Houston is widely recognized as the most populous city in the state of Texas and it ranks 4th in the same category in the whole United States. Aside from that, this city has been dubbed as the America’s economic miracle since it is an undisputed in economic growth, thriving job market, and stock exchange. Houston also hosts the world’s largest concentration of healthcare organizations, has a low cost of living, the home of the NASA Astronaut Corps, and most importantly, it creates a number of job opportunities. These are just a few of the reasons why more and more people are moving into the west and loving it there.
Furthermore, as the population continues to inflate, more and more people are also looking into the real estate market in the lookout for houses to move in. Once settled, newcomers are looking for ways to enhance their front or back yards in order to boost their property’s appeal. Of course, one of the best ways to beautify the exterior area is through landscaping. Now, the water supply in Houston is limited, given that this city is prone to droughts and water restrictions to avoid water shortage ad ensure that everybody receives enough supply. Hence, a water-wise Houston landscaping style is highly encouraged.
A huge portion of landscaping goes to gardening and it also has to be water-wise. However, gardening in Houston is quite challenging for gardeners due to the peculiarity of its soil and its Zone 9ish climate. Despite all of that, Will Isbell, an expert gardener and president of the Harris County Master Gardener Association, said that gardening here is a lot easier compared to New York. Meaning, regardless of the challenge it poses, creating a high-yielding garden in Houston is still positively achievable.
Familiarizing The Soil – Get The Dirt
One of the key factors of a successful garden is its soil. In Houston, there is a wide variety of soil types which accompanies a variety of dramatically different microclimates. Analyzing and getting familiar with your soil type is imperative in order to determine its composition, pH level, as well as the necessary amendments it may require in order for plants to thrive given the climate in the area. Given this, before you start digging and gardening, you must do a soil test first.
Texas soils are complex because of the wide diversity of climate, vegetation, geology, and landscape. In Houston, the most common soil type is clay which is usually very sensitive to moisture fluctuations. It absorbs water and moisture slowly. Experts suggest adding organic matter such as compost to improve it.
A healthy soil means a healthy garden. Imbalance of deficiencies in soil may result in poor drainage, insufficient nutrients, and pest infestation which can lead to even bigger gardening dilemmas. Organic remedies are the best solutions to amend poor soil.
Don’t underestimate or ignore testing your soil because it is a crucial part of your overall gardening. For starters, gather at least ten soil samples from different areas in your garden, place them in a container and bring it to a credible soil testing laboratory. Results will be available after two weeks on average, and it will be sent thru mail. You can ask assistance from local suppliers or nurseries for useful assistance and information regarding soil amendments as well as irrigation equipment. Once you’re done testing and amending your soil for a healthy garden, you’re ready for the next step.
Keep in mind that even expert or experienced gardeners admit that when they first started gardening, they encountered few pitfalls along the way and committed mistakes – that’s how they learned. You can take their experience as lessons and use it for your gardening. In case you don’t have the gift of a green thumb, it doesn’t mean that you can no longer create your own garden. According to the HCMGA (Harris County Master Gardener Association), everyone, including the blackest thumbs can learn how to plant and educate themselves about all there is to know about gardening. This organization of over 250 volunteer master gardeners offers free classes and lectures held across the city to help all those who yearn to grow a garden in Houston.
Moreover, education is your best weapon to achieve your goal of having a prolific garden. There are a lot of tasks involved in it as well that you have to follow. Here’s a checklist to help you out.
Houston Gardening Checklist
• Aerate Soil
– Loosening soil enhances oxygen levels in the soil, stimulating root growth and enhancing the activity of thatch-decomposing organisms. It also reduces soil problems such as compaction while increasing the availability of water and nutrients. Soil aeration can be done in early spring and in fall. Aerating soil helps the roots grow deeply and produce a stronger, more vigorous lawn.
The simplest and cheapest way to aerify a small lawn is with a spading fork. This should be done when the soil is moderately moist, to make it easier to aerate the soil. It’s equally important to follow the right way to aerate the soil.
• Spread Mulch
– Applying mulch to your garden can reduce soil erosion, boost plant growth and help retain moisture. It also shades roots on hot days, prevents moisture from evaporating, and stops weeds from taking root. There are two types of mulch: organic and inorganic. Organic mulches are made from natural matters such as wood, bark, compost, grass clippings, and leaves. Inorganic mulch examples are stones and gravel.
In applying mulch, you have to pick the best mulch for your garden because every kind of organic mulch has pros and cons and you have to weigh it all in. Compost made from your garden scraps such as grass clippings and leaves is also a good choice.
Before buying mulch, think about how much you need and purchasing in bulk can help you save money. In applying mulch, spread about 2 to 3 inches thick. Anything more or less could harbor pests, but at the very least is wasteful and unnecessary.
• Make Composts
– Spreading compost to your soil before gardening, either by tilling it in or using it as a mulch, provides many benefits to your soil and the plants you’re growing. It releases various nutrients into your soil that are easy for your plants to take up while also improving drainage and water-holding properties. Hence, making your own compost is a must-do for your garden.
Compost can be made out of your kitchen and garden scraps – definitely a money-saver. In making compost, add as much organic material as possible. Dry materials such as straw, hay, sawdust, small twigs, smaller wood chips and dry leaves make a good compost. The more, the better so, add a more organic substance into it like include grass clippings, non-diseased plants, weeds that haven’t gone to seed, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps, tea bags and livestock manure.
Setting up a compost bin is easy, you just have to do it right. After there to six months, it’s ready to use. Spread it on your garden and layer it on top of your soil to nourish the plants underneath.
• Plan Your Plant
– Choose a good location for planting and ensure that is has been included in your overall plan (where to put the right plant). Plot where you want to plant the trees, shrubs, perennials, or your vegetable garden. Most plants require direct sun exposure which is why it is important that you let the sun shine in.
In case you decide to grow a vegetable garden, crops that are grown for their fruit (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons) or roots (carrots, turnips, radishes) must have at least six hours of sunlight. It’s important as well to pick the plants, fruits or vegetables that flourish in Houston.
• Weed Control
– Weeds are the number one nutrient and sunlight exposure competitor for your plants and before you know it, your garden or lawn has already been knocked out. Having said this, don’t let them take over your garden or else you should just say goodbye to your garden.
There are various weed-control methods, but first, you have to identify the weeds growing in your garden. It’s important to determine what you’re dealing with because weeds can be annuals or perennials or they can be grasses (plants that look like grasses) such as sedges or rushes. Certainly, you would not waste time and money on the wrong method and not providing solutions for the exact problem.
Spreading mulch is one of the most effective ways to control weed growth. Cultural methods of weed control also include mowing, burning, mulching, competitive planting, hand pulling, grazing, and cultivation. Chemical control to take care of weeds is also a good choice, but it should be done with utmost caution.
• Add Fertilizer
Oh, yes! A healthy soil makes a good garden, hence, adding fertilizer to the soil is imperative. Mulch can also be used as a fertilizer, but the best fertilizer to use is your all-organic, homemade compost (or you can also purchase from local suppliers). Organic compost may work a little slower than their synthetic counterparts, but they release their nutrients over a longer time frame. Chemical fertilizers, whether dry or liquid, can add nutrients to the soil that might not get there any other way.
Now, if you opt for synthetic fertilizers, it’s important that you check the label for its ratio and its composition. Fertilizer blends contain different amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, so, don’t ignore the label. Dry fertilizers are mixed into the soil while the liquid ones are sprayed directly to the plant foliage or onto the soil, pick the ones that best suit your needs.
When is the best time to fertilize the garden?
Adding fertilizer to your garden is best done in early fall, typically in the month of October or in spring when soil temperatures are low.
• Water Efficiently
Water is a precious resource which plants also need in order to survive. Now, we’ve mentioned previously that the water supply in Houston is limited and having a water-wise landscaping or gardening is a must. You have the option to choose what type of irrigation system to use for your garden and for this you have to consider the area as well as the plants you’re growing. However, most experts suggest the use of a drip irrigation for small garden areas.
Remember, when the weather is hot, plants require frequent watering and when the weather is cold, lesser watering will be required. Examine your garden soil frequently to make sure it is not too wet or too dry between waterings. Water deeply and let the soil partially dry before watering again.
During the fall season, your garden may require a lesser amount of watering. Be certain to run your irrigation to fortify your plants and flowers before its dormant season and don’t forget to turn it off during winter.
The Ideal Time To Plant
There’s always a right time for everything – including gardening. Experts suggest that the best time to plant in Houston is in fall. Fall’s milder temperatures bring out the best flavors in home vegetable gardens as well as the ideal growth for other plants, shrubs, or trees. Planting in fall also assures a blooming and prolific garden in spring. Although you can still plant on other season or months, experts also suggest reading up on what type of shrubs, plants, and flowers work best in our region on what date.
Gardening Plants For Houston Soil
Not all plants thrive in Houston soil and as much as possible, planting natives are highly advised, Natives are known to be drought-tolerant which is why they are the best choice for a water-wise landscaping or gardening. Once again, education is one of the major keys to achieving a high-yielding garden. Aside from the information we’ve mentioned regarding the best practices, tricks and methods to use, you also have to determine which and what type of plants thrive on Houston soil.
Lettuce, kale, collards, mustards, beets, squashes, onion, potatoes, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, celery, carrots, leeks, parsnip, green beans, and more.
Apples, avocado, banana, blackberries, blueberries, cherries (and cherry look-a-likes), figs, grapes, grapefruit, jujubes, kumquats, lemons, limes, limequats, mandarins, nectarines, oranges, peaches, pears, persimmons, plums, and pomegranates.
Drummond red maple, desert willow, green ash, Chinese parasol tree, dawn redwood, Mexican sycamore, Montezuma cypress, and Monterey oak.
Note: In planting trees, you have to follow the guidelines set by the municipality to avoid any violations and ensure that you will achieve best results.
Eastern purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, inland sea oats, Southern wax myrtle, pride of Houston yaupon holly, Texas lantana, red Turk’s cap, Texas olive, autumn sage, and gulf coast muhly.
Abelia, aucuba, banana, blue Italian cypress, blue point juniper, bottle brush, box leaf euonymus, and boxwood.
Way To Sum It Up
A productive garden is Houston might pose a great challenge for gardeners or including you, a beginner, nevertheless, it’s possible. All you need is a handful of relevant information about gardening in this beautiful city, just don’t hesitate to ask for help whenever you need it. Most of all, don’t stop yourself from learning all the tips and tricks that you can learn from catalogs, brochures, websites, local suppliers, irrigation consultants and expert gardeners.
Contemplating on the best gardening practices we’ve mentioned above will certainly result to guaranteed success. Life in Houston would be a lot better with a sight of a healthy garden that will not only add appeal but will also bloom freshly-picked harvest soon. Indeed, you’ll savor and marvel in the fruits of your labor.