Growing a vegetable garden in central Texas is a year-round affair. Crops are grown according to their seasonal compatibility. Cool-season crops grow Fall through early spring, and warm-season crops grow from Spring through the first frost. The dilemma that faces the gardener is when to start seeds for each season. Here a quick guide on how to figure out the best time to start seeds in central Texas.
Classify your crops
To have a successful garden, every gardener should know the right season for each crop. Distinguishing between cool-season and warm-season crops is key. After making a list of the desired crops to grow, part them into their respective seasons.
Mark the growing seasons on the calendar
Growing seasons are marked by the first and last frost dates. Refer to the USDA growing zones to determines the dates for your specific area. The given dates are approximate and vary slightly each year.
In central Texas, the last frost date is set to be the 1st of March, and the first frost date is the 30th of November. For that matter, the cool season is between November and March, and the warm season is the other way around.
Get to know your seeds
Now that you decided what to grow and when to grow them, it is time to learn more about the seeds. The latter are not created equal, and here is what to look for in a seed before starting it.
How long does it take to germinate?
The answers to these questions will help determine the time to start them more accurately. Seeds that take long to germinate will need an earlier start because those dormant days after sowing are not as active.
Does it need soaking, stratification, or scarification to trigger germination?
Seeds with a hard coat will need soaking or scratching before sowing to speed up germination. The same thing goes for seeds that need a thermal shock. Taking these procedures into consideration will help determine the actual start date.
Does it need to be started indoors or better to direct sow?
Some seeds are better sown directly into the ground for two reasons. First, the seeds are quick to germinate, like beans, so there is no use to start them early. Second, some seedlings’ root systems, like squash, do not tolerate transplanting.
Start seeds on time
It is important to figure out the right time to start seeds. Starting too early or too late will compromise the production of your garden.
Starting seeds early will leave you with extra maintenance to keep the seedlings alive. As the plants grow, their root system will outgrow the pots and become rootbound. That may stunt the growth and lead to poor production.
On the other hand, if you start seeds too late, you risk missing their growing season.
The last frost date for central Texas is approximately the 1st of March. Warm-season crops are usually fast-growing except for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants that need some time to establish their root systems.
The common rule is to start seeds six to eight weeks before the last frost date. Counting backward starting from March 1st, you land on the first week of January. Keep in mind that the seeds take between one week to two weeks to germinate, leaving you with six weeks of active growth.
Squash, beans, and cucumbers are fast to germinate and grow. Most of the time, it is recommended to direct sow them into the ground. The only reason you would do otherwise is to get a head start on the season or to avoid predators from getting them.
If you decide to start squash, cucumbers, or bean seeds indoors, do so three weeks before the planting date. These crops are very cold-sensitive, so temperatures should be above 55F (12C) at all times. You can start them indoors right on the last frost date day.
Contrary to the warm-season crops, most cool-season crops need to be started indoors. There are two reasons why you should start them indoors early. First, their maturity time is much longer due to short days. Second, Texas summers tend to linger through November, which delays planting time. The good news is that most of them are quick to germinate, taking between three to seven days.
The first frost date for central Texas is supposed to be the 30th of November. Count backward six weeks, and you land in mid-October. Unless you have heat-tolerant varieties, avoid starting seeds earlier than mid-September. Otherwise, you will end up with stunted growth leading to mediocre production.
Some crops are not grown from seeds such as potatoes, garlic, leeks, and onions (most of the time). These are a fixed planting dates that gardeners follow.
Potatoes have two growing times in central Texas. The main crop potatoes are planted in February for the summer harvest. The second round takes place in August for the fall harvest.
Garlic is a cool-season crop that takes a long time from planting to harvest. Plant garlic in central Texas starting October through November. It needs cool winter days to form the cloves. Harvest takes place in late spring or early summer.
Most gardeners prefer to grow onions and leeks from starts which they get from a nursery. In that case, planting time is after the winter solstice. Texas onions are short-day varieties, which means they get eight to ten hours of daylight. If you plant them sooner, the days short may stunt them. If you plant them later, there is not much time left for them to grow more once summer heat settles in.