It is almost my favorite time of year again -- spring! The upcoming longer days and warmer temperatures certainly make it more inviting for those of us with green thumbs to get outside and work the soil. Gardening is said to be one of Louisiana’s favorite pastimes. It is estimated that Louisiana is home to approximately 350,000 home vegetable gardens, with the highest concentration of gardens located near the major cities of Shreveport, New Orleans, and Baton Rouge.
Our climate here in Louisiana is ideal for extended production periods for spring, summer, fall and winter crops. However, this longer growing season creates a longer breeding season for plant pests. With so many climate advantages and disadvantages, successful gardening depends on being an effective manager. With the appropriate planning, tools and determination you can grow delightful fruits and vegetables right here in your own back yard.
Concerning frosts, Louisiana can be divided into three zones; Northern, Central and Coastal. Northern Louisiana typically experiences its first frost in early to middle November, with the last frost occurring in middle to late March. Many people refer to the last frost as the “Easter snap.” These average frosts dates are helpful in planning your planting dates, however you should remember that damaging frosts can and most probably will occur before or after the average frost date for both spring and fall planting. To be on the safe side, it is recommended to start your planting four weeks after the last average frost date for your region.
In a normal year, northwest Louisiana averages 40 inches of rainfall. Recently, this has certainly not been the case due to the severe droughts that we have been so unfortunate to experience. Vegetable gardens require good quality soil, as well as good soil drainage. This can be achieved by building up rows or beds to deal with periods of heavy rainfall. In the case of drought, supplemental watering will be needed for adequate plant growth and yields.
Another very important step in creating a home garden is location. Vegetables require full sun for adequate growth and production, usually requiring eight hours of full sunlight per day. Unfortunately, in most cases homeowners are limited as to where they can place their gardens. Fruit-bearing crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and melons need sun for good growth and yields. However, leafy vegetables, such as greens, cabbage, lettuce and root crops such as carrots, beets and turnips, can endure less light. Those homeowners who are limited to confined areas such as apartments can also grow their own vegetables using the technique of container gardening. This type of gardening doesn’t require as much space or work as a normal size garden. It is also a bit more flexible in that you can transport containers from one spot to another. There are many different forms of containers that can be used with this type of gardening: flower pots, pails, buckets, wooden boxes, nursery flats, wash tubs or any other type of large container. No matter which form of container you use, holes should be made in the base to allow for water drainage. Darker colored containers should also be avoided, as they absorb heat which could possibly damage roots. Attention should be made to the size of the container in relation to the type of plant that you are growing. For example, larger vegetables such as tomatoes and eggplants will need a five-gallon container for each plant. This will allow for proper root development and spacing.
With the increasing food prices, it makes perfect sense for more home owners to begin growing their own fruits and vegetables. As you can see, you don’t have to own a large amount of acreage to create a vegetable garden masterpiece. All that is needed is some well thought out planning, the right materials and plenty of hard work and dedication. There is no other satisfaction quite like that of sitting down and enjoying the fresh fruits of your labor.
For more information on gardening, please contact the Red River Parish Extension Office at 318-932-4342.