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Fall has finally arrived! You now are either extremely cold and not happy about the temperature change, or you revel in the reprieve from the heat and humidity. Fall vegetables, and your gardens in general, are of the latter category. This is the time that many plants start to slow down to prepare for next year.
Plant root vegetables and leafy greens now. The night temperatures in the 50s are perfect for carrots. Carrots add color and vitamin A to your meals; they are also one of the most satisfying vegetables to harvest, as you pluck up the leafy top to discover the edible taproot.
As long as you have loose soil and the heart to thin seedlings, then carrots are an easy crop. Just as tomato and pepper plants need space to grow properly, carrots need space to grow to size. Sandy loam soil is best, as clay soils lack air, slowing growth. Clay also has more stones and other items in it that may get in the way, resulting in deformed roots.
If you have heavy soil, it can be amended easily with organic matter to loosen it, but be sure to sift through it well to remove large pieces that can alter carrot growth. Carrots grow well in containers, as potting soil provides a debris-free mix that retains nutrients and moisture, although watering needs increase.
Scatter seeds in rows and only lightly cover with soil. Germination takes 2-3 weeks. When carrots reach 4 inches tall, thin the plants to 2 inches apart. As they grow, thin (and eat) them to a 4-inch space between vegetables.
Top carrot performers in Harris County include “Caracas,” “Purple Haze,” “Scarlet Nantes” and “Sugarsnax 54.”
“Caracas” is a shorter, conical carrot that does well in clay soils and does not need to be peeled. “Purple Haze” is an All-American Selection that is fun to eat raw, with a dark purple exterior color that fades when cooked. “Scarlet Nantes” is another variety that does well in clay soils. It is eaten fresh, cooked, canned or frozen. “Sugarsnax 54” is the longest and most slender in this group, growing up to 10-inch roots. Expect 60-75 days to mature.
It is also the ideal time to plant garlic, lettuce, radish and spinach.
Continue planting cole crops, such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower transplants, through the end of the month.
In nature, leaves drop, decompose and are recycled into the soil. Bagging leaves from the yard is a waste of natural resources and money. Once deciduous trees drop their leaves, consider using them around your landscape. Leaves can be passed over with a mulching lawn mower and applied to landscape and garden beds. Breaking leaves up makes a big pile smaller and will hasten decomposition. Dried leaves that can be picked up and crumbled in hand, will break down quickly. Thicker leaves, like oak, will need extra chopping and time to break down.
If you currently have an unused garden bed, a thick layer (3-6 inches) of mulched leaves can be applied now. It is best to till it in, give it a good watering, then water occasionally if we lack rain. This will allow leaves to decompose before it’s time to plant your spring garden. For an extra boost, add organic fertilizer on top. If you plan to utilize the garden soon after the new year, stay on the low end of the recommended layer depth. Do this each year and you will discover a dramatic difference in soil quality, for the better.
If your fall garden is active, then mulched leaves can be applied between rows to act as both mulch and walkway, then gently incorporated into the garden.
Annual, perennial, shrub and tree beds need a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch to properly retain moisture, lower soil temperatures and control weeds. If your hardwood mulch is a thin layer, then mulched leaves can be added to improve landscape bed soil. Since leaf compost will shrink in size, you can go as high as 6 inches for shrubs and trees. It may not have the same appearance as hardwood mulch, but it will accomplish the three objectives while saving money and improving soil. Once applied and watered, the pieces tend to stay together nicely.
I cannot believe December is right around the corner. Working the yard and garden certainly makes the days go by, as there is always a task to complete. Be on the lookout for coming fruit tree sales so when the time comes, you know exactly what to purchase. No need to fret, I will help with that soon!
Brandi Keller is a Harris County horticulture agent with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
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