If there is one thing you can count on in Texas gardening it’s that whatever it is, it is too much. First we have had record years of drought, and then this month we’ve had the wettest October on record. I welcome the rain and so does my garden, but the folks living very close to the Colorado River are in angst about whether their properties will be flooded this weekend of Nov 1st. What a change!
Another change is soon coming and that is our average first frost date on November 15th. In recent years it seems to me to be later, more like Thanksgiving or thereabouts. In either case we should prepare to protect newly planted perennials and tender vegetables. When frost is projected, water plants well and be certain they are heavily mulched. You can also drape purchased row cover (a light-weight spun cloth) or even light blankets over susceptible plantings. I’ve saved my old moving blankets from past years and use them on rows in the ground, and on peppers in cages and potted plants, securing them with clothes pins. You can also purchase plastic cloches, or make them from 5 gal water jugs with bottoms removed and something covering the top opening.
As I’ve said many times, fall is the best time for planting in Texas. Now is the season for planting trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and groundcovers. It is also bulb-planting season and some of the best for our area are the Southern Daffodils, French/Roman Hyacinths, Summer Snowflake, Grape Hyacinths (Muscari racemosum or M. atlanticum), Rain Lily, and Johnson’s Amaryllis. Forget the tulips (unless planted as annuals); they don’t get enough winter chill here to bloom.
It is also time to plant wildflowers, with the ideal planting season ending at the end of the month. Planting now gives the seeds time to germinate and form small plants that will overwinter and then bloom next spring and summer. Two local sources for seed are Native American Seed (www.seedsource.com) in Junction, and Wildseed Farms (www.wildseedfarms.com) in Fredricksburg. Both carry many collections of appropriate seed for our area, and also individual seed packets for smaller plantings. I planted “Low Growing Meadow Blend” on my land near Bastrop State Park a few years ago and luckily it was the year we had frequent rain over winter; I had a riot of wildflowers the next spring.
Now is the time to plant half-hardy annuals that will over-winter and bloom through late May. My favorites for this area are Violas, Alyssum, English Daisy, Lobelia, Snapdragons, Ornamental Kale, Dianthus/Pinks, and Stocks. These are all available as small plants in flats, but you can also seed out Sweet Peas, Calendula, Larkspur, Nasturtium, and Iceland or Shirley Poppies.
There is still time to plant Lettuce, Green Onions, Mustard, Radish, and Spinach from seed. Plant Garlic, Yellow and Red Onions, and Shallots from small bulbs, and Kale from transplants. You can also seed out Cilantro, Dill, and Parsley in the Herb Garden, and set out transplants of most other perennial herbs (Basil is an annual).
Now is also a good time to lift and divide perennials, sharing them with others when you have too many. A great book, Passalong Plants by Steve Bender, Felder Rushing, and Allen Lacy (2002), talks about this tradition of sharing, especially in prominent in Southern gardening circles.
Finally, some garden clean-up is in order. Prune out any dead limbs from trees and shrubs, and discard with your green recycling. Soon we will be raking leaves, but do not discard these. They can be mown into the lawn with a recycling mower, or moved to the compost pile or to mulch garden beds over winter.
I hope you will, like me, think of fall and winter as supreme gardening season. There are much fewer insects to trouble you, and fall/winter gardens here are often much more successful than those planted in spring and summer.