MASTER GARDENERS: Fall gardening in West Texas

By John Cappadonna

Master Gardener Intern

July is the time to start your plants for the fall garden. There are a number of good reasons for fall gardening in West Texas not the least of which, is the weather is much more pleasant! Cooler weather is easier on plants and people alike. It takes much less water to garden in the fall, and later in the season as it cools the insects become fewer and fewer.

If there is a universal truth in gardening, it is that good soil will produce a good garden and poor soil will produce a poor garden. That means soil is Job #1 and the best way to good soil is compost. Most nurseries carry good quality bagged compost products. Look for composted cattle manure and composted cotton burrs. If you are gardening in an existing landscape bed work composted cattle manure and composted cotton burr into your beds. Turn the compost into the soil with a turning fork, shovel or a small tiller. The compost should be mixed in the top 8” to 12” of soil.

If you are mixing soil for containers or a small, raised bed use two 1 cubic foot bags of composted cattle manure, one 2 cubic foot bag of composted cotton burr, one 2 cubic foot bag of potting mix, and 1 cubic foot of coarse vermiculite. Add the greensand as directed and you will be good to go.

Begin planning your fall garden in mid-summer so you have time to build a bed or amend your garden soil three weeks before your scheduled planting times and buy your seeds.

Courtesy Photo

Some of my favorite fall vegetables are spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, collards, kale, and Bok Choy. These are all easy to grow from seed. Plant Swiss chard, collards, kale, and Bok Choy in the late summer around September 1st through the 15th. Plant spinach and lettuce around the end of September as they need cooler soil to germinate well. If you like cilantro plant at the same time as your spinach. It germinates best when the soil cools to 70 F or less. Most herbs with the exception of basil grow best in the fall and through the winter.

Root crops like beets, carrots, and turnips are popular fall crops as well. Kids love to pick carrots; the anticipation is the fun! Carrots can be tricky to germinate though. The trick is to keep them evenly moist. They take as long as three weeks or more to germinate so be patient. Plant carrots in early September. Beets and turnips can be planted anytime in September, and you can plant successive crops about two weeks apart for a steadier supply.

Some of my favorite varieties are Flash (collards), Winterbor and Mamba (kale), Giant of Viroflay (spinach), Fordhook Giant (Swiss chard), Li Ren Choi (Bok Choy or Pac Choi), Silky Sweet (turnips), and Bolero (carrots) to name a few.

All of these vegetables are cold hardy and can tolerate a freeze. If it gets below 20 F it’s a good idea to cover them with row cover to prevent damage. With a little care you can grow most of these vegetables through our winters an into spring.

If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700. Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at Click on “Resources.”

Happy fall gardening!