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With spring comes a large flush of blooms in Louisiana, and while most focus on woody ornamentals and trees, one commonly forgotten plant we grow well here is the rabbiteye blueberry, or Vaccinium ashei. Rabbiteye blueberries are a wonderful addition to a landscape, providing flowers in the spring and fruit in the summer. Rabbiteye blueberries are the ideal type of blueberry for Louisiana as they are well adapted to our climate and humidity and are also a great choice for a sustainable fruiting planting at home as they have few insect and disease problems.
Rabbiteye blueberries have a minimal chilling hour requirement that most of Louisiana will receive each year. Blueberries should be planted in areas that receive full sun and good internal soil drainage. They can be planted in slightly shadier areas if necessary, but this will result in reduced fruiting. Adequate soil drainage is essential as blueberry plants do not tolerate excessive moisture (wet feet) for extended periods of time. Building up landscape beds 6 to 12 inches or using large containers are both viable options if drainage is a concern.
Maintain healthy blueberry plants by monitoring proper soil pH and fertility. A soil sample should be done before planting to determine the current soil pH and availability of nutrients because each location can be very different from one another. Blueberries prefer a soil pH between 4.0 and 5.3 for best growth. Fertilization is the process of supplementing plant nutrients that are unavailable in the soil. Use the same soil sample results to determine which fertilizer product to use. Avoid fertilizing at the time of planting. Plant your transplant while the plant is dormant in winter. General guidelines: In the first year of growth, fertilize when the plant comes out of dormancy with around 1 ounce of 10-10-10 fertilizer per plant. Repeat this in May and July. In the second year, use 2 ounces of 10-10-10 in March and July. In the third year and after, your fertilizer use will be based on plant size, capping out at 8 ounces per plant for bushes 8 feet or taller.
Blueberries require cross pollination for optimal fruit set. This means planting two different varieties of rabbiteye blueberries for best results. Use this to your advantage and choose varieties based on when they ripen. This will help to extend the harvest window. Review the chart below to select between early, mid- and late-season varieties. For those in the north, freeze resistance is also something to consider. Brightwell, Centurion, Tifblue and Powderblue are generally the most spring freeze-resistant varieties.
Mark A. Wilson
Northwest Regional Horticulture Specialist
Rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei) can have uneven ripenings. Photo credit: Will Afton)
|Early Season||Mid Season||Late Season|
Nothing chases those winter blues away like new life that springtime offers. Seeing the trees breaking from their dormancies and different flowers budding out brings back color to the world after enduring the often-gray days of winter.
One plant that can help bring that much needed color to springtime is dianthus. The most commonly seen species are Dianthus chinensis or D. deltoides — both referred to as dianthus at garden centers. Another related species seen is D. barbatus, which is commonly referred to as Sweet William. Dianthus are hardy plants and can be grown throughout the year as perennials or planted yearly as annuals. When growing dianthus, they should be planted in full sun to partial sun areas with well-drained soil and good soil fertility. Dianthus varieties range in size from 6 to 36 inches tall and a spread of 12 to 24 inches. Planting of dianthus should be done in the late fall and early winter for that springtime pop of color. They come in a multitude of colors, including white, red and pink along with different shades of each. Some great varieties the LSU AgCenter recommends are the Jolt and Amazon dianthus. Both of these varieties are selections of the LSU AgCenter Louisiana Super Plants Program.
County Agent for Claiborne and Webster Parishes
Homegrown vegetables have always had an appeal, but as the economy slows home vegetable gardening is picking up in popularity. I have been receiving more calls than average for this time of year from people that have never grown a garden asking questions about how to get started. Planning a new garden has many considerations, such as where to place the garden and what to plant. The working part involves preparing the soil, fertilizing, planting, mulching and harvesting.
Plan to grow what you and your family like to eat. While deciding what to grow, also consider how much you want to plant and the room the crops will need. You’ll get better at this with experience. Be careful here. One of the most common mistakes is to create a garden that is too large. Start modestly until you see how much work is involved — then expand later.
An important factor to growing a great garden is soil preparation. Clear the garden area of all weeds and grass. This can be done by physically removing the unwanted vegetation or by spraying with a herbicide. When the weeds have been removed or are dead, turn the soil with a shovel or tiller to a depth of at least 8 inches.
Gardeners should consider having their soil tested. Call the LSU AgCenter extension office to determine the pH of the soil and calcium and magnesium levels. You may need to add lime to raise the pH of your soil and provide calcium. Use dolomitic lime if the magnesium level is low. You’ll also be informed of the levels of various important plant nutrients required for your crops.
Next, make raised rows by using shovels or hoes to pull soil up to create a raised area. Rows should be at least 36 inches wide from furrow to furrow and as long as you like. Wide rows will give you more planting surface and make more efficient use of your garden area. The bed may be as wide as you like as long as you are able to comfortably reach the middle without stepping into it.
You may decide to build raised beds. Raised beds are usually easier to maintain and can be more productive than in-ground beds. Make them 8 to 12 inches high with sides constructed from your chosen materials, such as landscape timbers, bricks, cinder blocks or pressure-treated boards. The beds should be constructed 3 to 4 feet wide and as long as you like. Topsoil or garden soil mixes are generally used to fill new raised beds. The soil company or nursery can help you decide how much soil you need based on the dimensions of the beds.
By planting in raised rows or raised beds, you improve drainage. This is especially important because of the deluges we are subject to receive any season of the year.
Mulches are a critical part of vegetable gardening. Most important, they suppress the growth of weeds, but they also conserve soil moisture. Apply 1 to 2 inches of organic mulch (leaves, chopped leaves, pine straw, dried grass clippings) immediately over a prepared bed until you’re ready to plant. Plant transplants directly through the mulch. Pull the mulch aside to plant seeds and do not replace it over the area until the seedlings are big enough so they won’t be covered.
Following these tips can make planting the vegetables you want to grow is almost as much fun as harvesting and eating your bounty.
County Agent for Lincoln and Bienville Parishes
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.