It’s time to plant vegetable gardens

Richard Bogren, Young, John, Gill, Daniel J., Owings, Allen D.  |  1/4/2011 1:15:02 AM

News Release Distributed 04/16/10

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Allen Owings and John Young

Many of our favorite vegetables are planted into the spring garden now for production later in spring and in early summer. For many of these vegetables, planting in April helps ensure abundant production before the intense heat of mid-summer and when we have fewer insect and disease problems.

Here are just a few of the choices you have:

– Snap beans, especially the bush types, are easy to grow, extremely productive and rarely attacked by insects. After three to four large harvests, the production ends. They don’t need a trellis to grow on.

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

– Tomatoes are America's favorite homegrown vegetable. With our long, warm summers, there is no denying that we can grow some of the tastiest tomatoes in the world. And now is the time to put out transplants into your garden. Recommended varieties include the vining types Better Boy, Fantastic, Monte Carlo and Sweet Million – a cherry tomato. Bush types include Bingo, Celebrity, Mountain Delight, Solar Set and Sunleaper.

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 with tomatoes.

Many types of sweet and hot peppers can be grown here. 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 in Louisiana include Big Bertha, King Arthur, Merlin and Sentry. Production is usually less during the hottest part of the summer – early planting is important – but it 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 quite ornamental. It begins yellow-green, then, as it matures, it changes to yellow to orange to red. The fruit is sweet in flavor and is great in salads or cooking.

– Many jokes have been made 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 them 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 attacked by insects or diseases when it’s planted early. Production will last from May into July.

– Okra and eggplant are best planted when the soil is very warm. April is an ideal time to plant these two vegetables. If planted too early, they often become stunted and are slow to recover.

Eggplants come in various colors, sizes and shapes. All produce well during the summer and through the fall, although production may lag during the hottest months. Choose standard varieties, such as Black Bell, Dusky or Classic. Green types are less bitter in summer, and Oriental types like Ichiban, Millionaire or the All-America Winner Hansel with finger-sized fruit produce very well in summer heat.

Okra seed may be soaked overnight to soften the hard seed coat before planting. After emergence, plants should be thinned to stand 12 inches apart. Production will start in June and will continue into the fall. Harvesting should be done every two to three days for best quality. If left longer on the plant, the okra pods can quickly become tough. 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. Information also is available at your local LSU AgCenter office or online at www.lsuagcenter.com.

Visit LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge, across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. For more information, go to www.louisianahouse.org and www.lsuagcenter.com/lyn.

Rick Bogren
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