Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Gardening in Central Texas - Lessons Learned

This month is my one-year anniversary of gardening in Central Texas. It hardly seems possible that a year has passed since I first put my hands in the sticky muck that passes for soil in my back yard. My first two plantings were some sad looking tomatoes and peppers from Lowe's. I just jammed in them in a strip of raised bed left by the previous owners, and hoped for the best. The best didn't really happen, because I was about to be KO'd by the hottest summer in Austin history. But even so, there have been many lessons learned since then, and hopefully my fall gardening season will kick off a little more successfully.

1. It is freakin' hot here. The hottest summer non-withstanding, the heat here is so much more intense than Oregon. Those 100-degree days in August are nothing compared to the every day onslaught here in Austin. It doesn't cool down at night so a stressed plant stays that way. The bonus though, is that these warm nights really aid the growth cycle and ripens fruit a lot faster.

2. You cannot water enough. I didn't understand why everyone was so upset when water restrictions said you could only irrigate once a week. I'm used to that being just fine and watering any more frequently promotes shallow root growth. Not here. Some of my vegetables and fruit get watered every day during the hot spell. During fruit set I will hand water AND drip irrigate. Believe me, I am not overwatering. I use my trowel or garden fork to dig in the soil to find the moisture zone and spend many days never finding it. I am so thankful that I installed my rainwater collection system.

3. Pestilence rules. If there is an obnoxious bug on the planet, it is sure to be thriving here in Central Texas. I have never seen such a plague of pests. Cabbage loopers, stink and pill pugs, leaf-footed bugs, caterpillars, little black beetles that mowed down my mustard, and a host of others that I discover every day. As I build my back yard habitat I hope to attract just as many beneficial insects, but right now it's just me out there doing battle. I have had to rethink my entire approach to what to plant. Up until now I mixed my vegetative and flowering plants together in the same bed. Not any more. In order to harvest food for the table, I have to keep the vegetative plants under row covers. I lost my kale and cabbage because I didn't get the covers on soon enough. That won't happen again. I am also shopping online for a bug vacuum. I have my eye on one that has a zapper inside. Payback's a bitch baby.

4. The growing seasons are actually shorter. The heat and the cold really shorten the available days for healthy plant growth. This is a problem for something like tomatoes that take forever to ripen. And worse, bloom set stops when the temperature reaches 95 degrees. The only way to combat this is to start seeds very early. I now have plastic to go over my hoops and will be raising seedlings as early as November. I need those plants vigorous and ready to bloom in March. However, notice I wrote "seasons". We have two awesome seasons to grow in, making this my most productive food patch ever.

5. It will freeze here. That hot summer really lulled me into thinking I live in the tropics. Not so. We had several freezes and I lost two of my precious citrus trees and had frozen pipes in the bathroom because I was careless. Not next time. I will actually put up Christmas lights in November - on the plants, not the house, and will let the faucets drip on cold nights. I also have plastic covers ready to go. Bring it on!

It has been such a blast learning to garden in a new climate. And even though I have had some spectacular failures, my successes are far greater. Home grown citrus, lemon grass, and cantaloupe bigger than my head, sweet corn in June - I really couldn't ask for more. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for me to check my inventory and get ready for fall planting. Yee haw!


  1. I love how you write about your plantings and Texas weather, insects, etc. You are a very good writer as well, your writings really hold my interest and I find them fun to read. Thank you for sharing your experiences with the rest of us. - Tess

  2. Thanks! I really need to have you two over to try out Ed's chairs. He just made a foot stool for one of them. The guy is a recycled lumber machine!

  3. Congrats on surviving a year in the garden in central Texas' extreme climate. And with such a great attitude. I could take a page out of your book sometimes. :-)

  4. Great post! You're a fast learner, Sheryl - but then you came just in time for a baptism of fire followed by the deluge!

    I think plant growth and health may also be affected by our latitude- our days aren't as short in winter or as long in summer when compared to the PNW. In Illinois it seemed a summer evening was long enough for puttering in the garden after dinner...sunset comes earlier here.

    Good luck with your fall garden~

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  5. Ahhh.......gardening in the South. It takes a completely different attitude from the gardener. Sounds like you are adapting quickly to the realities of hot, hot, hot and .....what was THAT bug?
    Thanks for the great post and great attitude. Keep it up!

  6. Just came across your post today. It's always interesting hearing from other gardeners, especially in Texas. And I can relate to the battles with heat, watering, and pests (loopers, melonworms, and hornworms especially). It will be interesting to see what challenges spring and summer will present, as I get experience in all seasons (my own personal one-year anniversary will be this August).

    1. Welcome to Texas! I have to tell you that living here has actually made me a better gardener. I'm better at planning, variety selection, and crop rotation. You definitely have to bring your best game every time out there to be successful, but so far it has been worth it! Of course I say that now before it hits 100 degrees again. LOL