Houston Vegetable Gardening 101

This is short list of tips for those new to growing in our area.

Most of this work-in-progress is from the top of my head, so includes resources I am most familiar with. Apologies to those I’ve left off.


Because most of us have clay soil, we build raised beds. You only need to build up 6-8 inches with soil rich in organic matter. This means acquiring good soil or building it by composting, but that takes time.

If you don’t have the funds, start small. You don’t even need to edge the beds. The soil isn’t going anywhere.

Make your beds no wider than about 3 feet. This makes it easiest for most people to reach the center of the bed.

Turf Grass doesn’t need to be removed, especially if it’s San Augustine. Bermuda is more problematic. Putting down layers of cardboard or newspaper before compost or soil is helpful, but essential with Bermuda grass. Overlap sheets a lot! It will worm it’s way up through the layers.

Farm Dirt Compost, east of downtown, Natures Way Resources in Conroe are two local sources of quality soil and compost created from local food and tree waste diverted from landfills. Even if you buy soil, you should start collecting leaves. Pick up those bags at the curb from neighbors that you know don’t use a lot of chemicals in their landscape.


Anything that flowers and sets fruit needs at least 6 hours of full sun at minimum. More is better. So you have to watch and note where you have adequate sun when selecting a spot for your garden.

If you do not have at least 6 hours, you can still grow greens, some herbs and root vegetables such as beets and radishes. Many can even grow in shade, though growth will be slow. Note, most of these are grown fall-spring.


Everyone wants to grow Tomatoes. But tomatoes are difficult in our area. They have short production periods because they can’t take a freeze, but also don’t set fruit on hot nights. We start seeds around New Year’s, set them out in spring and get a couple of months of production in late April-June. Then start seeds again in July for fall tomatoes.

However, many cherry tomatoes will produce a bit longer than large beefsteak types. Cherry tomatoes are easier, more productive crops for the new gardener or those short on space. Juliet Grape tomatoes are a hybrid with a long season and few problems.


The easiest summer crops include basil, sweet potatoes, peppers, eggplants, okra, green beans, blackeyed peas and other field peas. Stick with the easiest and keep it minimal to reduce laboring in the summer heat.

Sweet potatoes have long vines that can cover a lot of space. They try to set roots all along the vine and will produce potatoes everywhere it roots. This means if you aren’t careful, you’ll have sweet potatoes everywhere. And if you don’t dig them all up, they’ll be back next year. And the next. Sweet potatoes are something you don’t want to grow in the same spot year after year to reduce pest issues. I like to plant them in a large coffee sack and stuff the most of the vines into the bag. Plant them in a large pot and it will make a lovely patio plant. Bonus–You can eat the greens! Treat them like spinach.

Yard-long beans are a very prolific green bean variety you’ll want to grow on a trellis or fence. Just cut them up and cook like you would any green bean. Strategically place your long bean trellis to the west of other crops where it can provide shade from the brutal afternoon sun. Then you can stand on the shady side to pick. While they aren’t really a yard-long, it still only takes a couple of beans for a serving.

Most other green beans and field peas are bush beans, which means they grow in low plants. You’ll need quite a few plants so they’ll take up space and it’ll take time out in the heat to pick enough for a meal. And to keep green beans picked before the seeds inside mature.

I believe you can eat the leaves from the long beans as well as most other edible legumes, but I’m looking to confirm any exceptions.

Okra takes up a lot of space and you’ll want several plants. Only a few pods are ready to pick on any given day. Zeebest is a popular, prolific variety for our area. CowHorn is a variety that grows very long while still being tender. Test by bending the tips. If they don’t bend, you’ve let the pods get too old & woody. Leave it to mature and save the seeds for next year. This is another plant you should put to the west so you don’t block morning sun, but do block the brutal after noon sun.

Squashes, Cukes & Melons

Squashes, cucumbers & melons also grow and produce well throughout the summer, but are susceptible to pests so we ideally start them early to beat the bugs. Early means March. Some are bushy, but most put out long, space-eating vines. You can trellis, but then you need to support the heavy fruit by fashioning a cloth or net sling.

Note, winter squash like butternut squash & pumpkins are grown in the summer. They are called winter squash because their thick skins let you store them for winter.

Fall, Winter, Spring

We grow most greens, lettyce, cabbages, beets, radishes, carrots, potatoes, onions, leeks and most annual herbs except basil in the fall through spring. You’ll start most of these in late summer/fall and succession plant most of them through March.

Because winter days are short and often overcast, things grow slow. So we recommend you start the seeds of slow-growing brassicas such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc as early as July and keep the small plants sheltered from the sun until the weather cools. Use an ice cube tray and freeze a few seeds into each cube, then plant. This tricks the seeds into thinking winter has occurred and spring is here.

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