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A Basic Guide to Fall & Winter Gardening in North Texas

Written by Anna Reid – Garden Initiative (Eco Hub) Eco Rep

Photo source: Sugar & Sap

With summer coming to an end and cooler days just on the horizon, you might think the gardening season is over. Well, for DFW in zone 8A, it’s just the beginning. Even though Texas winters have a reputation for being quite unpredictable and have led many avid spring and summer growers to avoid it altogether, you are more than capable of growing a plethora of crops during these months.

This article will cover what, when, and how to grow a fall and winter garden, plus how to help keep your garden growing during freezes.

So… what can I grow? Weirdly enough, Texas falls and winters are perfect for growing all your favorite leafy greens and staple root crops like carrots, onions, and even beets. Here is a list of some of the most popular plants to grow and when to either transplant them or direct-sow outside:

  • Sweet Peas
    • Direct sow outside: August to September
      • Word of warning with fall peas– they usually don’t live too long, especially if we get a freeze around Halloween to early November, but I’ve seen many gardens succeed with them. 
    • Harvesting: Peas notoriously mature quickly, and you’ll start to see little pods begging to form out of flowers. Generally, you’ll harvest peas when you can clearly feel and see mature peas inside the pods.
  • Leafy greens (lettuce, cabbage, bok choy, spinach, swiss chard, kale, mustard, and collard greens)
    • Direct sow outside: Mid-September to mid-October. 
    • The exception? Cabbage— you’ll want to direct sow these guys in mid-September outside
      • Generally, leafy greens don’t indoor sow to be transplanted outside that well as they are notorious for becoming leggy (growing too tall while trying to reach a light source), so I would advise against starting indoors, but every gardener has their own methods. 
    • Harvesting: Depending on the plant, most can produce edible foliage from late fall to early spring. All you need to do is wait for maturity and harvest the outer leaves when needed. 
Photo source: Old World Garden Farms
  • Onions
    • Direct sow outside: Mid-September for seeds and mid-November for bulbs.
      • Onions are used in dishes and recipes all over the world and are pretty simple to garden. However, what many new gardens don’t know is that they can take up from 100 to 175 days to mature. That’s over 5 months! So don’t expect to be harvesting them any time soon.
      • Also, make sure to double-check what type of onion you purchase. Intermediate onion bulbs are meant for summer growing and require around 14 hours of light, whereas short days are for winter growers, only needing around 12 hours. Long days are only recommended for growing in the most northern states of the US. 
    • Harvesting: A great rule of thumb for onions is when the green tops of the plant start to brown and fall over. This usually happens in spring or summer, depending on plant time and variety. 
  • Garlic 
    • Direct sow outside: Mid-September for seeds and early October for cloves.
      • Like onions, garlic takes a very long time to mature, ranging from 8 to 9 months! It’s common– and expected– for gardeners to plant in fall but not harvest till summer. For planting cloves, just make sure the flat root side is down and give it decent watering, and you’re good to go!
    • Harvesting: Sort of like onions, garlic is best harvested when the lower leaves turn brown. You can always dig up a few bulbs to be sure.
  • Broccoli & Cauliflower
    • Direct sow outside:  late-September
    • Transplant outside: early October
      • These plants are both in the Brassicaceae family, closely related to cabbage, and require cooler temperatures to germinate, making a perfect cool veggie for fall.
    • Harvesting: For these guys, you’ll see a distinguished head start to form. Broccoli will turn a rich green and form packed seed bulbs, and cauliflower will be around 6 to 8 inches in diameter. For both of these, you’ll want to cut the stalk just below the head and harvest before bolting (when flowers form to drop seeds). 
  • Radishes
    • Direct sow outside: October to late November
      • Also in the Brassicaceae family, this plant comes in many different colors, flavors, and sizes. These root crops prefer loose soil and most mature quickly. They need at least 6 hours of light or will produce more leaves than the desired root. You can also plant these in spring for a late summer harvest. 
    • Harvesting: Like the other root crops, pulling or digging around the plant to check on the bulb is normal. But, depending on the variety of radishes, you will be checking for the diameter of the swollen root. You’ll also want to harvest before bolting, or it will affect the taste. 
  • Carrots
    • Direct sow outside: Late September to mid-November
      • Carrots require very loose soil and can be a little picky, and it is best to grow them in raised or container beds. Thinning leaves to encourage root growth can help with getting bigger carrots rather than bigger leaves. 
    • Harvesting: Carrots should be harvested around 2 to 3 months after sowing. They might also start to pop out of the soil and be around an inch in diameter. 
  • Beets
    • Direct sow outside: Late September to mid-November 
      • Another root crop, these guys also prefer loose soil and plenty of light. They can be pretty winter hardy like all other root crops and can be incorporated into many different dishes. 
    • Harvesting: Similar to carrots, beets should be harvested 50 to 70 days after sowing. Keep a look out for the preferred diameter size depending on the variety. 

So now you know all the different plants you can grow. The question is, how do you keep them alive and flourishing over the winter?

Photo source: Backyard Boss

First, whether you direct sow or transplant, once your seedlings have gotten to a good size (usually around 3 to 4 inches depending on the plant), it’s wise to surround these guys in straw. It helps keep in moisture and defends against Texas’ irregular freezes and frost. So if any local farmer or store in your area sells straw, make sure to pick some up!

All different plants have varying frost tolerance, but overall a great rule of thumb would be to cover anytime temperatures dip below 32° F. Covering usually implies draping some sort of cloth to form an air bubble over your plants to protect their leaves. 

Another great tactic to keep plants alive is actually watering. Although it might sound counterintuitive, it’s actually recommended to soak your plants’ roots with water the evening before the frost, as water is a particularly good insulator.

You’ll want to closely monitor your weather forecast and make sure to do both of these things. But once temperatures rise above 32° F, feel free to remove all cloth to let in light and return to a normal watering schedule. 

Speaking of watering schedules, gardeners in the fall and winter tend to significantly reduce their watering amounts during these colder months. As always, it depends on the plant, but watering once a week without rain is usually enough.

Hopefully, with this article’s information, you are now armed with the knowledge to face fall and winter gardening head-on. Happy planting! 

*Source for most information 


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