Vegetable gardening in the south really comes into its own as we move into the fall and winter season. It’s kind of interesting to note that even experienced vegetable gardeners don’t know what a wonderful time of year fall is, for the vegetable garden. Prolonged periods of mild temperatures ensure the production of high quality produce.
The diversity of plants that perform well in the fall vegetable garden always seems to amaze people. Believe it or not, we begin the fall gardening season in July with soil preparation and the planting of fall tomatoes and pumpkins. As we move into September the diversity of vegetables being planted grows exponentially.
Green beans top the list of September planted vegetables. I’d suggest going with bush types for fall because of their concentrated set and shortened time to maturity. The quality of green beans in the fall garden is exceptional. The plants grow during the warm temperatures of early fall and the bean pods mature during the milder temperatures of late October and November.
You might even consider planting a few yellow or zucchini squash plants early in September. Select early maturing varieties to ensure production before winter freezes.
The cabbage family comprises a large group of vegetables which includes: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard, collards, Brussels sprouts and kale. All of these perform beautifully in the fall and winter garden and our mild winters rarely produce enough cold to cause any damage to these extremely cold hardy vegetables. They can be planted with great success from September all the way through January. It’s important to remember that these leafy vegetables are heavy nitrogen feeders, requiring regular light applications of a good nitrogen fertilizer.
Leaf lettuce should be included in all fall and winter gardens. They are very well adapted to southern winters, take up very little space and produce an abundant harvest throughout the winter season. We’ve tested hundreds of varieties over the years with great success. The main thing to consider when selecting a variety is your personal taste, the type you prefer (bibb or butterhead, romaine, crisphead, oak leaf, loose-leaf) as long as you stick with the leaf types. Iceberg lettuce does not seem to perform well for most gardeners in the South Eastern US. Lettuce can be planted from transplants or seed. If you decide to try growing lettuce from seeds, it’s important to realize that lettuce seeds need light to germinate so be sure to plant them very close to the surface. I suggest planting the seed on the surface and lightly dusting them with compost or vermiculite. Also don’t get in a big hurry to plant lettuce. It requires cool temperatures and generally that means waiting until well into October before planting.
Spinach is always worth a try. Sometimes our winter season is too warm which can result in spinach bolting to seed. Spinach like lettuce should not be planted until temperatures really begin to cool off. Warm temperatures can delay germination and even result in death of young seedlings. I usually find it necessary to wait until late October or even early November before putting spinach plants or seed out in the garden. The quality of fresh spinach is wonderful here during the winter gardening season but two weeks of warm weather (over 80 degrees Fahrenheit) can cause the plants to go to seed.
Texas is known all over the country for its mild winter onions. We grow short day varieties such as: Grano, Granex, or Texas Supersweet. Many people try growing onions from seed which are generally planted in this area in November. I recommend using transplants, which should be planted in January. Feed stores and garden centers generally carry a good selection of onion transplants in January.
Lastly, is the candy of the winter vegetable garden, edible podded peas. These plants are generally not overly productive but the sweet, high quality fruit are well worth the time and effort it takes to grow them. Edible podded peas are generally planted in late September or October and then again in January and early February. Although hard freezes will generally knock off the flowers and developing pods, the plants are very cold hardy and will come right back into production as soon as the cold snap has passed. Climbing varieties such as Sugar Snap and Super Sugar Snap are great. Don’t be surprised if most of these get eaten right out in the garden.