It's time for planting spring vegetables

Richard Bogren  |  3/31/2017 1:57:50 PM

By Dan Gill

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

(03/31/17) Louisiana gardeners in the southern parts of the state begin to plant spring and early-summer vegetables this month. In north Louisiana, planting begins in early April. Watch the last freeze date in your area and 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 midsummer as well as fewer insect and disease problems. Here are just a few of the choices for spring planting.

Snap beans, especially the bush types, are easily grown, extremely productive and rarely attacked by insects. Three to four large harvests are produced and then the production ends. They do not need a trellis to grow on.

With pole snap beans, each harvest is smaller than from bush types. But because they produce over a longer period of time, 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, which 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 warm early-summer weather, there is no denying that 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 vining-type cultivars include Better Boy, Fantastic, Monte Carlo and Sweet Million (cherry), and recommended bush-type cultivars include Bingo, Celebrity, Mountain Delight Solar Set and Sunleaper.

Many other cultivars of large-fruited, cherry and plum tomatoes can be successfully grown in Louisiana. If planting a number of tomato plants, try several different cultivars 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.

Many types of sweet and hot peppers can be grown here. Popular hot types include Tabasco, jalapeno, cayenne and habanero. 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. Cultivars that perform well here include Big Bertha, King Arthur, Camelot, Merlin, Sentry and Jupiter. Production is usually less during the hottest part of summer – early planting is important – but picks up in fall.

The 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 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 early 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. Two types of cucumbers can be grown, 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 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 produce well during the summer months and through the fall, although production of large-fruited types may lag during the hottest months. Choose standard cultivars, such as Black Bell, Dusky or Classic; green types, which are 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 emergence, plants should be thinned to stand 12 inches apart. Production will start in June and will continue into fall. Varieties such as Gold Coast, Longhorn, Louisiana Green Velvet, Cajun Delight or Clemson Spineless are all prolific producers.

The LSU AgCenter offers numerous free publications on home vegetable gardening. You can find a lot of information at your local LSU AgCenter extension office or online at www.lsuagcenter.com.

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Snap bean plants line the edges of a raised bed with tomatoes in the middle. Photo by Dan Gill/LSU AgCenter

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You can harvest peppers at any time because they can be eaten both immature (green or purple) or mature (red or orange). Photo by Rick Bogren/LSU AgCenter

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