Week 31 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

August 15 is right around the corner.  Why do I mention that?  Well, it is the first planting date for the fall garden.  We are truly lucky to be able to garden in the fall.  If you have never had a fall garden I highly recommend it.  Fall temperatures make it much more comfortable to be outside.  Bug and weed problems are greatly reduced and you can grow a wide variety of vegetables (some that will continue producing until you remove them to make room for the Spring garden).  It is also the best time of the year to plant (or move) trees and shrubs.


Our friend Amy Hime captured this beautiful Texas sunset. Right now it is so hot I wait until about this time each evening to go into the garden!


  • Begin planning the fall garden– My friend and co-blogger Patty Leander creates the planting guides for the Travis County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension service. If you are wondering what to plant for the fall garden, check out her guide.  Not only will it tell you what and when to plant, it will give you some ideas of different vegetables that do well in our area that you may not have tried before.  Check out the guide here:    Travis County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Vegetable Planting Guide
  • Solarize nematodes-Nematodes plague many of the plants we grow in Texas. Patty has a great post coming out this weekend about controlling them.  One of her tips is to turn up the soil in your infected areas and let the July and August sun rid you of some future problems.
  • Mulch and water – Lots of veggies like melons, southern peas and okra are still producing. Producing vegetables need lots of water. Mulch them heavily now then water early in the morning or late in the evening to reduce water lost to evaporation.

Love this shot of our red bird house on our redbud in front of our red garage door. Photo by Amy Hime


  • Remove “buggy” plants – My marigolds have been good this year and so have my gomphrena. However, they are now beginning to succumb to spider mites.  Remove these plants and throw them away.  Do not put them on the compost pile.
  • Weed beds thoroghly and re-mulch – The heat is slowing down the growth of many of our invasive weeds. Pull them now and mulch heavily to prepare for your fall plantings
  • It is not too late to replant zinnias, cockscomb, sunflowers and gomphrena from seeds.
Lovely mixed annual border at FDR's grave site in Hyde park, New York

Lovely mixed annual border at FDR’s grave site in Hyde park, New York

Trees and Lawns

  • Do not fertilize lawns until the temperatures come down a bit.
  • Let grass grow as high as you can stand it. A thick carpet keeps roots cool and actually helps to conserves water


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!

Sunflowers (Helianthus Annus)

 Sunflowers and long beans at Boggy Creek Farms in Austin.  Photo from their website

How many flowers do you grow that reach heights of ten feet, look great in the garden, last forever in a vase, and then feed you when it dries out?  As far as I know, there is only one; sunflowers!

Sunflowers are native to North America.  Indigenous people have grown them for thousands of years.  Archeological evidence shows that tribes in Arizona and New Mexico were growing them around 3000 B.C.  It is thought that the sunflowers were domesticated by Native Americans before corn.  The Aztecs were so impressed with sunflowers that they actually worshipped them.

Even though Native Americans grew them first, the Russians are responsible for producing what we most often think of as sunflowers today.  At last count, there are 82 species of sunflowers and countless numbers of varieties.  According to the USDA, in 1991, 2.7 million acres of sunflowers were grown in the U.S.   Commercial production is mostly for oil but considerable amounts are processed for human consumption, bird seed and cut flowers.


“Mammoth” sunflowers in the yupneck’s 2010 summer garden

How to Grow:  If you want to grow really big sunflowers, plant your seeds as soon as night time temperatures do not drop below 50 degrees.  Sunflowers love full sun.  In fact, the more sunlight they get, the bigger the seed heads they will produce.  6 to 8 hours of sun is the minimum.  Plant your seeds 1” deep in clumps of 5 or 6 that are spaced about 6” apart.  These “clumps” should be spaced about 20” apart.  Sunflowers are heavy feeders so make sure your bed is deeply worked with compost.  Water your seeds regularly.  With proper moisture, the seeds will sprout in 5 to 10 days.  As your seedlings emerge, slowly begin to thin them.  Cull the first bunch when the plants reach 6” in height.  Leave about four plants.  Cull the next bunch when the plants reach about a foot, leaving your best two.  When those plants get 2’ tall leave only the best.  If your sunflowers are grown to close together, they will produce shorter stalks and smaller heads.  Plant them too far apart and they may get so tall that the stalk will not be able to support the weight of the seed head.

Very few plants in my gardens give me as much enjoyment as sunflowers.  To me nothing says “summer in the country” better than a galvanized bucket full of the bright yellow heads on our dining room table.  I am fast approaching the age when grand children will soon begin to follow me into my garden.  Sunflowers will be the first plant that I use to get the next generation of gardeners in our family excited about growing things.  I can’t wait to see the wonder in their eyes as they watch that tiny little seed turn into a mighty sunflower!