After a relentless two years of the pandemic, many Texans have turned to gardening as a new hobby and way to cope. “COVID gardens” have gained popularity since the beginning, with more people working from home and the appeal of living more sustainably by growing their own food. However, with a more arid climate in Texas, some plants grow better than others at different times of the year. Peppers, beans, zucchini and watermelon grow steadily in the warmer months, while onions, beets and lettuce grow nicely in the cooler settings. Here is a list to make sure your Houston garden is abundant with variety and grows to its full potential this spring.
Planting tomatoes from mid-February to mid-March is the key to growing the vegetable (or fruit) in central Houston. Smaller tomatoes such as cherry and grape are the perfect option for those new to gardening or who aspire to grow a colorful harvest. Tip: Constant pruning is key during the peak growing season of March through May.
Squash and zucchini
Plant squash and zucchini in early to mid-March to avoid pests like the squash vine borer, which bores a hole in the stem to lay its eggs. The vining types, such as Hubbard or acorn, need more room than the bush types. Tip: Water generously.
Watermelons might seem like a challenge to grow, but if you’re up to the task, choose varieties that produce small melons, such as sugar baby or moonbeam. Small melons are more successful because of our torrential summer rains, which cause large melons to absorb water too quickly and split. This crop originated in the African desert climate and that is why small melons do best. Plant your melons from early spring to late summer for the sweetest taste. Tip: Don’t crowd your melons. Melons grow on sprawling vines and don’t ripen to their full potential when growing in crowded spaces.
Legumes such as Southern peas should be planted from May through August for a bush to “fix nitrogen” in the soil and thrive in the Houston heat. Select from the many varieties of Southern peas, such as purple hull, brown pea, crowder peas, zipper cream peas or blackeyed peas. Tip: Plant in full sun and loose, well-drained soil for best growth.
Okra is an easy plant to grow in Houston and can be planted late spring or from April to June. Okra thrives in the full, hot sun, but regular watering is needed and is critical during flowering and pod development. Tip: Give your plant enough space in your garden so it can reach 10 feet -tall for the best okra harvest.
Provided you have a sunny space in your garden, you can plant sweet potatoes any time from early May through mid-August. To increase tuber growth, hill up a soil bed to get a good 10-inch depth. Tip: Grow by “slips,” which are rooted cuttings. You can find slips at locally owned nurseries or start your own from an organic sweet potato.
Sow this herb by seed from March to April with partial sun, specifically six hours a day, to survive the heat with some shade protection. Basil loves the warmer weather, so Houston gardeners enjoy it all spring and summer long. Tip: Make an herb garden with other Texas favorites such as garlic chives, oregano, rosemary, mint, lemon herbs and “Texas tarragon,” also known as Mexican mint marigold.
Plant a variety of cucumbers from March through August. In March, you can plant pickling and straight cucumbers, and from May through August, you can plant Suyo Long Asian cucumbers, which can better tolerate the high temperatures. Tip: Make sure to provide a trellis for this vertical crop.
A hot summer makes eggplants easy to produce, so plant from April until May. Eggplants grow into tall, angular plants so space the seeds 24 to 36 inches apart. Improve planting holes by mixing in 2 inches of compost to help hold moisture and fertilizer in the soil. Set plants at the same depth at which they are growing in their containers and water well before spreading mulch. Tip: The more frequently the fruits are harvested, the better, so pick your eggplants daily once they are ready for harvest.
This diverse heat-loving crop will produce a high yield with little effort and can withstand the hot summer months. The best thing about growing peppers is the variety, both mild and hot, that complement several dishes. The mild (or sweet) varieties are the golden bell, California Wonder and Jupiter. The hot (or spicy) varieties are peppers like jalapeño, red cayenne and habanero. Tip: An easy way to get a head start with harvesting peppers is to purchase pepper plants as transplants from a local nursery.