Planning your Fall Garden

Even as the temperatures soar and the garden is reaching the end of its peak summer production, it’s time to grab a cold drink, find some shade, and start making plans for your fall garden. Far from being the end of the gardening year, fall offers abundant opportunities for cool weather crops. Thoughts of fall are probably the last thing on your mind right now. But by planning, and where appropriate planting now, your landscape and garden will be ready to flourish this fall.

Keep them Growing
As garden herbs start to bolter, cut them back to keep the plant producing new foliage rather than going to seed. For tomato or pepper plants that have stopped producing due to the heat, just remove any dead leaves, keep them watered, and they should start to bear fruit again when cooler fall weather arrives.

Clean it up
Remove any dead or spent plants from the garden, and if they are not diseased, add them to your compost pile. Pull any weeds that may have started to take hold.

Amend the Soil
Add compost to garden beds and till into the soil. This will help replace nutrients taken up by the previous planting.

Draw a Plan
You don’t need a degree in art or an expensive software program to draw a rough sketch of your landscape and garden plan. If you have the original survey from when you bought your house, make a copy of it and use that as a starting point. If not, just make a rough sketch of the footprint of your home. Draw in existing landscape features, and planned garden areas. Indicate which way is north and make note of any shady or poorly drained areas.

Add Fall Color
Look at your landscape as a whole and determine what native or locally adapted fall flowers are best suited to the different areas of your yard based on their color, size, water requirements, and the amount of sun needed. By planting now, they will be well established and ready to flower come fall.

Grow What You Like
Make a list of the fall vegetables for your area that your family likes and rank them from most to least liked.

Some Cool Weather Favorites are: Arugula, Beets, Bok Choi, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Carrots, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards, Cress, Endive, Garlic, Kale, Leeks, Mustard Greens, Onions, Peas, Radishes, Spinach, and Turnips.

Plan to plant what you like. If no one in your family likes beets or brussels sprouts, for example, then plan on planting more of what is most liked.

Crop Rotation
Be sure to check out our Crop Rotation in the Home Garden Guide for tips on which vegetables you should and shouldn’t plant in the same spot right after each other.

Can, Store, or Eat
Decide what the intended use for each vegetable and herb will be. Do you plan on canning enough to last through the winter? Will you be freezing or dehydrating, or will you just eat and enjoy what you harvest this fall. Different varieties of many vegetables are better suited to a specific purpose such as canning. Do your research.

Add New Beds
Now that you know what you will be planting and what your harvest will be used for, you can determine how much of each variety you should plant. Look at your existing bed space and any areas of your yard that you may want to convert to garden beds. For new beds, avoid low-lying, poorly drained areas. Clear the ground, till and amend the soil now.

Order Seeds Now
Now that you’ve determined which vegetables, what varieties, and how many of each you will be planting this fall, order your seeds now. This will ensure that you get exactly what you want and have them ready to plant when the time arrives. Be sure to check out our comprehensive Seed Source Guide for an alphabetical listing of many sources of Seeds, Transplants, and Bulbs for Vegetables, Herbs, Flowers, Grains, Grasses, Ground Covers, Vines, Fruits, Sprouting, Trees, Wildflowers, and much more.

Don’t Lose Track of Today
Remember to enjoy each day on its own merit. It’s easy to get worn down by the heat, the weeding, and the canning. But don’t let the anticipation of your fall garden, and the promise of cooler temperatures yet to come, distract you from today. Remember, “To everything there is a season.”

U.S. Climate Report: July 2015

The July contiguous U.S. average temperature was 73.9°F, 0.2°F above the 20th century average, and it ranked near the middle value in the 121-year period of record. The average contiguous U.S. temperature for January–July was 53.0°F, 1.7°F above the 20th century average and the 10th warmest year-to-date on record.

The July precipitation total for the contiguous United States was 3.16 inches, 0.38 inch above average. This was the 14th wettest July on record, and it marked the fourth consecutive month with above-average precipitation for the Lower 48. Above average precipitation was observed across much of the West, Great Plains, and Ohio Valley. Below-average precipitation was observed in parts of the Southeast, Great Lakes, and Northwest.

This monthly summary is provided by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

The maps below show how the average temperature, and precipitation values for the month of May 2015 deviate from the 30-year normals (1981-2010).

    – Click on Map to Zoom In –



Urban Forestry

Urban Forestry. The term itself appears to be either a typo by the author, or an oxymoron. At first glance, it seems to make about as much sense as Rural Mass Transit, or Underwater Skydiving.

So just what is Urban Forestry? The U.S. Census Bureau defines an urban area as having a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile, and surrounding areas that have an overall density of at least 500 people per square mile. The trees that grow in yards, parks, shopping centers, commercial properties, and along streets in these high density, man-made environments are collectively called the “urban forest.”

The basic concepts of urban forestry have been practiced for centuries in the United States. In the 1700’s, a city ordinance was passed in Philadelphia mandating that every homeowner “plant one or more trees before the door that the town may be well-shaded from the violence of the sun…and thereby be rendered more healthy.” In 1872, the New York City Commissioner of Health recommended that street trees be planted to mitigate the intense heat to reduce the death rate of children.

Here in Texas, The Texas Forest Service Urban Forestry Program helps build self-sustaining urban forestry and tree care programs by working with communities, local governments, and non-profit organizations to plant, care for, and protect trees.

One of the most important functions performed by the Texas Forest Service Urban Forestry Program is to maintain an accurate inventory of the trees that make up the urban forest areas in Texas. The Texas Sample Community Tree Inventory (TXSCTI) computer model system is used to create a census of trees in an area. In addition, satellite imagery and aerial photography are used to make an in-depth analysis of tree leafing. The images are then compared to previous years’ data. Measuring the trees that produce new leaves for the season helps to determine the health of different varieties of trees and how they respond to environmental conditions.

This may well be the most crucial time in our state’s history for its urban forest areas. According to a February, 2012 report by the Texas Forest Service, “An estimated 5.6 million trees that once shaded homes, streets and parks in communities across Texas are now dead as a result of the recent drought.” This number represents as much as 10 percent of the total number of trees that make up urban forests in Texas. And these estimates are only preliminary as trees continue to die from the years long drought even as the rain has recently returned.

Besides their intrinsic beauty, trees provide many environmental and economic benefits to urban landscapes. Trees help to reduce the amount of energy used by homes and buildings by keeping them cooler in the summer with their shade, and warmer in the winter by blocking cold north winds. A recent study reported that trees provide a total savings in energy costs to the Houston area alone of $131 million annually.

Trees improve air quality by capturing pollution particles in their leaves, reducing carbon dioxide, and producing oxygen. The same study reported that Houston’s urban forest removes 60,575 tons of air pollutants per year with an annual economic value to the area of nearly $300 million.

Trees improve the water quality of our rivers and streams, and prevent millions of gallons of water from needlessly entering sewage treatment plants, by capturing rainfall and reducing erosion and storm water runoff.

Trees provide food and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife. They provide privacy, and reduce noise and glare. Just the sight, sound, smell, and touch of plants and trees can reduce a person’s stress level and help provide a better quality of life.

Trees help to strengthen the local economy. Healthy, established trees can increase property values by 10 to 20 percent, which in turn can increase property tax assessments.

By analyzing our current urban forest inventory, its composition, its health, and its impact on our communities, both short-term and long-term management plans can be developed and implemented to maintain and expand our urban forest for generations to come.

You don’t have to be a major commercial developer, or Urban Forester to make a difference. Take a look at the numerous native trees that are adapted to your area and plant several in your yard. As the old adage goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time to plant a tree is today. Make sure that your trees are properly pruned and maintained. Get involved; I’ve started working with my homeowners association to form a neighborhood suburban forest program where I help my neighbors properly prune their trees, and offer tips on proper fertilization, watering, and care.

Imagine the day many years from now, while sitting in the shade with your grandchildren, that you will share the story of how you thought about them long before they were even born, while planting the tree under which you now sit.

Expert Gardening and Home Advice