We moved into this house in August of last year. I am still clueless about gardening in Texas zone 9. All my knowledge and real life wisdom and experience has been with a zone 6 garden.
It is so hot and humid here that those two things kill the plants. Zone 9 has two growing seasons but they are different. Tomato seedlings should be started indoors at Christmas and planted out six weeks later (in February). Mid-February is when you may start most seeds directly outdoors. Nurseries start selling some vegetable and herb seedlings en masse in January. By August 1, I am told, the tomato plants die from the heat.
The second growing season starts just before Labor Day but the risk is that if too-hot weather arrives it can kill the seedlings or young plants. Yet if you start the plants outside too late they won't have enough sun or heat to yield a bountiful harvest.
Some plants survive without protection year round, such as parsley, sometimes basil (if a hard frost is not had in winter), and some root vegetables, I am told.
By watching my yard last year I found that just a slice of my large fenced in backyard gets sun for eight or more hours a day. I am getting ready to install raised bed gardens in that area. The reason for the raised beds here is that when the subdivisions are developed they scrape the topsoil off the top and sell it to nurseries who resell it to farmers. This leaves pure clay. The builders add a layer of store bought sand to the top and build on top. They then lay sod of Bermuda Grass on top for lawn. If I dig down two inches I have solid clay. The rains are torrential and heavy and the clay cannot absorb it quickly. We often have standing water and local flooding of streets and yards. There are drainage trenches in my front yard and my entire lot has underground drainage pipes to direct water off the property into the large ditches that the master planned community diverts to larger runoff areas. So, I have no topsoil and no loam, and I'll need elevated beds to add enough quality garden soil to in order to have a place for the plants to grow. If they are on top of too much clay the roots would get wet and they would die from rotting, molding roots.
I have been researching raised bed options. We have a nicely landscaped backyard and I don't want to add an eyesore. However we have to prioritize our expenditures. A nice tumbled rock, curving, 16 inch high garden bed would cost me $10 a foot to construct, which is too much money. We are going to install a two-high stack of cinderblocks (sadly) in a (plain) rectangle shape, or possibly a U-shape. Like a local friend, I will try to grow an ivy to cascade down and cover up all the cinderblocks. That would improve the looks.
I am excited about gardening here and have a lot to learn. Last year I attended a four hour lecture series about how to garden for low water usage and to draw bees, humminbirds and butterflies, and organic gardening. This spring I will attend a series about vegetable gardening in Texas. I also heard a speaker this winter talk about how bumblebees are underappreciated by farmers because they are better pollinators than honeybees -- interesting.
One of the best things about gardening here is that I enjoy learning new things and stretching myself. I am so glad to have something fun to do just for me, something that is not homeschooling or parenting related to do with my mind and with my energy. I need more things in my life to recharge and refuel myself.