Allen D. Owings, Witcher, Anthony L.
With the arrival of March and April, we are squarely in the middle of the spring bedding plant season. Warm-season bedding plants make a great addition to Louisiana landscapes, says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Allen Owings.
"We have an abundance of terrific colorful plants that do well," Owings says, pointing out that the most popular warm-season bedding plants in Louisiana are impatiens, periwinkle (vinca), begonias and petunias. He adds that zinnias, celosia (cockscomb), ageratums, coleus, marigolds, purslane, portulaca, salvias and zinnias are options, too.
Owings notes that some other warm-season bedding plants that have been getting more attention in recent years include torenia, which is also called wishbone flower, and melampodium.
Several things need to be kept in mind to be successful with our bedding plants through the spring and summer, the horticulturist advises. Variety selection is important. "Remember that some varieties out-perform other varieties," he says, adding, "Consider recommendations from the LSU AgCenter and local retail garden centers when selecting specific varieties."
As with all plants, selection of a correct location is critical. Make sure that the sun or shade exposure situation matches the requirement for that particular plant.
Also, aeration and drainage of the landscape bed are important. Consider planting time. Some warm-season annual bedding plants prefer to be planted in late winter or early spring, such as petunias, while others prefer a planting date later in the spring, such as periwinkle. Remember to mulch with a 1-inch layer of shredded pine straw or similar material and fertilize with a good slow-release fertilizer at or shortly after planting. Irrigate as needed.
Begonia remains one of the most popular bedding plants in Louisiana. Depending on the variety selected, begonias will perform well in full sun to shaded areas. Those with green foliage are less tolerant of full sun, but red- and bronze-foliaged varieties tolerate sun plantings.
Flower colors available in begonias include rose, pink, red and white. Good performance can be expected through the summer if proper care is given. Avoid close spacing between plants and be careful when using overhead irrigating.
Excessive water accumulation around begonias leads to root and stem rot. The "cocktail" series of begonias is frequently sold in Louisiana. This group includes Vodka (bright scarlet flowers), Rum (white flowers with rose edges), Gin (bright rose-pink flowers), Whiskey (pure white flowers) and Brandy (clear pink flowers). Some of the best new begonias are Dragon Wing Red and Dragon Wing Pink.
Cockscomb is also commonly referred to as celosia. Several different species and varieties are available. Plant them in full sun. Cockscomb can also tolerate poorer soil conditions than most other bedding plants. Flowers come in different forms - feathers, spikes, plumes and crested. Flower colors include red, pink, yellow and orange. Cockscomb makes good fresh and dried cut flowers. All-America Selections is promoting two celosia this year – Fresh Look Red and Fresh Look Yellow.
Owings says there’s been a resurgence in coleus use in recent years. Older coleus varieties are commonly recommended for shade plantings, but new varieties are sometimes referred to as sun-loving coleus. Flowering is not the desired feature of coleus; grow coleus for their foliage. Pinch off flower spikes as they develop. Use varieties recommended as "sun" coleus.
Want a bedding plant that likes shade? LSU AgCenter horticulture extension associate Anthony L. Witcher says impatiens are your answer. Partial shade to full shade is typically needed for best performance. One common problem with impatiens is planting them too close together. This results in tall, leggy plants. If plants become too tall, pinch them back to reduce height. Impatiens are great landscape performers from spring through killing frost in the fall.
Marigolds are available in numerous colors and growth habits. French marigolds are shorter and produce small flowers. African marigolds have a tall growth habit and produce large flowers. Removing old flowers (deadheading) on marigolds is important to keep plants blooming continously.
Plant marigolds in full sun. Marigolds need irrigation during dry weather, but do not use overhead irrigation, which creates water accumulation on the flowers and leads to petal blight.
Witcher recommends marigold varieties Discovery, Inca, Excel, Perfection, Hero, Bonanza, Janie, Antiqua and Perfection for Louisiana landscapes.
Periwinkles are commonly called vinca. These are a favorite among many home gardeners in Louisiana. Wait until the first of May to plant periwinkles. They prefer full sun and an acid soil. Minimize irrigation to improve performance. Numerous flower colors are now available. Recommended varieties include Pacifica, Victory, Heat Wave, Cooler and Mediterranean.
Purslane and portulaca are closely related plants. They are typically light water users. Flower colors are numerous, and both are considered low maintenance. They make good plants for the patio or container. Plant in full sun.
Salvia is best adapted to full sun. Flower colors include red, white, pink, salmon and lavender. Salvias usually do well through the early summer, but they typically do not hold up well through the summer and into the fall. Pinching off old flowers is important to get repeat blooming. Salvias do attract hummingbirds. The LSU Agricultural Center recommends Louisiana home gardeners consider perennial salvias for landscape use.
Zinnias do well in Louisiana when rainfall is below average, as it has been the last couple of years. Plant zinnias in full sun. Try some of the newer narrowleaf or star zinnias. Some varieties include Crystal White, Star Orange and Profusion. These are very good landscape performers and have no disease problems, unlike the older zinnia varieties.
Owings says annual bedding plants add important seasonal interest and provide almost continuous color in landscape settings. He says to try some of these warm-season bedding plants this spring and increase your landscape enjoyment.
Related yard and garden topics are available by contacting an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office. Also, look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Feature section of the LSU AgCenter Web site: www.lsuagcenter.com.
On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com
On the Internet: www.louisianalawnandgarden.org.
Source: Allen D. Owings, (225) 578-2222, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Anthony L. Witcher, (225) 763-3990 or email@example.com