Preparing the Garden for a Houston Winter

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My daughter is telling me that the trees are ready to take a nap. The leaves are falling. She is also ready for the snow, but our winters are relatively mild in Houston, so I am not sure that we will see any snow this year. I do wish to have the garden ready for the winter months though.

I sweep each morning, or so it seems. Sweeping is a restful exercise, and the one year old loves to help. She has her own broom, and she pulls out a tub into which I place my leaves. What to do with the leaves becomes a question. I am beginning new compost piles, and I began to prepare my garden for winter by using the leaves as mulch. With the leaves falling, I began to think about other ways to have my garden ready for winter.

    Too much garden waste. You will not find bags of garden clippings by curb on garbage pick-up day. I used to do this. My wife would prefer that I did. I am trying to make use of this wonderful resource. The problem is how many compost piles can I have? I create piles behind bushes on the edges of the property, where they are out of sight. This has worked quite well. I had a revelation last year with what I should do with garden waste. Peruvian farmers take out the soil for their terraced beds, and then put in a layer of clippings. This layer becomes a reservoir, preserving water during the growing season, then becoming nutrients for the growing plants during the season. As I write this post, I can hear the first rain that we have had in some time. We have a good deal of rainfall in Houston, but it comes in spurts. Digging down to create a place for water to pool made sense to me, so I did this with several beds that have done quite well. I am going to expand this practice for the following year. This technique also appears to help create a better soil. With heavy clay soils inHouston, we need more humus in the soil to move water away from theroots of plants.
    I mentioned using the clippings as mulch. I am slowly mulching every bed around the home. My technique this year has been to shred and crumble paper in the bed first. On top of the paper, I sprinkle the leaves over the bed. I had been passing the leaves througha mulcher, but I do not do that anymore. Mulching the leaves helps, butit does take time. As the beds are covered, I spread finished compost over the leaves, not a thick layer. This has worked well in the few beds that I tried last year, but this is the first year that I am trying it out with vegetables. The leaves do not look great as a mulch when they are not passed through the mulcher, so I am using a cheap basic mulch from the home center in front beds that are visible from the street.
    I have drastically decreased the amount of fertilizers being used in the garden this year. I prefer organic chemicals over the inorganic mixtures. In the spring, I spent a good deal of effort working lava sand into the soil. I noticed that I can still find traces of this material during my current efforts. To have the entire yard ready for winter, I purchased two large bags, one of bone meal, and one of blood meal. I followed the directions on the bags to apply them in garden beds and over the grass. I spread these by hand, rather than using a spreader. Other nutrients in the garden come from the compost, which is applied throughout the year.
    I have not been covering my plants with rowe covers for the last few years. I am trying to have plants that are acceptable for the season. However, I decided to work with plant covers again. I am moving eggplant, tomato, and pepper plants into one bed. I am building a light frame around this bed with bamboo stalks from my own plant. Eventually the cover will go over this frame, which can be removed in the spring. For the time being, I thought that decorating the frame may be better. Maybe. I have not started yet, but painting the frame may be an option, or a craft project to be hung on the frame. Since the cover will not be up for a while, I thought I would prefer to have something nice to see, rather than a homemade frame that can be a bit wild in structure, depending upon the branches used.

    Last winter was a bit harsh on a few plants. I am surprised how many have been coming back throughout the year. I still want my garden to go through its cycles. I know that we often say that Houston does not have true seasons as more northern climes, but we do go through our phases. Last winter I was not as concerned with growing vegetables. This year I am growing more, because I have greatly increased my number of beds. Everything is shaping up more to my liking.

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This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank


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