Week 37 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

This morning I woke to the sound of rain on my tin roof.  Weatherman says this is the leading edge of a cool front that is going to give us our first taste of fall temperatures.  Several days of highs in the mid 80s and lows in the 60s means this is going to be the best weekend to garden in a very long time.


Sally and I grew cotton for the first time this year.


  • Still time to transplant – Brassica transplants can be planted throughout the fall. This is good because you really don’t want 12 heads of cauliflower ready for harvest at the same time.  I stagger plant (plant 3 or 4 plants every two weeks) cauliflower and cabbage through October.  Stagger planting allows me to enjoy a steady supply of these vegetables throughout the spring.
  • Tomato care – By now, your tomato plants should be flowering or setting fruit. To ensure your best fruit possible feed regularly.  I side dress monthly with finished compost.  I also like to apply liquid fertilizers like homemade compost tea or Ladybug’s Secret Recipe.
  • Harvest cotton – Ok, I don’t expect that you have a lot of cotton to harvest. However, we did.  One of Sally’s student’s gave her some seeds last spring so we planted them.  First time I have ever grown the crop that a lot of our grandparents grew for the cash that kept their families and farms going.  We will use our cotton to make a holiday wreath.  Neat experience and I hope to do a post about growing it, and the wreath we will make from it, in the near future.

Crotons, mums and marigolds combined with pumpkins and other winter squash make outstanding fall arrangements. These plants do as well in pots as the do in the ground


  • Plant fall color now – The stores are filling up with marigolds, crotons and chrysanthemums. All of these plants perform well in a pot or in the ground.  Mix them with the winter squash and gourds you harvested earlier this year to make outstanding arrangements for you yards or porches
  • Water fall blooming bulbs – All of my fall blooming bulbs are blooming now. Oxbloods and lycoris are all beautiful but their blooms fade very quickly.  Keep them well watered to extend their flower time

Trees and Lawns

  • Prepare perennials for the move – If you have a rose, shrub or other spring blooming perennial that has grown too large for its spot, or is not doing well in its location, move it.  If the plant is large, begin gently cutting roots by sticking your shovel into the ground in a semi-circle about a foot from the trunk.  After a week or so, do the same thing to the other side of the trunk.  Water deeply for two weeks before the move.
  • Plant trees now – If you are going to plant trees this fall, consider buying smaller trees. While they do not have the immediate impact of a large tree they have several other advantages.  First, they are cheaper.  Second, they are easier to establish.  Third, they have a much better chance of having a healthy root system.  If you plant a small tree and give it ample food and water, it will reward you with rapid, healthy growth.

Still a lot blooming at our house. This lovely arrangement consists of zinnias, gomphrena, roses, coreopsis and carlic chive blooms.


I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tip of the Week – Week 4 in the Zone 9 Garden

We got over an inch of rain at my house last night.  We are expected to get another inch today.  I am thankful but I hope the sun comes out tomorrow.  If it is not too muddy there are tons of tasks to take care of this weekend.  Here are some of the things I am doing:


Week 4 in the Zone 9 garden is a very busy time.  It is time to replant all of your brassicas.  The brassica family includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and others.  Click on each veggie above to read Patty Leander’s tips for growing the best brassicas possible.

Patty also wrote a great post about sugar snap peas.  It is time to plant those as well.  This year she has had great luck with “Amish” heirlooms.  Get all the info you need to succeed with peas by reading her post  “Make Room for Cool Season Peas”.

Week four is also the time to plant potatoes.  The two varieties that do best for me are Red LaSoda and white Kennebecks.  Buy now, cut into pieces preserving the eyes and allow to cure for a week or so before planting.  Check out my post “Growing Potatoes” to learn all the other tips and tricks you need.

Cauliflower doesn't have to be white!  Try some of the colored varieties.  Photo by Bruce Leander

Cauliflower doesn’t have to be white! Try some of the colored varieties. Photo by Bruce Leander


Patty’s latest post reminded me that it is time to cut back your cannas (and ginger).  Cut them to the ground.  Here’s another canna tip.  When they start blooming, cut their flower stalks out at the base of the plant.  This will encourage them to bloom more.

It is also a good time to trim up woody perennials.  My bougainvillea has shed its leaves so it is ready for its annual haircut.  Trim up other deciduous vines like coral honeysuckle, cross vine and wisteria.

If you want lots of flowers in early spring, start their seeds now.  Two years ago I grew 100 marigold transplants.  My beds never looked better.  This weekend is a good time to start marigolds, petunias, begonias, periwinkles and many others.



It is still a good time to plant bare root fruit trees.  It is also a great time to plant container grown fruit trees.  Container grown fruit trees can be planted anytime of the year but they will root in and become established quicker if you plant them now.

****Be sure to check out my friend Bart’s blog (Our Garden View) for more great tips for the Central and South Central garden!

This post has been shared on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  Tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Brassicas Rule, Cannas Drool by Patty G. Leander

Cannas may be beautiful in the summer time, but they sure aren’t very pretty after a freeze. Mine bit the dust right around Christmas, when Old Man Winter showed up and decided to stick around for awhile. Of course my small bed of canna lilies dies back every year yet every year I am amazed at the contrast of the gloomy canna skeletons against the vibrant greens, purples and reds of the brassicas that shrug off the cold weather and keep on growing, proving once again that they deserve a prime spot in the winter garden.


Canna lilies would prefer to spend their winter on a tropical island (me too!) but they’ll be back this summer. Photo by Bruce Leander

Seasoned gardeners are well aware of these gems of the winter garden, but for novice gardeners and those who have been on the fence about a winter garden, I’d like to share a few easy-to-grow vegetables to consider planting next fall.


Mustards, kale and Chinese cabbages love the cold weather. Photo by Bruce Leander

I usually plant sugar snap peas twice a year, mid-September and late January. This year I planted a vining variety from Seed Savers Exchange, called ‘Amish Snap’, on September 17. I started picking on November 11 and plants were still producing in December even after several light freezes. On January 8th we experienced a freeze with temperatures that fell into the low 20s; the plants survived but the peas took a hit (Note: a more diligent gardener would have harvested the pods before the arrival of a predicted hard freeze!). The outer pods were damaged but many of the peas inside were perfectly edible, with a flavor slightly reminiscent of, well, frozen peas. Since the vines are healthy and the weather is mild, I’ll leave the vines for now to see if I’ll get a another flush of blooms and pods, but in the meantime I’ll seed another round of peas for a spring harvest.


‘Amish Snap’ peas: planting seeds in September, ready to harvest in November, freeze damage in January. Photo by Bruce Leander

Swiss chard, beets and spinach do not belong to the brassica family but they are ideal specimens for a winter garden.


Beets that were seeded in September have provided roots and lovely greens all winter long. Photo by Bruce Leander

Other stalwarts for the winter garden include onions, spinach, carrots and almost every herb you can imagine, except basil. We still have cold winter days ahead and any of these vegetable or herbs could be planted this month to bridge the gap between winter and spring.


Multiplying onions look grow so well in the winter garden, and they look great too! Photo by Bruce Leander


Brighten up your winter meals with the fresh flavor of multiplier onions, mint, dill and oregano.

Start your tillers!!!!

Even though you did not see it on the calendar, last weekend was the end of winter for the Zone 9 gardener.  Ok, I realize that by making that declaration in print I am probably dooming us to a late season freeze.  However, according to historical statistics, Feb. 15 marked the last day that we could realistically expect a freeze in Zone 9B.  Because of this I am now suffering from a severe case of garden fever.  Last weekend, to celebrate the end of winter, I planted 2 -33′ rows of potatoes (Yukon Gold, Kennebec, Red LaSoda).  I also cleaned out the potager in preparation of the flowers and herbs that will be planted there in the next few weeks.

Now is the perfect time to plant all barassicas like broccoli and cauliflower

Now is the perfect time to plant all barassicas like broccoli and cauliflower

Because of our mild climate, we can now plant everything but the most cold sensitive plants.  If you want to have fresh cole crops on your spring table (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts) you need to get them in the garden soon.  The blue leafed cole crops in the brassica family can be safely planted from transplant anytime between now and March 15.

It's not too late to plant root crops like carrots and beets from seed

It’s not too late to plant root crops like carrots and beets from seed

It is also a great time to put out seeds of lettuce, spinach, collards, chard, mustard greens, beets, turnips, radishes and carrots.  All of these are fast growers and they are very easy to grow from seed.  Since they prefer temps below 80, this is probably the last chance you have to grow them until next fall.

Wait until early March to plant your green beans

Wait until early March to plant your green beans

In the next couple of weeks I will be planting my green beans.  I grow “Contender” but there are several other varieties out there that do very well in our area (see Patty’s recommendations in the sidebar).  Green beans are a little cold sensitive so I always hedge my bets and plant them a little later (around March 1).

Now is the perfect time to plant asparagus and artichoke crowns

Now is the perfect time to plant asparagus and artichoke crowns

Late February into early March is also a great time to put out the two perrinial vegetables that do well in our area – asparagus and artichoke.  Both of these are grown from roots called “crowns”.  They take a little more work and a little more care than our single season vegetables, but they are well worth the effort.

A redbud in full bloom is a great reminder that spring really is here again

A redbud in full bloom is a great reminder that spring really is here again

The past two sunny weekends have induced in me a very bad case of gardening fever.  As I write this, every muscle in body aches from the gardening I forced it to endure last weekend.  And that’s fine!  My achy body means that winter is finally over and the 2013 gardening season has begun.  Gentlemen (and ladies), start your tillers!

2012 Fall Gardening Tips

Right now it is so hot outside I work up a sweat just walking to the garden.  Photo by Heather White

August 1 is the official kick off date for fall gardening in my part of Texas.  In reality, I actually start working on my fall garden around the middle of July.  Like most of us in zones 7-9, my tomatoes are basically done by July 4th.  When your spring tomatoes stop setting fruit you have two choices.  Pull ’em up and replace with new plants in August, or trim your exisiting vines up, give them a little shade, a few nutrients, and wait for the temperatures to drop.

In my opinion, the best way to ensure a fall tomato harvest is to keep your spring plants alive through July and August. These mature plants will flower and bloom much faster than new plants put out in August.

Ever since the November night that I was late to my anniversary party because I was building cold frames out of old windows around the tomato plants I planted in August, I have been in the tomato trimming group.  Little tomato plants planted in the 100 degree August heat will not always produce red ripe tomatoes before our first freeze.  Because of this, I try and keep my spring tomato plants alive through July and August.  To keep my spring tomato plants alive, I prune them by about a third to a half in mid-July.  I then add a thick layer of composted chicken manure, mulch and put up some sort of shade.  For me, this has been the best way to ensure a harvest of a few fall tomatoes.

While I am out trimming tomatoes I also do a good garden clean up.  July is when I pull down any vines on my trellises that have stopped producing.  This can included beans, gourds, cucumbers, cantelopes and squash.  I also pull up any old mulch that is still lying on top of the ground.  I take all of this dead vegation directly to the burn pile.  Many of those bugs that caused you so much grief earlier in the year are sleeping and laying eggs in the mulch and plant liter under your plants.   Because of this, removing it and burning it twice a year is a good pest control measure.

Put out a fresh layer of compost on your clean Fall beds. Animal manures like cow manure and chicken manure are a little higher and nitrogen than the palnt types. I use these to give a boost to my newly trimmed tomatoes.

After my beds and trellises are clean, I amend the soil.  I add about 3″ of whatever compost is on sale to the tops of my beds.  I don’t usually till this compost in.  I actually kind of use it as mulch.  The compost will eventually get worked in when I plant or it rains or through the natural processes of all of the tiny little animals in the soil that feed off of the compost.

Finally, to conserve moisture, cool remaining roots and protect all of those micro-organisms in the soil I add a fresh deep layer of hay mulch.  If you mulch with hay you need to be careful.  Alot of herbicides that farmers use to control weeds in their hay crops are very persistent.  There can be enough residue is some hays (particularly bermuda hays like coastal, Tifton and Jiggs) to kill your new plants that are trying to germinate or become established.  I typically use rice straw as my mulch.  In my experience rice hay has no residual herbicides and very few weeds.

A large $70 roll of rice hay will supply me with all of the mulch I need for an entire year of gardening

After doing all of this prep, I spend a lot of time on the internet figuring out what I am going to plant and when I am going to plant it.  This year, I found the best planting guide/calendar I have ever seen.  This guide is on the Austin Organic Gardeners  website.  (they also have one for herbs).  Instead of a list of dates, this calendar is a graphical representative of the entire year.  It’s easy to read format allows you to quickly look up any plant you want.  The headers show every month broken down into weeks and the rows are an alphabetical listing of all of the vegetables we can grow in this area.

This very good planting guide is on the Austin Organic Gardeners website. This graphical guide is the easiest to use that I have found. They website has one for herbs as well.

My grandmother used to say you could find something nice to say about anything.  So, I am going to say something nice about Texas summers.  Even though it is 106 in the hot Texas sun right now, that sun is what is going to allow me to grow some of my favorite vegetables over the next six months.  I know it is hot out there, but now is the ideal time to get that fall garden going.  All of the sweat of July and August will pay off big in September and October.  So suck it up and get busy.  You will forget all about how hot July was when you are OUTSIDE in your garden harvesting broccoli, cauliflower, collards, and cabbage in January!

Growing Broccoli (Brassica oleracea) and Other Cole Crops

Broccoli flower head beginning to form. These heads are actually hundreds of little flowers. Harvest the head as soon as you see any yellow tint begining to form.

Right now, I am eating so much broccoli that my skin has a greenish tint! Back in September I planted 36 plants of three different varieties and now I am being rewarded with tons of big, full heads of broccoli every night. Now there is absolutely no way that my wife and I can eat this much broccoli. However, that is never really a problem. To me, one of the greatest joys that I receive from my garden is the ability to share my harvests. People are always so happy to receive fresh, all organic produce directly from the garden.

The first four heads that I harvested this year. the large head in the back was 8" in diameter.

You might wonder why on earth I planted so many broccoli plants. I normally grow broccoli in the fall, just not this much. However, this year I was offered an opportunity that I just could not pass up. The largest gardening program in Texas, Central Texas Gardener, offered to come and film my little potager. I was thrilled. However, there was a catch; they wanted to film in December! So, I had a challenge. What could I grow that would make the potager look great in the middle of the incredibly unpredictable Texas winter?  So, that’s how I wound up with so much broccoli. I needed something fool proof to make sure my garden looked good for the cameras of CTG and broccoli fit the bill.

Now my garden does not have just broccoli in it. It also has a lot of cauliflower and cabbage (plus flowers and lots of other root crops). They made the cut for the same reason as the broccoli, they are fool proof.

Notice the slight yellow starting to show. this head is ready for harvest.

Broccoli belongs to the plant family Brassicaceae. The genus is brassica and plants that belong to it are often called simply brassicas or cole crops. Cole comes from the Latin word caulis which means stem or cabbage. The genus Brassicas contains some of the most important agricultural crops in the world. This family has been a favorite food of humans for so long that there are species that have been improved to allow us to eat literally every part of the plant. Rutabagas and turnips are brassicas that are grown for their roots. Kholrabi is grown for its stems. Cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts and mustard are grown for their leaves. Broccoli and cabbage are grown for their large, edible flower heads. All brassicas are very good for you. They contain vitamin C, lots of soluble fiber and various cancer fighting compounds as well.

Growing Cole Crops – Almost all cole crops are great choices for the garden. In fact, because of the mild winters that we have in Zones 7 thru 9, we can usually grow them in both the spring and the fall garden. Brassicas like cooler weather and they can easily survive temperatures in the middle twenties. It grows best when the daily temperature is in the mid seventies and nights are 20 degrees cooler. Because of this, it is best to plant your brassicas in early spring (February) or late fall (September). Most varieties in this genus mature in 90 to 120 days so plant according to when temperatures will be best suited for them. Do not plant too late in the season as they strongly dislike high heat.

I love the large foliage of broccoli.

Brassicas need full sun exposure and respond best to soil that drains well and has been deeply worked with compost. All brassicas are fairly pest free but they can get aphids.  They are also often plagued by cabbage worms and cabbage loppers.  Both of these pests are the larva of moths and they can defoliate a plant if the infestation is severe (more likely to happen in the spring).  You can control these with floating row cover or BT.

The brassica’s biggest enemy in the fall is the grasshopper. Young plants are very susceptible to grasshopper feeding. To help the plant beat the grasshoppers, place one gallon tin cans with the top and bottom cut out over the plants until they are about a foot tall. I am not really sure why this works, but it does. My theory is that either the grasshopper can’t see the plant or they cannot fly in way that allows them land inside of the can.

As far as I know, I have grown every type of brassica and I love them all. However, broccoli has a trait that makes it my favorite of all the cole crops. With most cole crops, you harvest the vegetable and then the plant is done. Not broccoli. Cut the green head and in a few days, additional little florets will start to form around the site of the cut. While these florets will not reach the size of the original flower head, they are just as tasty and each plant will produce several of them.

Little broccoli florets forming around the site of an earlier harvest.

In my mind, cole crops are the absolute best plant family to grow in the fall Texas garden. Give them good soil, plenty of sun and regular water and they will reward you with some of the most flavorful and nutritious things you can take from your garden.