Gardening tips offered for springtime

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 24, 2001


PHOTO: ORNAMENTALS at Mother Nature Garden Center on Airline Highway. (Staff Photo by Amy Szpara) An Interview with Ren Schmit, St. Charles County Agent Q: What are the best types of ornamentals to plant in the springtime? A: Probably the most popular of the annuals would be the periwinkles, zinnias and marigolds. In addition to that, there’s your caladiums. As far as bedding plants, which would be your woody ornamentals, two of the most common types planted would be azaleas and hawthorns. A woody ornamental would be a plant that grows through a woody structure. Q: What about roses? How popular are they? A: Roses are very popular. Of course, there are all these different types of plants that have different varieties, and they are based on color, as well as disease resistance in some cases. So you pick and choose according to what attracts you as far as color. There’s over 75 different variety of roses, different colors and patterns in roses. Q: What would be some of the flowers that have better disease resistance? A: If people don’t provide the right cultural practice, the plant gets the disease. You need to follow the recommendations. You need to provide good drainage and fertilization. You need to keep the plant healthy. That’s the bottom line. It doesn’t matter what you plant or what varieties you use, if you don’t have the right setting the plants are not going to do well. And right now, any-thing that anybody’s planting, as far as the woody ornamentalsthe bedding plants as we call them, need to be put in by mid-March for the root system to develop by the summertime, in order to compete with the heat. So, the root system is very critical to planting. So, mid-march is good for any permanent planting, bedding plants that are going to remain there year after year. Q: You mentioned having the proper environment for planting. What type of fertilizer would you recommend? A: A common fertilizer is always a good fertilizer, like a 8-8-8 or a 10-10-10, and those numbers represent nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in that order. Those are the three primary elements that plants need in order to thrive. When you fertilize bedding plants, there’s one or two ways that you can do it. You can apply the fertilizer over the bedding area and just work it into the soil with a little hand cultivator, or you can actually dig a little trench around the plants, put it in and you cover it. As moisture is applied through rain or through irrigation or through regular watering, the fertilizer reacts to the moisture. One of the things that is most abused is the use of liquid fertilizers. It’s good in that it is giving the plants nutrients, but it also promotes what is called shallow rooting, where the roots develop toward the top of the soil. Then they can’t handle the heat. It’s best to apply a slow-release fertilizer that is released slowly over a period of time. That does a couple of things. It keeps you from having to fertilize more often. It also supplies steady nutrients to the plants. It costs a little more, but the benefits are a lot better. Q: How often should plants be watered? What is too often? A: Watering is very critical to the plants. Too much water can also create a problem. If you saturate it with water, the plant becomes sick. It chokes the roots off. It can’t transpire the way it needs to. Also, it can’t exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. Too much water can be a hindrance to plants. Not enough water can do the same thing. Anytime you have that situation, the plant goes under stress. Normally, you water your beds about once a week in a dry period. Most plants should be able to do well with just normal rain. If your plants are under an overhang or a situation like that, you do have to conduct some watering with irrigation systems, sprinkler systems, or watering overhead. You don’t need to add anything to the water. If you provide fertilizer about twice a year, once in the spring and again in the summer, then your plants will pretty much have all the nutrients they need. Q: Are there any ornamentals that are high maintenance, that require extra TLC? A: The bulbs required more maintenance. For example, the gladiolus and any of your bulbous plants, really, you pretty much have to dig them up for the winter and store them in the refrigerator. You have to store them and replant them. Q: What are some other important factors in maintaining healthy plants? A: The main thing is weed control, keeping the weeds out of the beds. Weed control and moisture or both critical to plant survival. Q: What are some of the more popular vegetables that people in this area plant in their gardens? A: Tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, squash and sweet corn. I would say those six are probably the most popular being planted in home gardens. Tomatoes and eggplants should be planted mid-March. Corn should be planted at the beginning of March. We plant corn a little earlier because of the corn-ear worm. The later you pick it, the heavier the infestation. If you plant it early, you’re looking at picking in early June. Then you’ll have a very small population of your worms. There are insecticides available that are effective in treating the corn-ear worms. We try to have situations for the home garden where we don’t have to use a lot of chemicals. Eggplants are very sensitive to cold weather, cold soil. You want to wait to the end of March, beginning of Aprilsame thing with cucumbers and squash. Onions and snap beans are also popular. Q: What do you say about having a bird deterrent like a scarecrow to keep them away from the crop? A: You do whatever you need to do. Scarecrows can be effective, but whatever you use you have to rearrange it on a daily basis. The snake is most effective. Take a piece of hose, put a tennis ball on the end for the head and draw eyes on it. Move it around every day. That helps to keep a lot of birds out. They are extremely smart animals. If you have a scarecrow just sitting there, it only takes them two or three days to figure out it’s a joke. Q: Do you have any tips about lawn care? A: Right now we’re going through the process of having our dormant lawns get green again. The best advice I can give is to wait to April before you do any fertilization. Go ahead and make two to three cuttings of the lawn to allow it to be stimulated. If you fertilize too early, what you end up with is a lush lawn that is too thin. You want to allow the roots to develop an anchor. Plus, if you fertilize too early, you’re just feeding the weeds. For more information visit the LSU AgCenter’s website at