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Farmers Answer Your Questions About Gardening in Texas

Want to plant a Texas garden, but don’t know where to start?

When you search for gardening tips, you’ll be inundated with articles about soil pH, crop rotation, and companion plants. It’s enough to discourage any beginner. 

Avoid overwhelm by keeping it simple. We’re answering some common gardening questions so you can start your garden with a firm grasp of the basics. 

When should you start a garden in Texas?

You may guess that early spring is the right time to plant a garden in Texas. But with our warm climate, fall actually makes a wonderful planting season.

When you plant in early fall—after the heat of the summer has passed, but two months or so before the first frost—your plants will have enough time to establish roots before the cold sets in. By the spring, you’ll have plenty of new plant growth and can hope for a successful garden. 

If you’re planting vegetables, your planting time will depend on when you’ll need to harvest. 

Some veggies should go in the ground in early spring, and some in late summer. Here’s some more information about when to plant vegetables in Central Texas.

How do you prepare soil for a vegetable garden?

To start your garden, you’ll need to get your soil ready. Start by clearing out any weeds and rocks. Then loosen the soil. Dig down about a foot and break up any clods or clumps. This will make it easier for roots to grow deep, rather than staying near the soil’s surface. 

Next, add some organic material. Compost or aged manure are natural additives that release nutrients into the soil. This will stimulate root growth. Mix your organic matter with your soil, and you’re ready to plant! 

After planting, it’s a good idea to spread 2-3″ of mulch over your plants to prevent weeds and keep the soil moist. Another option is to plant cover plants—low growing ground cover that controls weeds and provides valuable shade to soil and roots.

How much sun does a garden need in Texas?

The Texas sun can be a real scorcher. When looking at tags for non-Texas plants at the garden center, take recommendations like “full sun” with a grain of salt. 

If a plant is native to a different climate than ours, you may need to plant it in partial sun instead—preferably somewhere it gets sun in the morning and shade during the high heat of the day. “Full sun” in Colorado is not the same as “full sun” in Texas!

But if it’s a Texas native that says “full sun,” it should be safe.

What plants do well in Texas?

Plants native to your climate zone are always the easiest to grow, no matter where you live. They’re accustomed to the temperatures and water levels in your region, so they’ll need less intervention from you. In Texas, natives are usually sun-loving and drought tolerant.

Turk’s cap, esperanza, phlox, and flame acanthus are all bright, lovely flowers that do well in Texas and attract butterflies and other pollinators. If you’re looking to plant something you can eat, there are species of plums, peaches, broccoli, lettuce, cucumbers, and many more edible plants that thrive in our sunny climate. 

Visit a local garden center or botanical garden for more ideas on what does well in your particular climate zone. 

Is it better to grow flowers and veggies in the ground or in containers?

Ground gardens vs. raised beds vs. container gardens—which is better? Each have their pros and cons.

A ground garden can be easy to start, as you don’t have to purchase or build an enclosure. But if your soil isn’t healthy, you may need to add quite a few soil amendments to get it healthy enough for your garden.

Raised beds are built right on the ground, adding rich soil atop the dirt. They often have fewer weeds than ground gardens, and their added height makes them easier to work with. But the boxes must be made or bought, which adds time, cost, and complexity to your garden.

Finally, there are container gardens grown in pots. On the plus side, containers usually see only minor weed growth. But they’re not as low-maintenance as you might think, as you’ll have to change out the soil periodically. They also dry out more quickly than ground or container gardens. 

In the end, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. For vegetables, raised garden beds tend to be a preferred method of growing. And for borders and fence lines, you’ll usually be planting directly in the ground. 

Do I really need to use fertilizer?

Maybe…maybe not! Fertilizer is used to correct nutrient deficiencies in your soil. If you have nutrient-rich soil that’s growing healthy plants, you may be able to dispense with fertilizer. But many people find that adding an all-around organic fertilizer helps their flowers and veggies to grow bigger. Fertilizer is most effective when it’s added as plants are leafing or beginning to flower—usually in springtime.

At Barton Hill Farms, we practice regenerative farming. Our chickens roam the pastures where their droppings act as a natural fertilizer. This keeps the grasses healthy for the cows and sheep!

How can you protect plants from Texas frost?

With the exception of some of the southernmost counties on the Gulf of Mexico or the Texas/Mexico border, every part of Texas will experience freezing temperatures at some point during each winter. To protect your plants, you’ll need to take some precautions. Otherwise, your plants will develop ice crystals inside which will destroy their cellular structure and kill the plant.

Frosts in Texas are usually short—a few overnight hours at a time. A simple cover is all you need to keep your plants safe from these cold temperatures. You can buy specialty plant covers at the garden center, or use tarps or sheets. A thick layer of mulch or other organic matter can also help insulate the soil, protecting roots. 

In rare situations, like the great freeze of February 2021, you’ll need more robust protection. A fabric sheet covered with a tarp can help. You could also put jugs of hot water within the covering, which will raise the air temperature inside. Another technique includes wrapping the plant with Christmas lights, which put off enough heat to keep frost at bay. But if you lose power, you’ll lose your heat source, too.

Everyone starts somewhere!

Even master gardeners were beginners at some point. The best way to learn how to start a garden is to actually start one. Keep it small to begin with, and see what works! You can always add more beds as you discover your green thumb.