Kerry Heafner, Singh, Raghuwinder, Strahan, Ronald E., Fontenot, Kathryn, Fields, Jeb S., Kirk-Ballard, Heather
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“I have yet to eat a bad arsh ‘tater!”
I once heard someone back home make that observation and thought, “Gosh, that’s true!” Irish potatoes are hard to screw up, even to the culinarily and horticulturally challenged. The prevailing thought is that potatoes should be planted by Valentine’s Day. This depends on what Mother Nature has planned, and in northern Louisiana that could be most anything! In fact, if you didn’t get Irish potatoes planted in February, you have plenty of time in March.
If you’re new to vegetable gardening, you’ll want to grow your own Irish potatoes for two reasons. First, you’ll harvest more potatoes than you plant, so there’s a decent return on your investment. Second, when you taste potatoes that have gone from garden to kitchen in less than an hour, you’ll understand what I’m talking about!
The LSU AgCenter recommends Red La Soda, Norland, La Rouge and Red Pontiac as good red-skinned varieties and La Chipper, Norchip, Atlantic, Kennebec, La Belle and Yukon Gold as good white-skinned varieties for Louisiana home gardens. Any of our local hardware/feed stores will carry seed potatoes, which are whole potatoes used specifically for growing new plants which, in turn, produce that season’s crop of tubers.
Botanically, a tuber is an underground stem modified for starch storage. The “eyes” are where new above-ground branches will sprout. As the aboveground leaves and stems make sugars via photosynthesis, the plant will store excess sugars as starch in new tubers below ground. Thus, white potatoes are classified as a “root crop.”
Larger seed potatoes should be cut into smaller pieces about 2 ounces each, with each piece containing one or two viable eyes. Some sources recommend letting the cut ends of the pieces cure or dry for a few days before planting. Some sources also recommend coating the cut edges with agricultural sulfur or other powdered fungicide, but this is not necessary if your soil has good drainage. Plant Irish potatoes in rows that are spaced 4 to 6 feet apart in soil that is acidic and friable, or easily dug. Each section of seed potato should be planted 3 to 4 inches deep at 12-inch intervals. As the plants grow, hilling soil up around them periodically will be necessary to create more underground space for tuber formation and to completely cover tubers that have already been formed. For this reason, growing Irish potatoes in the ground is preferable to growing them in a raised bed or container situation.
Tubers are forming underground when aboveground stems flower. Because we focus on the tubers, it’s easy to forget that potato plants set seeds, especially open-pollinated varieties. Seeds represent new genetic combinations. So, if you’re truly adventurous, try saving potato seeds this year and seeing the results next year. When you see flowers after 60 to 70 days, you can sneak “new” potatoes from under the plants. The crop is ready to dig when plants start to yellow and die off. Start digging for tubers about 1 foot on either side of the plants and then work inward toward the center of the row. Potatoes that are injured during digging should be used immediately. Otherwise, gently brush away any loose soil and store them at about 55 degrees in a humid area.
Irish potatoes aren’t Irish. They originated in South America and have become staples of the human diet. Their familiar moniker is a tribute to Ireland where, in the mid-19th century, crop devastation caused by a soil microorganism led to the Irish potato famine. “South American potato” is too hard to say, anyway!
Irish potatoes have a long history in the U.S. and were staples in the gardens at Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville. In the 1840s, as the potato blight was devastating the crops in western Europe, gardeners and farmers in the northeastern United States were having the same experience. Expeditions to South America were made to obtain new stock to cross with existing North American varieties and, they hoped, to improve disease resistance. These breeding trials resulted in new commercially successful varieties. In 1870, Henry Ward Beecher called this period in U.S. agriculture “potato mania!”
So, whether you like them baked, boiled, mashed or fried, growing your own Irish potatoes is virtually guaranteed to be a rewarding experience.
Irish potatoes in a Louisiana kitchen garden.
These tomato seedlings are almost ready for transplanting.
Red LaSoda is great variety for homegrown Irish potatoes.
Tomato seedlings started last month should be growing well and ready for transplant in April. Keep them in full sun with consistently moist soil. When the first set of true leaves develop and expand, the cotyledons will yellow and fall off. Later this month, harden off seedlings by setting them outside in sun during the day and bringing them in at night. This will gradually prepare young plants for life outdoors. Beds for tomatoes can be prepared now by turning in generous amounts of compost.
Beets, carrots, mustard greens, radishes, and snap beans can all be seeded directly into the garden now. Transplants of Swiss chard should still be available. If snap beans germinated sporadically in the past, try dusting seeds with an inoculant of beneficial soil bacteria that colonize the roots and help the bean plants convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into nitrates. Most garden centers and seed catalogs should carry this inoculant. Thinning is key for growing large, uniform carrots. The taproots need space. This can be labor-intensive because carrot seeds are tiny and very difficult to spread out evenly when sowing. After seedlings have their first true leaves, thin them so they’re about an inch apart. Another thinning may be required later depending on the variety. Red Core Chantenay produces large taproots and may require additional thinning. Carrots also need regular watering and soil that is free of rocks and debris for optimal size and uniform shape. In the past, I’ve grown carrots in an old railroad spike crate and a large terra cotta pot both filled with sifted or screened soil. Depth for optimal root growth and good drainage is key.
The Louisiana Super Plant program is an LSU AgCenter educational campaign that identifies superior plant material for Louisiana Landscapes. Any plant that is selected as a Louisiana Super Plant has gone through rigorous trials at multiple AgCenter locations across the state of Louisiana. Moreover, they are supported by the Louisiana nursery garden center industry. As such, Louisiana Super Plants are touted as “university tested, industry approved.”
The 2021 Louisiana Super Plant selection process was a very competitive year with so many amazing choices. With the voting completed, the Louisiana Super Plant committee has selected the winners for the 2021 Louisiana Super Plants. We are happy to introduce you to our two new warm-season inductions. Both winners will bring a vivid splash of color to any Louisiana landscape while thriving in the hot and humid Louisiana summers.
Starting the year off, we have Beacon impatiens. One of the top performers in the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station Trials over the last few years, the aptly named Beacon impatiens serve as a beacon of light in shady garden areas. Impatiens have long been a staple crop for shady Louisiana landscapes; however, with our high heat and humidity that extends throughout the night, some impatiens can develop mildew issues. Not the Beacons. They provide mounds of color and pop in the shade without the disease issues. They come in a wide variety of flower colors that look great against their deep green foliage. Flower colors include Bright Red, Violet, Salmon, Coral, Orange, Rose and White. With this much variety, there is sure to be a Beacon for every taste and theme.
The second 2021 warm-season Louisiana Super Plant is the Suncredible yellow sunflower. Another of our top performers for the last few years in the Hammond Trials, Suncredible provides nonstop flower power. Quite the opposite from Beacon, Suncredible yellow sunflowers thrive in full sun and take the heat as well as any flower out there. Excellent for pollinators, these indeterminate sunflowers steal the show with perpetual mounds of bright, vivid color. Unlike most other sunflowers, Suncredible keeps blooming and branching, providing color into fall. These will not only make a statement in the landscape, but they will make your neighbors jealous.
Look for these new Louisiana Super Plants and all the previous Louisiana Super Plants at your local garden center today. Watch for the announcement of the fall 2021 Louisiana Super Plants later this summer. For more information on the Louisiana Super Plants Program, please visit www.LSUAgCenter.com/SuperPlants.
Dr. Jeb Fields
Commercial and Ornamental Horticulture Specialist
Beacon Rose Impatiens
Bright Red Beacon Impatiens.
Coral Beacon Impatiens.
Suncredible Yellow Sunflower
Herbicides can be effective tools for reducing weeds in your yard, but the best way to manage weeds is to grow a thick, healthy lawn. Lawns that are managed properly are lush and healthy with few weed problems.
Visit www.LSUAgCenter.com and search for the keywords “lawn BMP” for more information on growing a beautiful lawn.
Weed preventers or pre-emergence herbicides can be helpful in preventing the emergence of several summer annual grasses and broadleaf weeds. Pre-emergence herbicides may be applied safely in late winter to early spring to all established Southern lawns.
Most pre-emergence products for home lawns are granular and should be applied with drop or broadcast spreaders and “watered in” soon after application. These types of herbicides kill weeds as they germinate, so application timing is extremely important. You have to apply before the weeds, such as crabgrass, germinate. They will not kill any existing winter weeds.
Residents in the New Orleans area and southernmost areas of the state should apply pre-emergence herbicides in late January or early February (definitely before Valentine’s Day) and then follow up with another application in mid-April. From Alexandria to Baton Rouge, residents should apply around Feb. 10, with a follow-up application in late April. If you live in north Louisiana, try to get these herbicides applied in late February to early March, with a follow-up application by mid-May. Some pre-emergence herbicide trade names to look for are Scotts Halts, Barricade, and Hi-Yield Crabgrass Preventer with Dimension. Consult product labels concerning rates and application techniques. When it comes to the successful use of pre-emergence herbicides, going a little early with your applications is better than applying too late. Winters over the last few years have been nearly nonexistent. Lack of cold weather has caused an earlier emergence of summer weeds. Let’s get those pre-emergence herbicides out on time.
Post-emergence herbicides are used to kill weeds that already have emerged in the lawn. Winter broadleaf weeds usually are prevalent in the late winter to early spring throughout the state. MSM Turf (metsulfuron) and Celsius (theincarbazone-methyl + dicamba + iodosulfuron) are two highly effective broadleaf-killing herbicides that have consistently performed well in LSU AgCenter evaluations on winter broadleaves. MSM is effective on wild onion, false garlic and blue-eyed grass (actually an iris) as well as most winter broadleaves. These are low-use-rate herbicides, especially MSM. Follow the product labels very carefully so that lawns and trees are not injured. Do not use Celsius on carpetgrass.
More widely available broadleaf weed killers include “trimec-type” herbicides formulated with the active ingredients 2,4-D; dicamba; and mecoprop. Some examples of trade names to look for with these active ingredients include Trimec Southern, Ortho Weed B Gon for Southern Lawns, and Ferti-lome Weed Free Zone. Product manufacturers will often recommend a follow-up spray two or three weeks after the first application. Broadleaf weed killers such as these are widely available and can be used on most southern grasses. Injury can occur, however, when using them on St. Augustinegrass and centipedegrass as the weather gets warmer in late spring.
Atrazine is a herbicide that is effective on winter broadleaves and also controls annual bluegrass, especially when applied before the annual bluegrass flowers. Most garden centers have a good supply of atrazine on their shelves. Weed and feed products labeled for St. Augustinegrass and centipedegrass contain atrazine as their active ingredient. However, liquid atrazine sprayed on weeds in the yard has worked better in LSU AgCenter trials than atrazine weed and feed products impregnated on a fertilizer granule.
Weed and feed herbicides can be used at the times recommended for the first fertilizer application of the year. Apply weed and feed in the New Orleans area from mid-to-late March. For north Louisiana, mid-April is the time. Just be aware that applying weed and feed too early (late February to early March) may encourage outbreaks of large patch disease.
Clean your sprayers thoroughly with an ammonia solution if the same sprayer is used for applying insecticides or fungicides on landscape plants. It is best to buy a sprayer specifically dedicated for weed killers, however, to avoid accidental injury to desirable plants. As always, be sure to read and follow product label recommendations before using any pesticide.
Lawns vary in the amount of fertilizer required during the growing season. See the table to the right for information regarding the number and timings of fertilizer applications recommended for lawn species grown in Louisiana. Bermudagrass and St. Augustinegrass require the most fertilizer compared to other lawn grasses. Centipedegrass and zoysia only require one to two applications of fertilizer per year.
|Lawn||Number of fertilizer applications/year||Recommended months|
|Bermudagrass||3||March/April, June, August (optional September)|
|Centipedegrass||1 to 1.5||April and possibly June at half fertilizer rate|
|St. Augustinegrass||2 to 3||April, June, August|
|Zoysiagrass||2||April and July|
A spring application of weed and feed could serve as your first fertilizer application. For future applications during the growing season, consider using 3:1:2 or 4:1:2 ratios of N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) as a guide for the analysis of fertilizers to choose for the lawn. For example, a fertilizer with an analysis of 21-7-14 is a fertilizer with a 3:1:2 ratio. You would be better off getting your soil tested. Soil tests would be most helpful to determine exactly what nutrients are needed to make your lawn beautiful. Contact your parish extension office concerning soil sampling your yard today.
Weed Scientist and Turfgrass Specialist
Blue eyed grass is actually an iris that often infests lawns in the early spring.
Indian mock strawberry is a perennial weed that can infest thin lawns.
Spotted burclover is a common weed seen early in the spring.
Dr. Heather Kirk-Ballard
Consumer Horticulture Specialist
Vista Bubblegum Supertunia in 25-gallon containers.
Water early in the morning between 2 and 8 a.m.
Welcome, spring! And welcome back into the garden! January and February can be so cold and uninviting that when March, April and May come around, we do not just start gardening. No, we jump back with open arms into the garden. Moreover, warmer months indicate that red, ripe juicy tomatoes; bright, cheerful squash; and fun little pops of flowers are just around the corner. Read on for a few tips to make this spring season a great garden season.
Prepare your garden as soon as possible. Louisiana springs are warm but also rainy. So, at the first chance of dry weather, make up your rows and get your fertilizer incorporated into the soil. After soil, preparation and planting both seeds and transplants, consider how you are going to prevent weeds. I hate it when my garden starts so nice and clean and then BAM! One or two days without visiting and weeds are popping up everywhere. As hobby gardeners, we do have options to help us control the weeds, beyond hand-picking.
Direct-plant snap beans, Swiss chard, radish, lettuce, collards, mustards, turnips, cabbage, broccoli and sweet corn seeds. Remember sweet corn is wind pollinated, so full ears require a good layer of preplant fertilizer and at least three rows side by side for filled out ears. Plant tomatoes, peppers and eggplant transplants midmonth in south Louisiana and later in the month for north Louisiana. Plant cantaloupes, squash, cucumbers and watermelons well after danger of frost is over; this is usually after March 15 in south Louisiana and closer to April 1 in north Louisiana. The cucurbits can be planted from seedlings or directly seeded into the soil this month.
Yellow squash are a popular summer vegetable.
Plant snap bean and butter beans. Butter beans or lima beans require little more heat to germinate and grow nicely, so April is a great month to get them growing. Radishes, collards, cucumbers, eggplants, cantaloupes, okra, Southern peas (field peas), peanuts, pumpkins, winter squash, summer squash, sweet corn, sweet potatoes (late April), tomatoes (transplants), peppers (transplants) and watermelons are also great to be planted this month. Like butter beans, okra really needs warm soil to germinate, so you may need to wait until the middle of the month or even later. If the soil is cold, the growth will be slow, and the plant will be more susceptible to insect and disease attacks. Well-fed, well-watered plants planted at the right time can withstand a lot more insect and disease pressure, so patience is key for warm weather and excellent okra germination. Many gardeners also recommend soaking okra seeds for a few hours in water or scratching the surface of okra seeds with sandpaper just to help with uniform germination.
Plant peanuts in April and May for a late summer harvest.
Most spring vegetables can be planted in May because the soil has warmed, and danger of frost has passed. Plant sweet potatoes (transplants), okra, Southern peas, pumpkins, peanuts, sweet corn, watermelons, cucumbers, butter beans, squash, cantaloupes, collards and eggplants (transplants). Snap beans, butter beans, sweet corn, tomatoes and peppers (transplants) should be planted in the early days of May to prevent poor fruit set because of high temperatures. If you have not had a chance to plant tomatoes yet, you can still do so, but the LSU AgCenter recommends planting heat-set tomatoes at this time of year, especially if it is late in May. Heat-set varieties include, but are not limited to, solar set, sun gold, Phoenix, Florida 91 and more. If the name sounds hot, it is probably heat-set. Heat-set simply means that when night temperatures are above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, pollination and fertilization will still occur.
Watermelons are a fun and easy crop to grow in the summer.
Okra grows best when seeds are planted after the soil warms in May.
Once your spring plants begin to flower, fertilize some more. This is called side-dressing because the fertilizer is not placed at the base of the plant but about 6 or so inches to the side of the plant. Side dressing allows your plants to size up. Sizing up equals better harvests. When side-dressing, the nutrient we most care about is nitrogen. Nitrogen sources include bone meal, calcium nitrate, nitrate of soda, potassium nitrate, ammonium sulfate etc. Because each source has a different percentage of nitrogen, you really need to read the bag for the proper rate. Identify insects before you spray. Some insects are good and others are bad. There is no use in spraying the good ones, and there is no use in spraying the bad ones with insecticides that will not work. There is no one-size-kills-all, so make sure to talk to your local extension agent when identifying both insects and disease. Have fun and eat well.
Dr. Kiki Fontenot
State Vegetable Extension Specialist
Lichens are fascinating creatures. They are composed of two different organisms — a fungal partner and a photosynthetic partner living in a symbiotic relationship.
The photosynthetic partner is either a green alga or a cyanobacterium (blue-green bacterium). Lichens get their nutrients from the food prepared by the photosynthetic partner, and the fungal partner provides the body and shape.
Lichens grow successfully in different environments and geographical areas ranging from arctic to desert. They can grow on almost any surface, including the roofs and walls of buildings, rocks and trees and even on iron fence posts as epiphytes (Figures 1 and 2).
Lichens growing on an iron fence post.
Lichens have several different growth habits. Some grow flat like a crust (Figure 3) or filamentous like hair (Figure 4), while others are leafy or branched. They come in some of the most vibrant colors, ranging from lime green to bright orange (Figure 5). Lichens grow slowly and may live long. Actively growing lichens are an indication of good air quality because air pollutants can adversely affect them.
So the question is: “Are lichens plant pathogens?” And the answer is: “No!” Lichens are not plant pathogens. They use a tree or another surface as a substrate to grow epiphytically. Lichens are not parasites and do not derive any nutrients from the host on which they are growing.
Lichens may grow on healthy as well as stressed trees. They are more noticeable on stressed trees because of the open or thinner canopy. Stressed trees with open canopies allow sunlight to penetrate deep into the canopy, which results in increased growth of lichens. Drought stress, improper fertilization, compact soils, disease or insect pressure, or other poor cultural practices may result in poor growth and stressed trees.
Generally, no chemical control is recommended to manage lichens, but residents should avoid any biotic (insects, diseases, nematodes and weeds) or abiotic (nutrients, drought, water logging and compaction) stresses to their trees. Good cultural practices that promote vigorously growing, healthy trees with dense canopies may reduce lichen growth.
Dr. Raj Singh
Plant Pathologist and Director of Plant Diagnostic Center
Lichens growing on a wooden fence.
Flat crustlike lichen growing on a citrus branch.
Filamentous lichen growing on a blueberry branch.
Bright orange-colored lichen.