Knowing what to plant is as critical to gardening success in Texas as knowing when to plant it.
Part of that process is knowing how to properly change your crops with each season. Right now, we are headed into our seemingly eternal summer. It’s about time to replace a few things as they finish their growing season and replant with hot weather-tolerant summer crops.
By now, most of our cold weather greens should be ending their growing season. Produce like lettuce, cabbage, spinach and kale are just about done. Once these plants start to flower (a process called bolting), the quality of the leaves starts to diminish and the plants usually die soon after. With leafy greens, blooming is a good indicator that it is time to replant. Onions should also be ready to harvest by now – we harvested ours at Big Tex Urban Farms about three weeks ago. Potatoes won’t be far behind the onions, and the way to tell when both onions and potatoes are ready to be harvested is to watch for the foliage to begin dying off. Strawberries should still have a few weeks to a month before they start to fade, but they too will need to be replaced in the summer months. When you do pull out your old veggie plants, there is no reason to let them go to waste – they will be a great addition to your compost pile. If you don’t have a compost pile yet, I strongly recommend starting one as there is no better soil nutrient source than fresh compost.
Once you have your cool season veggies removed, you need to have a plan in place to keep the harvest going. The first thing I recommend you do is add a two-inch layer of compost to the top of each bed that will be replanted. Work the compost in with a tiller or a shovel as best you can. You need to be obsessive about adding organic matter every chance you get in order to keep your beds as productive as possible. This is also a great time to pull any weeds that may have started growing in your garden. After you have your beds prepared, it’s time to start planting.
We have some really great options here in Texas for summer planting. Here is a list of some of my favorites:
Okra is tough as nails and very productive here. As a member of the hibiscus family, okra makes a really pretty flower as well.
Originally from Africa, this plant is extremely heat-tolerant. I really like California Black-Eyed Number 5, which is what we are growing at Big Tex Urban Farms. Zipper Cream is a smaller variety with a really unique flavor.
They like warm soils and summer is their season. Lots of great choices here – watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew all do well in Texas. We are growing Hale’s Best cantaloupe and Black Diamond watermelon, but almost all varieties can do well here.
There are some varieties that are good for fresh eating and some that are better for pickling; any kind can be grown for summer. We are going to plant pickling cucumbers when our strawberries fade.
There are two classifications of squash: summer and winter. Summer squashes include zucchini, yellow squash and Pattypan. Winter squashes include the Butternut and Acorn varieties. All can be planted now. A word of warning – all varieties are very susceptible to the dreaded squash vine borer, which is very hard to control here. You can normally get some squash harvested, however, before it succumbs to the bugs.
Want fresh greens in the summer? You can have it with this hot weather spinach. This is a twining vine, so be sure and give it a trellis to climb on. It is also very ornamental, with a pretty red stem and dark green foliage.
That’s right, I said tomatoes. If you didn’t get these planted in time for a summer harvest, or if you want to ensure a bumper crop in the fall, you can replant tomatoes in the summer. For best results, be sure and get these in the ground before the 4th of July. There are many varieties like Heatwave and Phoenix that were bred to be super heat-tolerant, but I have done just as well with standard varieties like Early Girl and Celebrity. Cherry tomatoes are a good option, too.
All of the above mentioned varieties are good choices for planting this time of year. Be sure and get them on a good watering schedule to get them off to a good start in this heat. Be on the lookout for wilting foliage. A good practice is to stick your finger down a few inches into the soil to check for moisture. If it feels dry, it’s time to water.
Hopefully, you’ll find my ideas useful for your garden. If you get a game plan and follow my advice, you can keep your garden productive year-round. I’ll be back with more tips really soon, and until then, Happy Gardening!