Planting a fall vegetable garden? Learn what to expect and you will be prepared. Our fall garden is the absolute best garden — less pests and disease than spring gardens and more vegetable varieties that enjoy the cooler temperatures.
Plant variety also brings in insect variety, as well, so let’s prepare:
>> Choose plant varieties that perform well in our area. Your local nursery will have those varieties and people with experience growing them.
>> Pick varieties that have disease resistance.
Not all heirloom vegetables will grow under challenging conditions.
>> Create a healthy soil by adding compost prior to planting. Compost is loaded with microbial life that can help protect your young seedlings and break down important minerals to feed plants.
A one to two inch layer of compost evenly spread across the soil and worked into the soil, will generally take you through the growing season.
>> Don’t overdo the fertilizer. Use a well balanced fertilizer when planting. Afterwards, maintain the plants with a weekly application of compost tea. Avoid using fertilizers with high amounts of nitrogen. Too much nitrogen is like too much sugar and children. Tomatoes that receive too much nitrogen will focus on producing plants and will skip the flowers and fruit.
>> Entice beneficial insects to your garden.
Ladybugs, hoverflies, tiny parasitic wasps, and lacewings are important beneficial insects you want. Have plants that attract and feed these important friends and learn what each stage looks like so that you do not destroy the eggs of a beneficial insect. Flowers of dill, basil, cosmos and zinnia can support the beneficial insects.
>> Scout your garden every day. Turn over leaves to see what insects or eggs may be present. Don’t expect a pest free garden. Learn to identify what you have and react accordingly. Often, it is easy to just remove a leaf or two that have newly established aphids, rather than spraying with chemicals. Collect the leaves in a zip lock and put in the trash. Removing pests when first sited can go a long way toward managing pests in the garden.
>> If you need to use chemicals go for the least toxic choices to begin with. Sometimes, blocking insects a protective layer of row cover fabric can be an effective method of keeping out insects. Row cover can be purchased on line and it is especially good at keeping whitefly off tomato plants and avoiding yellow leaf virus that whitefly transmit.
Horticultural soaps and oils are a good line of defense with soft bodied insects like whitefly and aphids. Pests with hard exoskeleton, such as squash bugs and Colorado potato beetles, call for stronger pesticides. Remember, even chemicals that are labeled “organic” can be strong, so use caution and read labels carefully before applying, especially around children and pets.
Remember, gardening is an ever-evolving experience that provides learning opportunities, every season. An excellent web resource on vegetables is: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu. Be sure to select “vegetable gardening” and their very helpful “Easy Gardening Series” to learn about each vegetable you want to plant. They also have a publication on Disease Control and one on Insect Control. Additionally, contact the Hidalgo County office of the Texas A& M AgriLife Extension Service at (956) 383-1026 for information on local gardening classes.
Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. You can message her on Facebook at barbara.a.storz.