By: Savannah Rugg, Agriculture Department Chair and Marissa Lankes, Sustainable Agriculture Continuing Education Manager
When it comes to gardening, Central Texas offers two seasons — hot and cold. So don’t put away the shears and spade just yet. It’s time to start preparing for the latter.
First, know that soils differ based on the area of Central Texas you are in. Areas west of Interstate 35 may have scant topsoil, east of 35 tends to be clay heavy. A Central Texas native plant guide will help you determine your soil type by geographic area and select appropriate perennial cultivars.
TREES & GARDEN
The dormant season runs from November through February. It’s the best time to plant trees and shrubs. Winter is a good time to apply heavy layers of compost and mulch to your perennial garden beds and trees. Trim back dormant perennials to stubs and prune your fruit trees.
PREPARING FOR A FREEZE
When it comes to maintaining your current garden, take protective measures when the temperature drops below freezing. Fruit trees should be covered in frost blankets when temperatures drop into the teens. Also, consider wrapping citrus trees in Christmas lights to provide extra warmth on cold nights.
For your garden, remove summer annual crops, like peppers and tomatoes. They will die in the first frost. You can use them in your compost pile.
Planting the appropriate crops for the season is your first defense toward protecting crops from cold weather. Winter in Central Texas means roots and shoots such as beets, carrots, radish, turnips, and leafy greens like spinach and kale, as well as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Those plants are hearty enough to withstand cold temperatures. Plant these from October to February so they grow and mature in the cool season weather.
While these plants do well in the winter, you still need to take precautions for those rare Central Texas freezing nights. Keep your soil damp so water is moving through the capillaries of plants, making them less likely to freeze. If the temperature drops into the twenties, cover the vegetables with a frost blanket.
Winter maintenance such as applications of compost, mulch, and organic materials will help ensure good fertility and soil tilth in your garden beds, setting you on the right path for spring. Remove winter annual crops before planting your spring garden. Once the heat sets in, the pests will too. Spring planting season starts March 15.
If you are hesitant about growing your own plants, know there's no such thing as a green thumb. The best garden will be the one that's paid the most attention to. Like anything else, the secret to gardening is time and practice. If you're worried, start with just a few plants, in the ground or in containers is fine, to get the hang of things.
For more information and to register for courses to learn how to make your own garden, visit austincc.edu/agriculturesciences.