Fall is the Best Time to Garden in North Texas!

The heat of the summer is finally making way for cooler mornings and the sun has shifted ever so slightly so it is less intense. We are more comfortable working in the garden - and our plants are more comfortable too. With the cooler nights they begin actively growing again, and they appreciate the increased rainfall.

Fall bloomers like Santa Barbara Sage, Mexican Mint Marigold, Pineapple Sage, Louisiana Phlox and Fall Aster are strutting their stuff. If you don’t have these beauties in your garden, consider adding them. If more color is needed, you can always rely on the punch from fall annuals like chrysanthemums, crotons or snapdragons – and consider mixing in pumpkins for a surprise element.

Our comfort tells us that fall is the best time to garden in North Texas, but why is fall considered the best time to plant (or transplant)? Because the soil still holds the warmth from the summer, so plant roots are able to grow all winter, getting them off to a faster start the following spring.

Are there plants in your garden that need to be divided and re-planted, or transplanted into a better place? Do you have gaps that need to be filled in with new plants? This is the time to take a good look at your garden and see what you want to change. Plant annual color (pansies, flowering kale and cabbage, dianthus, cyclamen and violas) by the end of October.

Seeds that you planted in the vegetable garden in August and September should be getting started. It’s past time to plant some crops, but you can still put in arugula, calendula, cilantro, dill, garlic, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley, potatoes, radishes, sorrel and turnips. From my experience, herbaceous perennials (those which die to the roots over the winter) should be planted no later than November 1st. Woody perennials (those which maintain their above ground structure over the winter) can be planted until November 15th. I’ve pushed these dates several years - sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. Most container grown shrubs and trees can be planted until December 1st, although it’s best to wait until the winter dormant season for planting large woody shrubs or ornamental trees. Trees that are “balled and burlap” are best planted October through January.

Plant or transplant as much as your back and your budget can afford, but one chore you should always factor in time for is watering. I have found that the single most important step to the success of planting is to follow a watering schedule so that the plant can become fully established. This includes plants that are labelled “drought tolerant” (they assume this status only after they are established). This is the schedule that has worked for me:

  1. Water every day for three times.

  2. Water every other day for three times.

  3. Water every three days for three times.

  4. Water every four days for three times.

It sounds confusing until you plot it out on the calendar. After this month of watering, water once a week for the next month, then water deeply once in the next month. At this point, the plant should thrive with natural rainfall supplemented with the automatic watering system if needed.

By the way, when I say “water”, I don’t mean a quick drink. Water each plant individually with a hose (count to 5-10 for small plants and 20-30 for large plants). Hooray for you if you have a rain barrel! In this case give each plant a watering can full of water. DO NOT rely on your automatic sprinkler system, plants will simply not receive enough water to become established in this critical first month.

One thing I love about gardeners is the ever present optimism that next season is another chance to try something new or tweak another part of the garden. I encourage you to enjoy the gentle warmth of fall and the exercise that gardening affords by getting out in your garden and planting this fall. And don’t forget to water!