August 24, 2006

By Roy Cook
Victoria County Master Gardener

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Fall can be an enjoyable time in the vegetable garden - or it can be a disaster. It all depends on timing. You must plant certain vegetables at the optimum time - or forget about them. The optimum time for planting some fall producing vegetables is when the summer heat is still on us. The first decision you need to make is if you want to endure the heat and insects to plant the longer warm season veggies such as tomatoes and peppers - or just plant cool season crops. If you havenít tried fall gardening, you should give it a try. It is a wonderful opportunity to attempt some of the more delicious vegetables that require the cool months of fall and winter.


If you have decided to have a fall garden, the first thing to do is get rid of all the non-productive vegetable plants. A compost pile is the best place for them. If you donít have a compost pile, start one. Do not put insect or disease infested plants in your compost pile. Burn them or put them in the trash.


If you did not properly prepare your garden soil in the spring, now is the time to correct it. This should be done before planting. If not, soil problems encountered in the spring and summer can be expected in the fall also. Heavy amounts of organic matter like rotten grass clippings, leaves, or compost, 2 to 3 inches deep and tilled or worked into the soil, is a recommended practice for all types of soils.


There are two groups of fall vegetables: frost susceptible, which will die with the first frost or freeze, and frost tolerant, which will survive freezes.  Plant short-term, frost susceptible vegetables together so that they can be removed after being killed by frost. This will facilitate the planting of a cover crop such as cereal rye, or annual rye. Plant long-term, frost-tolerant vegetables together.

What to grow? Available space, grower preference, and intended use are key considerations in choosing crop choices. Heat loving crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, snap beans, cucumbers, and summer squash will continue to produce up to the first frost if planted in mid-summer.

Refer to the Quick Reference Fall Planting Guide included with this article for a list of frost susceptible and frost tolerant fall vegetable plants.  By no means are these the only vegetables that can be grown in the fall garden. Be brave, experiment, and learn; that way you will know for sure!


When selecting and buying seeds for the fall garden, select the shortest season varieties available to insure harvest before the first killing frost arrives. This information is usually printed on the seed packet or varieties description in seed catalogs. Plan on buying seeds for the fall garden when you buy seeds for the spring garden as quality seeds disappear from garden stores in mid to late summer when seed companies remove their displays. Always store seeds in a cool, dry location.


To determine when to plant for the latest harvest, you must know the average date of the first killing frost. According to Joe Janak, Victoria County Extension Agent, the first average frost for Victoria is December 5, and the average last frost is Feb. 15. Knowing this you can determine the last day that you can harvest your vegetables by counting the days back from the days to harvest printed on your seed packet.  Study the Texas Growing Zone Map and the Fall Direct Seeding and Transplanting Guide with this article to reference last possible dates for optimum planting for maximum yields with high quality. Keep in mind dates may not be exact because of the varieties that you are planting.  Also note the latest USDA Plant Hardiness Map with our area being in Zone 9. This illustrates the zone and average minimum temperatures expected in the winter season.  In Zone 9 the average minimum temperatures are 25-30 degrees F.


When you are ready to plant your seeds, check soil moisture content. If dry, irrigate lightly a day or two before planting. Plant seeds in shallow trenches to conserve moisture. Cover the seeds about twice as deep as you would for spring planting to keep seeds from drying during germination. Do not let the soil dry out. Most seeds will germinate quickly in the warm summer soil. Some such as peas, spinach and lettuce will not germinate well if the soil temperature is above 85 degrees F.


Shading the soil with a light mulch (1/2 inch or less of straw or dried grass clippings) will keep the soil cooler for better germination. After the seedlings are 1 to 2 inches tall, apply more mulch to help retain soil moisture and for weed prevention. When you prepared the soil for planting it brought weed seed to the surface where weeds can germinate. Mulching will help reduce weed seed germination by both blocking light to the soil and smothering small weeds.


If you have problems with insects and diseases donít just load the sprayer or duster and saturate the plants.  The most important step is identifying the pest and then following proper control methods. If you are not sure, take a digital picture of it and email it to us at

While it may seem too hot and too early to plan for fall vegetable gardening, the time is now to make preparations.  Keep in mind that adequate soil preparation and proper planting time along with good soil, moisture and light conditions will produce maximum and high quality yields.  Like I said before, if you have not had a fall vegetable garden before, try it Ė I bet you just might like it!
USDA Hardiness Zone Map from U. S. Department of Agriculture
Texas Hardiness Zones Map courtesy of Texas Cooperative Extension:  Texas Gardening Regions
Gardening In Texas
Tx Zone      USDA Zone   Avg. Min. Temp
Zone I -------Zone 6            -10 to 0 F
Zone II ------Zone 7             0 to 10 F
Zone III -----Zone 8             10 to 20 F
Zone IV -----Zone 9A           20 to 25 F
Zone V ------Zone 9B           25 to 30 F

Quick:  30 Ė 60 days

Moderate: 60 Ė 80 days

Slow:  Greater than 80 days
Frost Susceptible

bush beans, summer squash

cucumbers, lima bush beans, okra, peppers, and cherry tomatoes

eggplant, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and winter squash
Frost Tolerant

beets, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, radishes, spinach,  turnips,  and turnip greens
broccoli, Chinese cabbage, carrots, green onions, kohlrabi, and parsley
Brussels sprouts, bulb onions, cabbage, cauliflower, and garlic
Frost susceptible - will be killed or injured by temperatures below 32 degrees F
Frost tolerant - can withstand temperatures below 32 degrees F