Fall is just around the corner, and experts say selecting the right plants for Texas fall temperatures will ensure beautiful flower beds and gardens.
“Fall planting is most successful when done on weather-based decisions,” said Lyle Zoeller, Bell County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources. “It usually cools off as we get into September. The day length is already shorter, and we are getting less sunlight.”
The first step in establishing a vegetable garden, flower bed or lawn is soil testing to determine the fertility, Zoeller said. Soil testing is available for $10 through Texas A&M University. A form and a plastic bag for soil testing are available at the extension service office at 1605 N. Main St. in Belton. Gardeners can mail in the completed form along with a soil sample, and receive results within a couple of weeks to find what plants are best for the soil types in their gardens or lawns.
Jerry Lewis of Killeen, a Bell County Master Gardener with 50 years of gardening experience, agrees that fall is the best time to plant vegetables. Radishes, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cabbage, kale, spinach, turnips and even loose leaf lettuce can be grown in the fall in Central Texas.
“Vegetables need to be planted until the end of October,” Lewis said. “This allows you to get a crop before the first freeze.”
Growers need to look at the soil — not the plants — to determine how often the plants need watering, Lewis said. He suggests gardeners stick their fingers in the ground to determine the wetness of the soil.
“If the soil is not wet, you need to water,” he said. “You will see your plants wilting at 5 p.m., but they will be fully standing in the early morning. This is due to the heat in the later part of the day. So, don’t look at the plant to decide if you need to water.”
The root zone for vegetables is 6 inches to 8 inches deep. Lewis recommends watering the plants deeply with a hose rather than a sprinkler.
Watering is based on soil types.
“We have different kinds of soil, even in Killeen,” Lewis said. “ You need to determine your soil nutrients, which are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, through soil testing. Otherwise, you can over-fertilize and you will have all plant and no vegetables.”
Plants should not be fertilized after October so there will be no risk of new growth freezing.
Another advantage to fall gardening is grasshoppers and other pests start disappearing.
“There are not as many pests to share your produce with,” Lewis said.
If you prefer to plant flowers instead of vegetables, fall is still a great time for planting.
“Flowering plants such as mums, snap dragons, dianthus, chrysanthemums and even pansies are great to plant right now,” said Lisa Driver, manager of Green Leaf Landscape & Garden Center, formerly Heights Nursery and Garden Center, in Harker Heights. “Perennials such as lumbago and lantanas can still be planted through September.”
Driver recommends planting shrubs in the fall, such as evergreen, Indian Hawthorne, hollies and ferns that like shade. She also suggests gardeners check their lawns for fungus.
“If you do have fungus in your yard grass, treat it now,” Driver said. “When the grass goes dormant in the winter, the fungus will be worse in the spring.”
To ward off any remaining mealy bugs and aphids this fall, Driver recommends using Malathion because it can be safely used on vegetables or shrubs.
“It is a systemic insecticide. It kills on contact and is absorbed by the plant,” Driver said. “So it continues to kill the bugs in the future.”
All growers recommend using caution when using insecticide.
“It is important to make sure that you follow the instructions on the packaging because some insecticides cannot be used on specific plants,” Lewis said. “Read the information carefully, and you’ll be OK.”
For more information about fall planting, call the Bell County AgriLife Extension office at 254-933-5305.