Planting spring vegetables

Daniel Gill, Bogren, Richard C.  |  3/2/2009 11:00:32 PM

For Release On Or After 03/20/09

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Louisiana gardeners can begin to plant spring and early-summer vegetables this month. You can plant after the last freeze date in your area, but be prepared to cover or protect tender plants in case of an unusually late freeze. Planting as early as possible does more than get you the first ripe tomatoes on the block. It also helps ensure abundant production before the intense heat of mid-summer and fewer insect and disease problems. Here are just a few of the choices.

Snap beans, especially the bush types, are easily grown, extremely productive and rarely attacked by insects. They’ll produce three to four large harvests, and then the production ends. And they don’t need a trellis.

With pole snap beans, on the other hand, each harvest is smaller than from bush types. But since they produce over a longer period of time, total production from pole varieties is greater than total production of bush varieties. You must provide them with a 5- to 6-foot trellis, which involves some work, but you don’t have to bend over to pick them they way you do the bush types.

Tomatoes are America's favorite homegrown vegetable. With our warm, early-summer weather, there’s no denying we can grow some of the tastiest tomatoes in the country. Now is the time to start planting transplants into your garden in south Louisiana. Wait until mid-April in north Louisiana. Recommended varieties include Better Boy, Fantastic, Monte Carlo and Sweet Million (cherry) – these are vining types. Bingo, Celebrity, Mountain Delight, Solar Set and Sunleaper are bush types.

Many other varieties of large fruited, cherry and plum tomatoes can be grown successfully in Louisiana. If you’re planting a number of tomato plants, try several different varieties to ensure good production.

Peppers are another popular vegetable that is productive and not difficult to grow. Peppers are less likely to be attacked by insects, and disease problems generally are less severe than those of tomatoes.

Louisianians can grow many types of sweet and hot peppers. Popular hot types include Tabasco, jalapeno, cayenne and habanera. Remember, one hot pepper plant is probably all or more than you need.

Large, fruited sweet or bell peppers are great for stuffing or seasoning. Varieties that perform well here include Big Bertha, King Arthur, Yolo Wonder, Merlin, Sentry and Keystone Resistant Giant. Production is usually less during the hottest part of the summer (early planting is important here) but picks up in the fall.

Gypsy pepper is a cross between a bell pepper and a banana-type pepper. It produces a medium-size fruit and is extremely productive, even in the heat of summer. The fruit is very ornamental. It begins yellow-green, then, as it matures, it changes to yellow to orange to red. The fruit is sweet and is great in salads or cooking.

Many people joke about the incredible productivity of zucchini, and entire cookbooks have even been written about this summer squash. Production often reaches levels that can test a chef's ability to use this prolific producer. Other summer squashes that perform well here include patty pan (or scallop) and yellow straight- or crookneck. Winter squashes such as butternut and acorn are also good producers in summer. The squash-vine borer is the worst insect problem of squashes. Plant now to get a good harvest before this pest builds up populations in mid- to late summer.

Cucumbers should be trellised to increase production, improve quality and save garden space. Make a trellis with stakes and wire fencing material, twine or wire about 3 to 4 feet tall. You can grow two types of cucumbers – either the thin-skinned slicing type or the thicker-skinned pickling type. This is another vegetable that is generally not severely harmed by insects or diseases when planted early. Production will last from May into July.

Okra and eggplant are best planted when the soil is very warm. You should wait until late April or early May to plant these two vegetables. If planted too early, they may become stunted and are slow to recover.

Eggplants come in various colors, sizes and shapes. All types produce well during the summer months and through the fall (although production of large-fruited types may lag during the hottest months). Choose standard varieties – such as Black Bell, Dusky or Classic – green types (they’re less bitter in summer) or Oriental types like Ichiban, Millionaire or Hansel. Oriental types produce very well in summer heat.

Okra seed may be soaked overnight to soften the hard seed coat before planting. After they emerge, plants should be thinned to stand 12 inches apart. Production will start in June and continue into the fall. Varieties such as Gold Coast, Longhorn, Louisiana Green Velvet, Cajun Delight or Clemson Spineless are all prolific producers.

For more information, the LSU AgCenter offers numerous free publications on home vegetable gardening. Much information is available at your local LSU AgCenter Extension office or online at www.lsuagcenter.com.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu

Editor: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu

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