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Finding food and beauty in the fall garden

Take a deep breath. Ah, yes, for gardeners, autumn is one of the best times of the year to

Erlicheer

Erlicheer, a daffodil that does well here. (photo by Christine Reid)

work in the yard. The weather is cooler, there’s a promise of rain and many of the critters that plagued us in the summer are now merely dry husks under our shoes – or so we hope! And, to feed our soul, the rich bronze, golden and burgundy leaves of many trees and plants are providing a burst of color here in Central Texas.

Far from being uneventful, fall is when many yard projects are just getting started. This is the best time to plant trees, shrubs, woody vines and other perennials from containers. Getting plants in the ground now gives them plenty of time to get a root system established before high temperatures return all too soon in the summer.

Bearded Iris

Bearded Irises are known for their beauty and toughness. (photo by Christine Reid)

This is also when many gardeners sow wildflower seeds. They’re easy to grow: pick a well-drained spot in your yard that gets eight or more hours of sun, scrape the area so that some soil is visible and throw out seeds for plants like black-eyed Susan, Indian paintbrush, coneflower, coreopsis, poppies, echinacea, primrose, blanket flower, Drummond phlox and Texas bluebonnets, among many others. Don’t cover the seeds, just press them into the ground. Good seed to soil contact is critical. Water and keep moist until germination occurs, probably within a few weeks. The plants won’t look like much at first because they’re busy growing roots but come springtime you’ll see a dazzling display of Texas beauty. Allowing them to go to seed will ensure wildflowers for next year.

In the vegetable and herb garden, seed in beets, carrots, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, parsley, radishes, spinach, turnips, lettuce and mustard. Vegetables that can be put in as transplants include broccoli, cauliflower, kale and chard. Those last two can also be direct seeded. Watch the weather and if it’s going to be extra cold and/or the plants are small, provide cold protection. Otherwise, all these plants are cold hardy to semi-hardy and don’t mind our usually mild winters. For those who aren’t interested in a fall vegetable garden, consider preparing the soil now for a spring garden later. Work in compost or mulch or, better yet,  grow a cover crop like clover, vetch, winter rye or buckwheat. Growing any of these green manure crops will keep the weeds at bay and, when tilled in at the end of winter, will enrich the soil with organic matter.

February Gold

February Gold, a daffodil that is deer resistant. (photo by Christine Reid)

Even though it’s cool outside, plants and trees still need moisture. In the absence of rain, provide adequate water and mulch. Those two critical additions to your garden will help insulate them from the dropping temperatures as well as support root growth.

Plant some bulbs by mid-December with the kids for a fun and easy gardening activity. In general, most bulbs need full sun and healthy, well-drained soil. Good self-naturalizing choices for this area are many different daffodils, bearded iris, leucojum (Summer Snowflake) and schoolhouse lilies, among others. They’re prettiest in groups of five or more. To avoid a staged look, have the kids toss them on the ground to mark where they’ll be planted. Bury them, pointed side up, at a depth twice the width of the bulb (unless the specific bulb directions state otherwise). After that, along with the proper amount of moisture, you just need to wait a short while before enjoying the striking beauty of these late winter, early spring bloomers. Let their foliage die back naturally after they flower, so that they can build up energy for next year.

The weather this time of year is some of the nicest, next to spring, that Central Texas has to offer. So, go on outside with the kids and plant some vegetables or flowers and be sure and kick around some leaves, too, while you’re at it. No one will tell!

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