August is an interesting time for Texas gardeners. We are trying to keep our plants alive in the heat and drought, but we also start to look forward to fall gardens and flowers. I wrote about fall tomatoes last month, and I continue to plant fall crops of butternut squash, zucchini, Zipper Cream peas, and a few peppers. If you have not had the privilege of a bowl full of Zipper Cream peas with ham, some sliced tomatoes, and a big piece of sweet cornbread, you have not lived. You need to find an old-timer and fix this problem soon.
Dr. Larry Stein, Texas A&M AgriLife Horticulture Specialist, puts out a great list of monthly garden tasks, and first on the list for August is a reminder to plant seeds for cool-season plants. We enjoy a wide variety of plants to grow in the fall and winter, everything from pansies and zinnias to broccoli and cabbage. I planted sweet basil seed last week to get some fresh basil this fall to go in my salads.
Starting plants from seed is fun, and you can save some money by doing it yourself. Another great benefit is trying out new varieties that might not be available for purchase as transplants. You can find seed from local nurseries or order it online. Be sure to purchase varieties that are recommended for Texas and follow the recommended planting time.
You can start seed in a variety of containers like a growing tray, egg cartons, peat pots, or milk cartons. Make sure you have drainage holes in the bottom of the container. Seedlings need moisture, but they do not like to stay too wet.
There are a lot of options for soil mixes to start your seeds in. You can use a pre-mixed soilless media, which will be free of fungi, bacteria, or weed seeds. If you prefer to mix your own, try a mixture of one third sandy loam, one third peat moss, and one third vermiculite. A bag of lightweight potting soil will also work. Mix your potting soil with water before you fill your trays to get even moisture.
Check your seed package to see how deep the seeds should be planted. Seeds for broccoli, lettuce and many other herbs and vegetables are very small and can be lightly pushed into the soil or sprinkled with a dusting of soil. You need good contact between the seed and the soil for germination.
Place your trays or cups in bright light and a warm spot. Most seeds will germinate when soil temperatures are 70-75 degrees F. Keep the soil evenly moist, but not soggy. Feed your plants with a diluted water-soluble fertilizer or fish emulsion as they grow. Some plants might need to be moved into larger pots as they get bigger. Be very careful to use the leaves to move the plants so you do not damage the stems. Plants can usually regrow leaves easily, but they will probably not survive a crushed stem.
Planting seeds is a fun experiment, and hopefully you get some great cool-season plants for the fall and winter. I am looking forward to my fall crop of broccoli, basil, and especially Zipper Cream peas! For more information about lawn and garden topics, contact the Williamson County AgriLife Extension Office at 512-943-3300.