most greens are considered cool-season 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.

And 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. And remember … it’s wise to let newly built beds rest or mellow for a couple of weeks before planting seeds or installing transplants.

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