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Basics of Gardening in Houston, TX

Sunlight

 For crops that grow well in Houston, full sunlight is recommended.

Watering Schedule

January-March: Water 3 times weekly

April-May: Water 4 times weekly

June-September: Water daily if possible

October-December: Water 3 times weekly

NOTE: There is no need to water if it rains. Rain water is best for plants because it contains many nutrients and minerals. You can gather rain water in a bucket and use it to water your plants (this will help keep your garden even healthier). If you cannot collect rain water, regular tap is fine. When you’re done watering a bed, you should be able to scrape back an inch of soil with your finger and still see moist soil, if you see dry dirt, keep watering.

Starting plants

All plants can be started from seeds, but starting plants from seeds will be more time- consuming because seedlings require more care. Although buying small plants from a nursery is more expensive than buying seeds, the plants are already established and it will be easier to grow plants with a higher production rate.

If you start plants from seeds, you can either plant them in a smaller pot and leave them somewhere separate from your larger outdoor garden, or you can plant the seeds directly into your garden. When planting seeds, you should water them immediately upon planting them and then continue to gently water them every 2 or 3 days. Once the seed sprouts, cautiously water them so you do not knock the plant down or break its stem. If you start your seedlings in separate containers from your garden, you should move them to your garden when they are 2 or 3 inches tall

Planting Schedule

Houston doesn't get cold until late November/December, so we must plant our fall crops much later than recommended in most planting guides or on seed packets. We don’t really plant for a winter season because Houston’s temperature is relatively warm and not suited for cold-weather plants.

Spring and summer crops can be planted 1-2 months earlier than recommended (depending on the temperature recommendations on the seed packets), and fall plants need to be planted 1-2 months later than recommended (depending on temperature).

Spring: Lima beans, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, onions, spinach, tomatoes

Summer (Plant in April): Peppers, watermelon, eggplants, okra, beans, snap peas, cucumbers, cantaloupe, squash, tomatoes, gourds, sweet potatoes.

Fall (Plant in Oct.-Dec.): Collard greens, mustard greens, bok choy, pok choy, leafy Asian greens, cabbage, carrots, beets, turnips, onions, radish, kale, lettuce, peas, arugula, chard, spinach.

NOTE: Most of these plants will last well and produce well out of their season. Feel free to leave your plants as long as they are still producing. Many winter plants (like greens cabbage, bok choy, pok choy, Swiss chard and lettuce) will continue producing well into the spring.

Herbs

Many herbs will grow year-round in Houston, such as basil, rosemary, lavender and lemon balm. You can always cook with/consume your herbs raw, but if you want to dry them out, the best time to do so is right when they begin to flower. You will begin to see small flowers and seeds/seedpods form on the herb, which is an indicator that the plant is about to flower and throw its seeds.

This process is called “bolting.” When the plant begins to bolt, it has the most oil it can produce. This is the optimal time to take cuttings from the plant to dry. You can either uproot the whole plant (then cut the roots off) or just take clippings of the stems and leaves. Tie the herbs into bundles. Then hang them upside-down in a closet to dry. The drying process should take approximately two weeks. If you are worried about dust gathering on your drying herbs, you can cover the hanging herbs in brown paper bags (but make sure to slit holes in the bag for airflow purposes). After the herbs have dried, you can place them whole into a jar or bag, or crumble them. If you saved the seeds from the bolting herb, you can plant those next growing season.

Weeding

Weeds will rob the nutrients from your plants, so weeding is a necessity of gardening. If you spot weeds daily, you will be able to control the weed population more successfully. When weeding, make sure to remove the entire plant (root included) so it doesn't grow back from the root. Also, make sure you are not weeding a smaller plant you may have started from a seedling.

Covering soil

 If weeds are a problem in your garden (e.g. during the summer when they rapidly grow), you can cover the soil around your plants. To successfully cover your soil you should first weed the bed to the best of your ability. Then spread newspaper (2 or 3 papers thick) over the top of the soil. Be careful not to cover any of your intended plants. After spreading your newspaper, water it thoroughly. This will both keep the paper from flying from the bed due to wind and allow the newspaper to form to the shape of the beds. If you cover your beds in newspaper you will have to water your beds longer to ensure the water is soaking through the newspaper. The newspaper  will keep the soil from getting scorched and it is great food for the worms. The paper will eventually break down and you can cover it with soil or compost without worry. If the wind makes the newspaper fly from your garden, feel free to cover the paper with soil or mulch to weigh it down. Newspaper is great because it is biodegradable and deters weeds. We recommend only using the matte pieces of newsprint (not the  glossy advertisements). Also, we recommend against using cardboard for this same method because cardboard attracts ants.

Tips & Tricks

  • Watermelons (summer crop) like to be flooded with water twice a week as opposed to regular watering.
  • If you cover the soil around your peppers with black plastic (like trash bags), the peppers will be much spicier because the heat of the soil affects the heat of the peppers.
  • Adding coffee grounds to your garden beds will help deter ants (you can just throw handfuls of coffee grounds on top of the soil, they will mix in over time as you water and weed).
  • Your beans/peas will produce more if you plant them near a trellis/fence so they can climb up the wires/boards.
  • If you encounter aphids in your garden (small yellow and brown bugs that feed primarily on flowering plants), you can spray them with a mixture of dawn soap and water (1 tsp. of soap per bottle of water), and it will kill them without harming your crops.
  • If you encounter problems with snails/slugs (i.e. small holes appearing in your greens and bok choy), you can crush eggshells and place the eggshells in a circle around the plant. The pests will not cross the eggshell circle because the crushed shells will be abrasive to them. Also the eggshells will break down over time and add calcium to your soil.