Fall does not officially begin until the third week of this month. However, it is not the calendar that a gardener should look to. It is when the Rainmaker returns and the temps begin to moderate, sometime between mid-August through September and on occasion not until early October. That is when your seed should be in the ground and ready to grow. There are two signs that I look for and find to be more reliable than calendars.
One is the bluebonnet (lupinus texensis). The Texas lupines are the only annual lupines found in the entire U. S. All of the other lupines are perennials. The Texas lupines have adapted themselves to take advantage of the cooler wet season and throw next year’s seed crop during the hot, dry summer. This tells us optimum time to plant for maximum root growth to establish many other types of plants.
Saturday August 24th, Martha Davis sowed some bluebonnets in seed flats. The next rain came the following Tuesday morning. She reported the seed were up in between showers. Less than three full days had passed, which I believe bested her previous record of four days from seed to emerging seedlings. One decent rain with cooler temps caused this to occur.
The other sign is watching for farmers prepping for wheat crop. Last Friday I went to consult a neighbor out on Three Way Road. As I traveled south, I began noticing a fair number of large fields had been freshly turned. I passed a tractor actively working in one spot. As we sat on my client’s back porch and talked, we could see one of these fields just beyond their north fence. A dark blue line of approaching storms was also visible. A most excellent view if I do say so. That day the temperature stayed below 80(f). I asked Martha to plant more seed.
So. if you are wanting to make some landscaping changes now is the beginning of prime time. In short, any plant that has a long life span will now benefit from a cooling climate. Because the soil temperature is warmer below ground during winter, all of the woody plants and herbaceous perennials with deep roots send their energy underground. The old timers still refer to this as the “sap falling,” although the sap does not “rise and fall.” Sap is produced under the bark (not in roots) and is used to heal wounds much like our coagulating blood. But the analogy does make sense as the roots can draw from the stored chlorophyll in the whole tree or shrub.
I commonly tell folks that when the Megamarts begin their onslaught of spring advertising, I want them sitting on the porch enjoying their new landscaping that has been establishing roots all fall and winter long. In spring you are planting in a warming climate when the energy is now concentrated on top growth. We call this “planting in front of the furnace.” Roots will continue to spread as long as moisture is available. The later into spring you wait, the less time you have for root establishing. We all know, and beginners soon learn, that summer is the real killer here. We have not witnessed extensive winter kill here since the extreme cold winters we had back in the 1980’s.
Still it’s a hard sell… The psychology of big sales as the plants reawaken in spring is not hard to figure. It does have a positive effect on every one of us. For certain, spring has always been the time to plant warm season veggies and flowering annuals. But for long living trees, shrubs, and flowering perennials, now is the best time. If you have ever germinated a batch of seed, you will notice the root is first to emerge. Then the top will sprout. Roots always have been and always will be the most important part of the plant… ‘Nuff said.
We have noticed over the years, a steady increase in fall planting. More and more gardeners are observing and learning the lesson of the bluebonnet. Ironically, I did a post about Martha’s success with new seedlings on Facebook last week. There were quite a few comments about calendar dates and such. Way down in the list of comments, one gardener commented, “You plant those in spring… Right?” Apparently, she did not understand my original post?
For me, the killer part of summer 2019 was over last week. My signs had shown themselves. I am confident that we will still see some heat, but as we go, that heat will give way to steady rain chances, serious cold fronts, jackets, etc. We invite you to celebrate the fall season with us. Let the Megamarts do their promotions as they see fit. Maybe one day they will wake up and invent fall planting for the general public.
If there is a subject I have neglected but you want my opinion on, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I am available on Saturdays and rainy days (snow and ice are exceptions). Our number is 696-3082 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Facebook @ Wichita Valley Landscaping or Paul Dowlearn and post your question. Likely as not some of your neighbors might want the same info. Ya’ll come see us.