In the (Hot) July Vegetable Garden

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Tomatoes and peppers arranged into a face

Enjoy your harvest! Photo courtesy of Kerry Drake, Sunshine Community Gardens

It’s Dry in the July Vegetable Garden

If you’re a new gardener in the Austin area, you’re probably wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into.

The U.S. Drought Monitor tells the story. Over 2/3 of Travis County is now tagged as experiencing extreme drought. Dry conditions mean that the soil has a reduced capacity to capture and store heat, exacerbating the high temperatures we are already experiencing.

High nighttime temperatures cause many varieties of tomatoes to produce sterile pollen, which means your plants are going to stop fruiting (if they haven’t already.) Cherry tomatoes aren’t as impacted, but even they might be suffering in the heat. If your garden has become infested with scale, whiteflies, or overrun by beetles, it’s time to cut those plants off at the ground and contribute them to the compost bin. It’s not worth the water to try to keep stressed plants alive through the summer. Cut your losses and let’s get on with fall gardening!

Start Planning the Fall Garden

Yes, that’s right, it’s time to think about fall gardening. July is a great month to get your fall tomatoes and broccoli started. It’s also a good use of your time while hiding in the house from the heat. Choose varieties that mature in 65 days or less. Use a peat-free seed starting mix and find a location with bright indirect sunlight (or use grow lights.)

While choosing what to plant for fall, sketch out a rotation plan for growing vegetables. Crops within the same family are often susceptible to the same pests or diseases. Moving or rotating them to a different location helps break the pest/disease cycle.

If you’re still determined to slog it out in the heat, wear long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat to protect yourself from the sun. I’m picking okra every day right now and have planted enough for a continuous harvest right through to frost. Okra is originally from Africa and can tolerate (and prefer) our hot summers. You can still plant sweet corn this month too. Just keep it watered until well established. Make sure to lightly mulch around the stalks to keep the soil from drying out. I like using composted leaves (from all those leaves I gathered from the neighborhood last fall.) Composted pine needles work great too. They usually come from East Texas, and you can find them at local nurseries or farm supply stores.

July Vegetable Garden Checklist:

Water
  • Irrigate deeply and as infrequently as possible to encourage deep root growth. Water in the morning so that plants can use the moisture during the heat of the day.
Soil
  • Keep garden beds mulched, adding or replacing mulch as necessary. Be sure to mulch empty beds to conserve moisture and protect the soil and microorganisms from the heat in anticipation for fall planting.
Fertilize
  • Over-fertilizing in summer is a common plant killer. Excess fertilizer (especially nitrogen) can burn plants in dry weather. This happens because the salts in fertilizer draw moisture out of plants that they are not able to replenish from soil moisture or retain due to evaporation on hot days. Lack of moisture results in scorched leaves resembling fire damage, or “burn”. Use liquid fertilizers and be sure to water deeply.
Plant/Transplant
  • Peruse the seed catalogs and place your order for fall planting.
  • Tomato transplants should be planted in the garden by late July or early August in order to set fruit and produce a harvest before the first freeze. Grow your own from seed planted indoors the first week of July.
  • Plant pumpkins by mid-July to harvest before Halloween. Most varieties take 90-100 days to mature.
  • Plant zinnia and marigold seeds now for a vivid fall display. You’ll have to water them regularly.
  • It takes about 6 weeks to grow a broccoli or kale transplant from seed. Start planting seeds of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and other cole crops so they will be ready for setting in the garden by mid-September.
Broccoli seedlings

Start broccoli or kale seeds to transplant in fall.

  • You can still plant southern peas, okra, and sweet corn this month if you keep the soil moist while they are establishing deep roots.
  • Prepare for transplants by watering and mulching designated planting areas for a few days before adding plants.
Diseases/Pests to Look For
  • Pull up any tomato plants infested with pest damage or disease. Whatever malady they are suffering from will get worse, not better, during the stress of summer heat. Use green tomatoes for roasted tomato salsa, chow-chow relish, fried green tomatoes, or chop and add to a vegetable sauté.
Maintenance
  • Pull up any tomato plants that are infested with pest damage or disease. Whatever malady they are suffering from will get worse, not better, during the stress of summer heat. Use green tomatoes for roasted tomato salsa, chow-chow relish, fried green tomatoes, or chop and add to a vegetable sauté.
  • Peppers and eggplant handle Texas heat better than tomatoes. Keep them watered and mulched and, even if they pause production during summer’s peak, they will power through and produce a bumper crop this fall.
  • Provide birds fresh water daily during the summer. Place the birdbath in an open area with shrubs or trees nearby where birds can have easy access and observe possible threats. They will help control summer caterpillars and locusts.

    Window screen providing shade for transplants

    Use shade cloth, old window screens, bed sheets or burlap to fashion a temporary shade covering for new transplants.

  • Providing shade cloth helps protect tender plants from afternoon sun. Fashion a temporary covering using shade cloth, old screens, umbrellas, etc.
Harvest
  • Harvest okra pods frequently before they get too big; over-grown okra is tough and stringy.
  • Beat the squirrels by harvesting tomatoes when they start to show some color. Bring the fruit inside the house to finish ripening on a table or a countertop.
  • Herb infused water is a great pick-me-up for hot days. Throw in a few cucumber slices if you have them.

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Vegetable Planting Calendar (English) (Español) (繁体中文)

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Rootknot Nematode Management

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

About Sheryl Williams

Photo of Sheryl WilliamsSheryl Williams has been a Travis County Master Gardener since 2010 and currently works as the Horticulture Program Assistant at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Travis County. She was introduced to gardening by her mom and grandma and has been an avid vegetable gardener most of her life. Sheryl believes that there is nothing more satisfying than growing and preparing your own food. She likes gardening in Austin year round and concedes that means pulling weeds every day. She practices organic gardening principles and enjoys the challenge of outsmarting garden pests. Occasionally she loses these battles, but doesn’t mind sharing a good meal.

Cactus Bugs by Wizzie Brown

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What Are These Bugs on My Cactus?!

Red Cactus coreids swarming on a prickly pear pad

Early signs of damage by these insects are round, yellowish spots on cactus pads.

Cactus coreids or cactus bugs, Chelinidea vittiger, are shield-shaped insects with piercing-sucking mouthparts. They are most commonly red but can vary in color. They have distinctive antennae; if you look at the antennae in cross section, they are triangular in shape. Adults have fully developed wings while immatures, or nymphs, do not and are sometimes mistaken for weevils. Cactus coreids feed in groups on prickly pear cactus. Often the first indication of damage is round, yellowish spots on the cactus pads. If left unchecked, feeding areas can increase in size until they cover entire pads causing a yellow, pitted appearance.

Use Least Toxic Solution For Control

If you feel the need for management, try high pressure water sprays, hand-picking or squishing, or vacuuming them off the plants. Insecticidal soap can be utilized on smaller stages but may not work as well on larger nymphs and adults. You could also use a contact pesticide, either naturally derived or synthetic. If you eat the fruits or pads, avoid using systemic products which are taken into plant tissue.

About Wizzie

Wizzie Brown

Wizzie Brown
County Extension Program Specialist – Integrated Pest Management
Email:EBrown@ag.tamu.edu

Wizzie has been with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service since 2002 and has been playing with insects since she was a toddler. She is an Extension Program Specialist with the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Wizzie holds a B.S. in entomology from The Ohio State University and a M.S. in entomology from Texas A&M University. The integrated pest management program provides identification, biological and management information to whomever needs help. Wizzie’s research focuses on imported fire ants, including community wide fire ant management. Wizzie also is happy to provide programs to area groups on a variety of arthropod-related topics. You can find insect and other arthropod information on Wizzie’s blog.

In the Central Texas June Vegetable Garden

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Butter beans ready for harvest

Plant heat-loving butter beans for a delicious summer harvest that will last until frost.

Harvest the June Vegetable Garden Before the Squirrels Wake Up!

June is normally the peak harvest season for many spring-planted vegetables. However, we’ve had such a dry year, that many of you may be experiencing delays or have watched plants wither under the heat. Others have seen early harvests of tomatoes and cucumbers due to warm temperatures. If you haven’t learned it by now, there is no “normal” for Austin vegetable gardeners!

Cracking Tomatoes?

Speaking of tomatoes, the warm days of May have contributed to some vigorous plant growth which may promote cracking of tomatoes. This happens when the fruit enlarges so quickly that it outgrows its skin. Some varieties may be more susceptible to cracking. Hybrids and other varieties like Early Girl, Juliet, Celebrity, Jaune Flamme, and Valley Girl have thicker skin and seem to be more resistant. If you notice cracking, try harvesting fruit at the first blush of pink and let them finish ripening in the house. If you do experience cracked or split tomatoes, they are usually still edible if the cracked or exposed flesh can be cut away.

Prevent Sunburn and Insect Bits While Gardening in the June Vegetable Garden

Take precautions this summer to protect yourself from both mosquitoes and exposure to summer’s intense sun. Wear sunscreen, a hat, long sleeves, pants and sunglasses along with mosquito repellent, such as products with DEET, lemon oil or eucalyptus. Eliminate all sources of standing water – even the ones you don’t think about or see, like shallow plant saucers, gutters, depressions in plastic tarps or folds in lawn bags that might hold even a small amount of water. Cover rainwater containers and/or treat with dunks or granules containing BTI (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis).

Here is the vegetable gardener’s checklist for June:

FERTILIZE

  • Add compost to annuals and vegetables, fertilize only if needed. Scratch the fertilizer into the top layer of soil and water deeply to quickly move the nutrients into solution. Alternatively, use a liquid fertilizer and a siphon mixer to deliver through your irrigation system.
  • It’s probably too late to treat for iron chlorosis because our daytime temperatures are in the 80’s. But just in case we get a “cold” spell, provide supplemental iron through foliar applications or drenches, if needed, before daytime temperatures exceed 80°F. Dr. Larry Stein from Texas A&M University recommends EDDHA water soluble chelated iron because it performs the best in alkaline soils.

WATER

  • Irrigate deeply and as infrequently as you can to encourage deep roots.
  • Keep an eye on container grown vegetable plants. As the temperatures rise and rain diminishes, these plants may require daily watering. Consider using a grow box or other self-watering container to help plants cope with increased water needs.

PLANT

  • dark green leaves of Malabar Spinach

    Dark green and succulent, Malabar spinach is nutrient rich; chop and sauté with squash, peppers or okra.

    Plant okra and sweet potatoes if you haven’t done so already.

  • Plant some butter beans such as Jackson Wonder or Henderson
  •  Plant cream peas or black-eyed peas.
  • Sow another crop of corn if you have the room.
  • Grow greens that don’t mind the heat of summer such as Malabar spinach, vegetable amaranth or purslane (available online from Johnny’s Seeds or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds).
  • Start tomatoes in pots this month for fall transplanting. Because the fall growing season is shorter, it’s best to stick with early-maturing, determinate varieties. See the full Vegetable Garden Planting Guide (Español, 繁体中文) and Vegetable Varieties for Central Texas.

TRANSPLANT

  • It’s time to hold off transplanting new vegetables into the garden. The increased heat makes it hard for plants to draw up enough water while their roots are becoming established.

SOIL

  • As you finish up your vegetable harvest, plant a cover crop. I really like buckwheat’ it grows fast, and I can chop and drop it once it starts to bloom. Cover crops are a great way to enrich garden soil for the following season.
  • Pull back mulch, apply compost, then replace mulch to retain soil moisture. Pine straw is popular with vegetable growers because it can contribute acidity, it’s loose enough to allow rainwater to soak through but still suppresses weeds. It’s not always available or affordable. You can use unscreened homemade compost in a pinch.

DISEASES/PESTS TO LOOK FOR

  • Spider mites tend to show up as the days get hotter and drier. Check for mites by holding a white paper plate underneath a leaf and tap a few times. Dislodged mites will fall onto the plate and look like tiny specks crawling around. Once they are present, the top surface of the leaves will have a pale, stippled appearance. Organic controls for spider mites include horticultural oils, insecticidal soap, sulfur dust or strong blasts of water to the underside of leaves. Once their population explodes, you may see a fine webbing develop under the leaves. At that point it is too late to treat, and the affected plant should be removed from the garden.
  • Be on the lookout for aphids. They show up in droves, multiply exponentially and are fairly easy to spot, often on the underside of leaves or along the stems of plants. They can be green, yellow, black or red and are a favorite snack for ladybug and lacewing larvae. Ideally we want to encourage beneficial garden creatures to take care of pests, but if aphids get out of hand their populations can be effectively diminished with targeted sprays of insecticidal soap or by simply washing them off with a strong spray of water. They are a persistent pest and may require repeated spraying to get them under control.
  • Squash vine borers are out in full force this month. Check stems daily for eggs and use row cover to keep the moth out. You’ll have to remove the row cover to pollinate the flowers. Pollinate by hand with an artists paint brush or leave the cover off for an hour in the afternoon when the moth is least active.
  • Harvest ripe vegetables before spraying plants with any pesticide, whether organic or synthetic. Always read the label for instructions on mixing, dilution, how often to spray, or if there is a waiting period after spraying. If infestations are heavy, remove the plants and replace with something else.

MAINTENANCE

  • Stake peppers and eggplant to provide support as they go into production.
  • Keep up with weeding to prevent them from setting seeds. They will put on a growth spurt in June to try to complete their reproductive cycle.

HARVEST

Red potato tubers hanging from roots

Harvest potatoes when the tops turn yellow and begin to die down.

  • Harvest vegetables frequently to ensure peak quality and encourage continual production. Morning is usually best – especially if you want to beat the squirrels.
  • Dig potatoes when the tops turn yellow and start to die back; handle carefully to avoid bruising. Cure in a warm, humid spot for 1-2 weeks then store in a single layer in a cool, dark location. Washing may encourage disease so wash just before eating.
  • If cracking is a problem with tomatoes, harvest at first blush and let them ripen off the vine.
  • Harvest sweet potato leaves. They are delicious fresh or cooked. Harvesting leaves will reduce your potato yield but they are so good it’s totally worth it.
  • Green beans generally produce a concentrated set of pods over a 2-4 week period before petering out. Cut and remove the plants at soil level when they’ve finished and replace with heat-tolerant southern beans.
  • Harvest onions and garlic when tops fall over. Cure in a warm, dry location for a few days before storing.

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Vegetable Planting Calendar (English) (Español) (繁体中文)

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Rootknot Nematode Management

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

About Sheryl Williams

Photo of Sheryl WilliamsSheryl Williams has been a Travis County Master Gardener since 2010 and currently works as the Horticulture Program Assistant at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Travis County. She was introduced to gardening by her mom and grandma and has been an avid vegetable gardener most of her life. Sheryl believes that there is nothing more satisfying than growing and preparing your own food. She likes gardening in Austin year round and concedes that means pulling weeds every day. She practices organic gardening principles and enjoys the challenge of outsmarting garden pests. Occasionally she loses these battles, but doesn’t mind sharing a good meal.

Kern’s Flower Beetles by Wizzie Brown

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What is This Beetle in My Flowers?

Kern's Flower beetle eating pollen from a yellow flower

Kern’s Flower beetles eat pollen, not flowers.

Kern’s flower beetles are a type of scarab beetle, closely related to May and June beetles.  They are medium in size, reaching about 1/3 inch in length.  There are multiple color variations ranging from all black, to brownish-orange or creamy white with black markings.

Should You Treat for Them?

These beetles eat pollen in multiple types of flowers.  Often you will find numerous beetles in a single flower.  Treatment of these beetles is optional as they feed on pollen and typically do not eat the flower itself. If you feel the need to remove the beetles, you can hand pick them and dump them into a bucket of soapy water.

For more information or help with identification, contact Wizzie Brown, Texas AgriLife Extension Service Program Specialist at 512.854.9600.

Additional Information

About Wizzie

Wizzie Brown

Wizzie Brown
County Extension Program Specialist – Integrated Pest Management
Email:EBrown@ag.tamu.edu

Wizzie has been with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service since 2002 and has been playing with insects since she was a toddler. She is an Extension Program Specialist with the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Wizzie holds a B.S. in entomology from The Ohio State University and a M.S. in entomology from Texas A&M University. The integrated pest management program provides identification, biological and management information to whomever needs help. Wizzie’s research focuses on imported fire ants, including community wide fire ant management. Wizzie also is happy to provide programs to area groups on a variety of arthropod-related topics. You can find insect and other arthropod information on Wizzie’s blog.

All Wisteria Are Not Created Equally by Gayleen Rabakukk

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Not All Wisterias Are the Same

Wisteria frutescens vine climbing up a cattle panel fence. Purple blooms hang within the foliage

Wisteria frutescens will help make this cattle panel trellis a colorful privacy screen.

Last month we decided to build a privacy screen to block our bedroom patio area. We settled on an open design with stock panel trellises and added planter boxes below. I was giddy at the prospect of another garden spot, imagining all sorts of vining vegetables climbing up the trellis. Nearly 12 feet of extra space for beans or peas!

My husband had other ideas. “It’s permanent, I’d like something we can plant once, then it’ll grow for years.” He suggested wisteria and I cringed. I’d known more than one person with wisteria that had grown into a monster vine, overtaking the trellis then moving on to the house, damaging siding and shingles. But in the interest of marital harmony, I decided to do some research.

A Native Texas Wisteria to the Rescue

Turns out there are multiple kinds of wisteria, and this is where using scientific names can come in handy. Wisteria frutescens, also known as Texas wisteria, is native to east Texas and the southeastern United States. The native Wisteria frutescens has a slower growth rate than its Asian counterpart, Wisteria sinensis, an import considered an invasive species by some.

Wisteria sinensis grows lightning fast: up to 10 feet a year and can choke out other trees as its hard, woody vines wrap tightly around a host tree and cause death by girdling. This rapid growth made it a darling of those in a hurry to have lots of coverage in a short time and I’m confident this is the type my friends with the roof problems must’ve had.

Wisteria frutescens can still reach heights of 30 feet, just not as quickly. It also has other advantages when it comes to flowers. Wisteria frutescens can flower in its first year and bloom throughout the summer. The plants we found at our local nursery already had flower buds which opened up shortly after planting. Wisteria sinensis can take 10 years or more to flower.

How to Tell the Difference

Purple flowers of Wisteria frutescens

If you’re buying plants, look for the scientific name on the tag: Wisteria frutescens is the native species. This was the only choice offered at my favorite local nursery, but box stores definitely carry Wisteria sinensis. If the scientific name isn’t listed look for key phrases like: “growing up to 10 ft. or more annually.”

If you’re wondering about a vine already growing in your yard, if it’s taken over, there’s a good chance it’s Wisteria sinensis. Here are a few ways to tell the species apart:

  • With Wisteria frutescens, leaves emerge first, then it flowers. Asian species bloom first, then leaf out.
  • Also, Wisteria frutescens bloom clusters (racemes) are round and compact – like a pine cone, 3-6 inches in length, while the Asian species are twice that size.
  • Once the blooms go to seed, Wisteria frutescens has smooth seed pods opposed to fuzzy pods with the Asian species.

It may take a few years for our Wisteria frutescens to cover the privacy screen, but that’s okay – I snuck in some bean seeds to grow alongside them this summer.

Additional Resources

Texas Invasive Species Institute

Wisteria frutescens information in the Wildflower.org Native Plant Database

Grow Green Native & Adapted Landscape Plants Searchable Database

Texas Native Shrubs

About Gayleen Rabakukk

Gayleen gardens in the hills of northwest Travis County. When she’s not digging in the dirt, she’s either writing or tending to her Bed & Breakfast, Hill Country Highland. Gayleen is a Travis County Master Gardener intern.

 

 

In Austin’s May Vegetable Garden

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Summer Season Has Arrived in the May Vegetable Garden

It’s right about now that gardeners really settle in to bragging about what they are harvesting from their garden. It can be really annoying if yours isn’t as far along or if the deer and squirrels have picked everything clean.

But if you are one of the lucky ones and are enjoying squash, cucumbers, and maybe even a tomato, pat yourself on the back. You deserve it for surviving the rough spring that we’ve had.

May is the beginning of our summer gardening season for heat loving plants. And, unfortunately, the beginning of another wave of pests ready to mow down your crop. See what is on the May vegetable garden checklist to make the most of this month.

FERTILIZE
  • To keep vegetables growing vigorously fertilize lightly when the first fruit appear and again 3-4 weeks later. A general recommendation is 1 cup of organic fertilizer per 10’ of row, but please follow your soil test recommendations if you have them. If you have a small garden with only a few plants, work in 1-2 tablespoons of fertilizer per plant
WATER AND IRRIGATION
  • This spring’s severe lack of rain has reminded us to irrigate smartly. Consider a rain water collection system, no matter how small, and conserve water by using drip irrigation rather than overhead sprinklers.

    Drip Irrigation Installation examples

    Examples of drip irrigation

  • Remember to water the soil, not the leaves. It’s the roots that provide moisture to the plant. Leaves have a coating on their upper side to shed water, not absorb it.
  • Water plants deeply and as infrequently as you can to encourage deep roots in preparation for stricter water restrictions.
PLANT
  • Plant heat-loving plants like sweet potatoes, Malabar spinach, okra, and Southern peas anytime this month. Just keep in mind that the sooner they get established the better they will be able to withstand the heat that is to come.
TRANSPLANT
  • Eggplant and pepper transplants can still go in the ground early this month.
SOIL
  • Apply a compost layer and then mulch to suppress weeds and retain moisture.
  • Consider growing a summer cover crop like cow peas or vetch in areas that you can later cut and drop into place for mulch.
DISEASES/PESTS TO LOOK FOR
  • Hornworms will be more prevalent, especially in the vegetable garden. Pick them off plants when you see them and feed them to the birds.
  • Blackspot and other fungal diseases will be prevalent due to high temperatures and May rainfall. Apply fungicides according to label directions during dry spells.

    Squash vine borer moth

    Squash vine borer, Melittia cucurbitae

  • Monitor plants for squash vine borers, cabbage loopers, corn earworms, and beetles. See our Texas Vegetable Garden Insects Field Guide for identification and management strategies.
  • Watch for squash vine borer eggs at the base of stems, loopers under the leaves, earworms inside the cob, and beetles everywhere else.
  • Rather than spraying, bag and destroy infested plants that are nearing the end of their harvesting season.
HARVEST
White and red potatoes

Small tubers may be ready this month if you planted in February.

  • If you’ve planted potatoes, harvest a few new potatoes from the perimeter of the potato plant by carefully pulling back the soil without disturbing the plant. Potato blooms are a good signal that the plant has matured enough to form some small tubers.
  • Harvest onions when the tops fall over, then let them dry for a week before storing or eating.
MAINTENANCE
  • Keep up with weeding and don’t let them produce seed. Make yourself a weed wiper to spot treat. Since most weeds are annuals, they will go dormant in the coming heat and give you a respite.

    weed wiper

    Use a homemade weed wiper to spot treat for stubborn weeds.

  • Install drip irrigation systems in vegetable beds in preparation for summer.
  • Strawberries are beginning to wane so it is time to pull them out. It’s better to grow them as annuals from fall through spring than trying to nurse them through a droughty summer.
  • It is critical to mulch everything growing in your garden to help conserve moisture and regulate soil temperature. Over the summer, the mulch will gradually break down and enrich the soil for future plantings.

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Vegetable Planting Calendar (English) (Español) (traditional Chinese)

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Rootknot Nematode Management

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

About Sheryl Williams

Photo of Sheryl WilliamsSheryl Williams has been a Travis County Master Gardener since 2010 and currently works as the Horticulture Program Assistant at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Travis County. She was introduced to gardening by her mom and grandma and has been an avid vegetable gardener most of her life. Sheryl believes that there is nothing more satisfying than growing and preparing your own food. She likes gardening in Austin year round and concedes that means pulling weeds every day. She practices organic gardening principles and enjoys the challenge of outsmarting garden pests. Occasionally she loses these battles, but doesn’t mind sharing a good meal.

In the April Vegetable Garden for Austin and Travis County

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The April Vegetable Garden is the Best!

Hill your potatoes in the April Vegetable Garden

Pull soil around potatoes to protect developing tubers from sunlight.

April is the most glorious month for a vegetable gardener. Even if late March freezes have flattened your plantings, April is the month where everything aligns to thrive. I’m especially enjoying the bluebonnets growing in amongst my vegetable beds, my continuing harvest of pea shoots and spinach, and the (finally) quickly growing potato plants.

Here is the checklist for the April vegetable garden:

FERTILIZE
  • Fertilize corn when it is one to two feet tall.
  • Use a water-soluble fertilizer on tomatoes every 2-3 weeks to encourage vigorous growth.
  • Fertilize the rest of the vegetable garden according to your soil test. Switch to liquid fertilizer if heat and humidity arrive early.
WATER AND IRRIGATION
  • Make sure you have audited your irrigation system. If you are using a drip system, confirm that all the emitters are working. If they seem to be plugged, replace the emitter or the drip line. I’ve never had much luck getting them to unplug and function properly.
PLANT
  • Mid-April is a good time to plant okra. Remember that it originates from Africa and wants warm temperatures in which to germinate and grow.
  • Southern peas, melons, and a second crop of bush beans can all be direct seeded now that it’s warmed up. If you aren’t plagued by squash-vine borers, you might also sneak in a planting of summer squash if you haven’t already established them.
  • It’s time to get your winter squash seeds planted. Most varieties take between 90 – 100 days to mature, so now is time to get them in the ground.
  • Set out sweet potato slips late in the month. It may be too late to try sprouting your own, but they still should be available online or at local nurseries.
TRANSPLANT
  • You can still plant eggplant and pepper transplants this month.
  • Add herbs and flowers to your vegetable beds. They help attract pollinators and beneficial insects.
SOIL
Vegetable plants with mulch

Protect soil and deter weeds in the vegetable garden with a layer of leaves, compost or shredded hardwood mulch.

  • Mix in compost to the top layers of soil, then mulch well around your established vegetable plants. Mulch will help retain moisture, regulate soil temperatures as it starts to get hot, and over time, will turn to compost.
DISEASES/PESTS TO LOOK FOR
  • Inspect tender new growth for signs of aphids. A small number can be dislodged with a strong spray of water, but a larger infestation may require insecticidal soap to get under control. Pay attention to beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings – they may take care of the problem for you without ever having to spray.
  • Harlequin bugs will appear on cole crops as the temperatures warm. Rather than spraying, pull up and compost the plants since they are at the end of their harvesting season.
  • Caterpillars will be out in full force this month, many of whom become beautiful butterflies. Treat only those plants that are not larval hosts to our native pollinators. You can see a list of Austin butterfly plants here.
  • Sooty mold, black spot, and powdery mildew may also start to appear. Consult the Grow Green FAQ sheets for least toxic solutions.
  • Watch out for fire ants, they become more active after a rain and love to move into vegetable beds.
HARVEST
Artichokes blooming in the April Vegetable Garden

Artichokes have fantastic blooms if you spare them from the dinner table.

  • Harvest the last of your winter vegetables so that you can transition into warm-season plants.
  • Artichokes should be ready to harvest later this month, or allow them to bloom, and enjoy the spectacular show. The first bud is always the largest; subsequent buds will be smaller but perfectly edible. I like to steam the small ones and eat whole (lots of fiber!)
MAINTENANCE
  • Never let weeds go to seed – those seeds will haunt you for years. Pull or hoe young weeds and add them to the compost pile.
  • Hill up the soil or mulch around potatoes so that the developing tubers are not exposed to sunlight. Do the same with corn to help stabilize it and keep it from blowing over.
  • Take inventory of your pesticides and liquid amendments. Most of these products need to be stored at temperatures below 90° F. Make note and use up what you safely can if summer heat is going to be an issue in your shed or garage.
  • Let your cool season herbs like cilantro, dill, and parsley bolt and flower. They are a favorite pollen source for beneficial insects.

    Melons growing on a trellis

    Cattle panels bent over to form tunnels are great for melon vines.

  • Consider growing vining crops on a trellis. You can bend over cattle panel fencing to form a tunnel or use pole teepees to direct plants off the ground. It’s great for saving space and is a real conversation starter to see melons or cucumbers hanging above ground.

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Vegetable Planting Calendar (English) (Español) (traditional Chinese)

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Rootknot Nematode Management

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

About Sheryl Williams

Photo of Sheryl WilliamsSheryl Williams has been a Travis County Master Gardener since 2010 and currently works as the Horticulture Program Assistant at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Travis County. She was introduced to gardening by her mom and grandma and has been an avid vegetable gardener most of her life. Sheryl believes that there is nothing more satisfying than growing and preparing your own food. She likes gardening in Austin year round and concedes that means pulling weeds every day. She practices organic gardening principles and enjoys the challenge of outsmarting garden pests. Occasionally she loses these battles, but doesn’t mind sharing a good meal.

Forest Tent Caterpillars by Wizzie Brown

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forest tent caterpillar on foliageTent Caterpillars Start to Appear in April

Forest tent caterpillars cause damage in the larval, or caterpillar, stage. Caterpillars are a greyish- brown color with bright blue and yellow stripes running down the sides of their body. The back of the caterpillar has white shoeprint/ keyhole markings. Larvae also have fine white hairs over their body but are not a stinging caterpillar.

These caterpillars, although called tent caterpillars, do not make an actual tent like others in their group. Other tent caterpillars make a web between two branches where they join or split from each other. Forest tent caterpillars make a silken mat on the tree trunk or large branches where caterpillars gather in groups between feedings.

Forest tent caterpillars appear once a year, typically in April. In some years outbreak populations can occur and numerous caterpillars can be seen in certain areas. They chew foliage of trees, usually deciduous hardwoods. Even though the caterpillars eat foliage, many trees can withstand 20% loss of foliage without being harmed. Concern should be when other stressors are apparent along with the caterpillars, such as drought or disease.

Treatment Options

If the need to manage forest tent caterpillars occurs, less toxic active ingredients that can be used to treat foliage are Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) kurstaki or spinosad. Another option would be to treat the silken mat with a pyrethroid product when the caterpillars are resting there.

For more information or help with identification, contact Wizzie Brown, Texas AgriLife Extension Service Program Specialist at 512.854.9600.

About Wizzie

Wizzie Brown

Wizzie Brown
County Extension Program Specialist – Integrated Pest Management
Email:EBrown@ag.tamu.edu

Wizzie has been with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service since 2002 and has been playing with insects since she was a toddler. She is an Extension Program Specialist with the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Wizzie holds a B.S. in entomology from The Ohio State University and a M.S. in entomology from Texas A&M University. The integrated pest management program provides identification, biological and management information to whomever needs help. Wizzie’s research focuses on imported fire ants, including community wide fire ant management. Wizzie also is happy to provide programs to area groups on a variety of arthropod-related topics. You can find insect and other arthropod information on Wizzie’s blog.

In the Austin March Vegetable Garden

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Bloomsdale Spinach with Ice in the March Vegetable Garden

It can still freeze in the March vegetable garden.

Is it Going to Freeze Again in the March Vegetable Garden?

The first week of March is the average last day of frost but remain diligent and listen to the weather forecast. Soil temperatures and sneaky freezes will impact seed germination and plant viability.

Use a Soil Thermometer

Soil Thermometer

Use a soil thermometer to determine the right time to plant

Since weather apps don’t tell you how warm the soil is, the best monitoring tool is a soil thermometer. If you are a home composter or baker, you may already have thermometers you can use. If your thermometer has a metal probe that will read at least 50°, you can use the tool on hand.

Test soil temperature where the seeds will be sprouting, so only push the probe in about 2-3 inches deep. The best time to test is mid-morning, around 10:00 or 11:00. After 4-5 days in a row of temperatures above 60° it is time to plant, and you can expect relatively quick and unhindered germination.

Monitoring soil temperature is important because our warm season vegetables – beans, cucumbers, squash, corn – germinate best when the soil temperature is above 60°. Okra, Southern peas, supersweet corn, and melons prefer it even warmer. Seeds sown in too cool soils may have spotty germination. Worse, if the soil is below 50°, seed will probably rot or emerge in a weakened state, causing them to be more susceptible to disease and pests.

Here is the checklist for Austin’s March Vegetable Gardens:

SITE SELECTION
  • Choose planting beds or container locations that provide at least six to eight hours of full sun for optimum growth and production.
FERTILIZE
  1. Apply fertilizer recommendations from your soil test.
  2. Pull back mulch before applying fertilizer, water in well, then replace mulch to help protect from freeze.
WATER
  • You may need to irrigate this month if rains don’t arrive.
  • Strong spring winds can quickly desiccate young seedlings, so monitor water needs of new plantings.
  • Transplants should be watered in their pots before transplanting and watered again after planting in the ground.
  • Make sure to water transplants deeply when frost is in the forecast. Water helps protect the roots from cold.
  • Avoid watering seeds from above, if possible, as this can cause the soil to crust, making it difficult for the seedlings to emerge.
  • It’s especially important to keep water consistent in your onion patch. Onions will put on top growth more quickly as temperatures rise above 45°, and more top growth means larger onions once they start to bulb.
PLANT
planting seeds in a soil furrow

Be sure to plant seeds at the proper depth. Check the seed packet.

  • Start small if this is your first garden and remember that these lovely spring days are short-lived, with heat, insects, mosquitoes and water limitations to soon follow.
  • Be sure to plant seeds at the proper depth. A good rule of thumb is to plant at a depth that is about 3 times the width of the seed. Consult the seed packet for more specific information.
  • Always plant into moist soil. Water thoroughly the day before planting seed. Water again lightly after sowing to establish good soil-to-seed contact.
  • Plant seeds of peas and greens early in the month, bush and pole beans, cucumbers, summer squash and winter squash later in the month.
  • Plant flowers in and around the vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects.
  • Hold off on melons, okra, sweet potatoes, and southern peas until the very end of the month or the first of April once the soil has warmed up to 65° F and the air temperature is between 70° and 85° F.
TRANSPLANT
  • Tomato, eggplant and pepper transplants can go into the garden this month but be prepared to cover and protect them in the event of a late cold snap.
  • If using tomato cages, wrap them individually with row cover.
  • Eggplant and peppers will do better if you wait and put them out at the end of the month.
  • Gradually expose all transplants to outdoor conditions before planting into the garden (even if you’ve bought them from a garden center.)
  • Transplant herbs like oregano and thyme late in the month.
SOIL
  • Work compost into the first few inches of the vegetable beds before you sow seeds or transplant vegetable starts.
  • Mound soil, mulch or hay around potato plants so that only the top 2-3 inches of leafy growth is visible. It’s ok to bury the leaves and stem – that is where the tubers will develop.
DISEASES/PESTS TO LOOK FOR
  • Aphids and caterpillars start to appear, and flea or harlequin beetles may be eating the cruciferous crops. Use blasts of water to control or investigate other less toxic solutions like insecticidal soap. Reference the Grow Green FAQ sheets for guidance.
  • Monitor new seedlings for cutworms and wrap stems with a 2-inch strip of newspaper to prevent further damage. Aluminum foil or toilet paper rolls also may work.
  • Destroy soil grubs as you find them.
  • Use horticultural oil to spot treat for scale, taking care to completely coat the infestations. Do not spray oil on new leaves or blossoms.
HARVEST
  • Continue harvesting cool season crops and monitor for pests; as temperatures rise the cool season crops become stressed and attract pests.
MAINTENANCE
Irrigation timer with batteries

Reconnect hoses and don’t forget to change the batteries in your irrigation timers.

  • If your garden space is limited, now is a good time to harvest most of your cool-season vegetables to make room for warm season crops.
  • Reconnect hoses and timers and check for leaks. Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation to direct water to the roots and avoid wetting the leaves.
  • Weeding is critical, especially during the first 30-40 days of growth when plants are putting down roots.
  • Use row cover to help protect from strong winds, insects and chilly nights.
  • Pull up and compost cool season crops as soon as they start exhibiting stress.

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Vegetable Planting Calendar (English) (Español) (traditional Chinese)

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Rootknot Nematode Management

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

About Sheryl Williams

Photo of Sheryl WilliamsSheryl Williams has been a Travis County Master Gardener since 2010 and currently works as the Horticulture Program Assistant at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Travis County. She was introduced to gardening by her mom and grandma and has been an avid vegetable gardener most of her life. Sheryl believes that there is nothing more satisfying than growing and preparing your own food. She likes gardening in Austin year round and concedes that means pulling weeds every day. She practices organic gardening principles and enjoys the challenge of outsmarting garden pests. Occasionally she loses these battles, but doesn’t mind sharing a good meal.

Mexican Honeysuckle – First Responder from 2021 Winter Storm by Kirk Walden

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Orange blossoms of Mexican Honeysuckle.

Mexican Honeysuckle – a first responder from the 2021 Winter Storm in Kirk’s garden.

Protective Covering Not Enough

I have a lot of Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia Spicigera) scattered around the front of my house. Too much, in fact that I couldn’t cover it all in anticipation of February’s storm. So, I chose to protect one of the largest patches near my front door. It was nearly four feet tall and six feet wide. I covered it with a tarp and weighted the corners down with large rocks.

dead and brown foliage of mexican honeysuckle after the winter storm

Figure 1-0221. A mushy mess was uncovered once the storm passed.

That turned out to be futile. When I uncovered it, the damage was evident. (Figure 1-0221). It was a mushy mess. But, rather than ripping it out immediately, I followed the Texas A&M Forest Service recommendation and left it in place to see what would happen.

Do You Smell That?

A couple of weeks later, the rotting plant material was stinking up the garden. And, there were no obvious signs of life. Still, I wasn’t prepared to dig it up.

dead foliage cut back on mexican honeysuckle

Fig 3-0421. Dead foliage was cut back to the ground.

Nurseries were hit hard, too. They didn’t have any replacement plants. So, I cut it back to ground and waited for spring. (Figure 2-0321).

Rapid Rejuvenation

It wasn’t a long wait. Incredibly, it began to green-up almost immediately. I swear you could see it grow every day. All I did was water it on a regular schedule. Exactly five weeks after the haircut, the plant was over one foot tall and three feet wide. Looking strong and healthy. (Fig 3-0421)

bright green new growth on the mexican honeysuckle - a first responder

Fig 3-0421. The first responder in Kirk’s garden.

It continued to grow, even blooming a little in the summer. I even dug up a few shoots to plant elsewhere in the garden. By September, it was just about completely restored at three feet tall and six feet wide.

When I cut it back this winter, most of the main stalks were bigger around than lead in a pencil. Healthy and strong.

I lost a lot of plants in freeze. Most of those that made it took seven to eight months to partially recover — some won’t be fully recovered until this spring. The Mexican Honeysuckle was presentable in a mere seven weeks. Since I had it various spots in the garden, it was the first sign of hope no matter where you looked. In less than seven months it was essentially completely recovered. Turns out, it didn’t need protecting.

This spring I’ll be dividing more of it to add to my back garden, which the butterflies will love!

Additional Resources

Kirk is participating in the Travis County Master Gardener Winter Storm Project.

Weather Strategies for Austin Gardens

Frosts and Freezes

Native and Adapted Landscape Plants searchable database

Climate Graph for Austin Bergstrom

About Kirk Walden

Kirk Walden

Kirk is a hands-on experiential gardener. While he appreciates the cerebral aspects of gardening, he revels in the visceral experience of digging in the dirt. When he moved to Austin in 1998, the home had virtually no landscaping, mostly just limestone and cedars. His determination to beautify it led to an avocation as a serious gardener that culminated in Travis County Master Gardener Certification in 2014.