BATON ROUGE, La. – More than 60 Master Gardeners from across the state attended the Louisiana Plant Materials Conference at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens as part of a training program on Nov. 19.
The one-day event was a way to provide Master Gardeners with information on various LSU AgCenter research projects and an overview of the new ornamental and vegetable varieties currently in trials, said Rene Schmit, LSU AgCenter state Master Gardener coordinator.
Some of the topics covered at the conference included new plants in the Piney Woods Garden at the Hammond Research Station, LSU releases and additional varieties of figs, a review of many new crape myrtle varieties, potential with begonias and new vegetable varieties.
This plant materials conference was developed by LSU AgCenter horticulturalist Allen Owings as a way to bring Master Gardeners together to inform them about the different varieties the LSU AgCenter is working with, mainly at the Hammond Research Station, Schmit said.
“The Master Gardeners in Louisiana are a volunteer group that helps us with our home gardening programs,” Owings said. “Much of that is fruit and vegetable related, but some of it is relating to landscape plants and ornamental horticulture also.”
Schmit said the Master Gardeners provide an important role within the AgCenter, because they make it possible to disseminate information to a much larger audience than is possible without them.
Often the Master Gardeners are on the front line for providing gardening information to the public, he said.
LSU AgCenter gardening specialist Kiki Fontenot presented information on her multi-year studies on tomatoes and peppers.
“We talked about our variety trials beginning in 2011 and going through 2013,” Fontenot said. “We only do spring tomato trials, so that is what we were discussing today.”
As part of her presentation, Fontenot discussed the characteristics she found as she looked at the different varieties of tomatoes.
“When we looked at tomatoes, we were interested in their yield. Did they crack? Are they firm? And we evaluated them on their interior and exterior color,” Fontenot said.
Fontenot was interested in the Master Gardeners understanding that multiple varieties are out there and they don’t have to settle for one variety because that’s all they see at a particular farmers market or store.
“If the AgCenter is recommending a specific variety, but it’s not available in your area, I would encourage you to grow it yourselves and make some money for your association,” Fontenot said.
She also brought fresh broccoli for the participants to compare, and she gave samples for the participants to carry home and try.
Daniel Wells, a researcher at the Hammond Research Station, presented information on the many new crape myrtle varieties and their importance.
“The work that we’re doing at the Hammond Research Station is evaluating new crape myrtle cultivars for desirable traits,” Wells said. “Most of the new varieties we are evaluating are bred for their smaller size for smaller landscapes.”
Also on the program were LSU AgCenter research associates Joey Quebedeaux discussing caladium research and Gina Hebert talking about plants from Florida in observational trials.
LSU AgCenter horticulture researcher Charlie Johnson gave an update on his work with figs, which included new releases and additional varieties.
“Master Gardeners are a statewide group of volunteers who go through classroom training as well as workshops like they are attending here today in order to become certified to answer gardening questions when the horticulture agents aren’t available,” Schmit said.
Currently more than 2,100 certified Master Gardener volunteers statewide are available to answer gardening questions, Schmit said.
And that number is constantly growing, Schmit said. “We have a five-year increase where we are averaging a little over 300 per year graduating, versus the previous five-year average, which was right around 205.”
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