In October, the seemingly endless Texas summer finally gives way to autumn’s northerly breeze, which blasts the humidity from the air, making this month the best time to get out in your garden. What's more, cooler temperatures and rain encourage many spring-flowering perennials to burst into bloom again, as this region’s “second spring” takes hold. With heat and drought conquered (hopefully) until next summer, and with our average first freeze still two months away, it’s the perfect time of year to plant.
Independent nurseries are well stocked with trees, shrubs, and perennials, especially fall-flowering species, so try to support your local when stocking up. October is also a popular time for touring gardens; check online for public tours and for visiting hours at botanical gardens (remember you may have to make a reservation during Covid-19 restrictions).
Be bold with fall foliage from trees
Choose shade trees and ornamental trees now: Live Oak (Quercus fusiformis), Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa), Monterrey Oak (Quercus polymorpha), Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia), Bigtooth Maple (Acer grandidentatum), Mexican Plum (Prunus mexicana), Texas Redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis), Texas Persimmon (Diospyros texana), Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora), and Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria).
Acer saccharum ssp. grandidentatum
Add colour and structure to your borders
Shrubs, perennials, and ornamental grasses do well with fall planting too. In fact, fall is the best time of year to plant in Central Texas, when cooler weather and rain give plants time to grow a strong root system before the heat of summer returns.
Exceptions are plants that aren’t reliably winter-hardy, especially zone-pushing plants from Mexico or desert species that dislike cold, wet conditions, like agaves and other succulents.
Hold off on Bamboo Muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), Abutilon spp., Golden Thryallis (Galphimia gracilis), Cuphea spp., Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens), and Variegated Flax Lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’).
But go full steam ahead with tough native and well-adapted plants like autumn sage (Salvia greggii), big muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris), Yucca spp., American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), chile pequin (Capsicum annuum), columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha var. ‘Hinkleyana’), crossvine (Bignonia capreolata ‘Tangerine Beauty’), and fall aster (Aster oblongifolium).
Time it right with spring-flowering bulbs
Plant spring-flowering bulbs now to be treated to a carpet of color next February through April. Daffodils (Narcissus spp.), Paperwhite (Narcissus ‘Papyraceous’), Species Tulip (Tulipa clusiana), Crinum spp., Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), and Byzantine Gladiolus (Gladiolus byzantinus) are good choices for sunny spots.
Bring in biodiversity with wildflower seeds
From spring through early summer, Central Texas is awash with masses of colorful annual wildflowers, which populate roadsides and carpet fields. If you're hoping for a beautiful display in your own garden next spring, sow seeds now.
Native wildflowers thrive in gravelly soil and plenty of sun: Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera), and Blanket Flower (Gaillardia spp.) are great choices.
Scarify bluebonnet seeds or soak them overnight and then rake lightly into soil you’ve prepared by removing turf grass and weeds. Water lightly every day to keep soil moist as seedlings start to grow, and then cut back to a deep watering once every five days or so, depending on how much rainfall you get. Non-native annual wildflowers can be sown now too, including Poppies (Papaver spp.) and Larkspur (Delphinium ajacis).
Sow your own food
So long as you protect your crops from those pesky frosts, you should be rewarded with a winter harvest. According to the Austin-based Sustainable Food Centre now is the perfect time to plant root veg and leafy greens.
Divide Bulbs and Daylilies
Bearded Iris and Daylilies can be divided now to increase your display next spring. It’s also a good time to divide fall-flowering Oxblood Lilies (Rhodophiala bifida) and Spider Lilies (Lycoris radiata) now that blooming has ended and while you can still see their green leaves.
It’s still safe to prune live oaks and red oaks that are susceptible to oak wilt disease. (Pruning season runs through January 31. Do NOT prune between February 1 and June 30.)
To protect your trees from accidental infection, clean your pruning tools with 10% bleach solution or Lysol between trees, and paint pruning cuts immediately after each cut with wound dressing or latex paint.
Mulch the garden with an inch or two of loose hardwood mulch for a tidy look as we enter our second spring of flowering. Mulch will also help protect from winter freezes the cold-tender plants in your garden. Do NOT pile up mulch around agaves, yuccas, sotols (Dasylirion spp.), and other desert plants. These appreciate a light amount of mulch that drains well, like gravel, but can rot if wood mulch is piled around their stems.
Now that summer’s blazing heat has abated and fall rains have begun, cut back on automatic watering. Monitor rain amounts and water only if it’s been dry. Of course, brand-new plants should be hand-watered regularly until they’re established.
What are your gardening plans? Share them with us in the comments.
Photos: © Pam Penick