March is here and the gardening season has begun. Well, it’s actually been going-on for several months due to the unseasonably warm winter. Still, March marks the time when most gardeners begin to stir the soil and plant their warm season vegetables and flowers. To get into the mood and learn valuable information, an important educational activity is scheduled for this month.
Southwest Louisiana Garden Festival
March means spring. Spring is time to get gardening activities into full swing. The Southwest Louisiana Garden Festival will help you get ready for your many spring horticultural activities.
This year’s festival will be held Friday, March 23, 2012, and Saturday, March 24, 2012, in the Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles. Hours of operation for Friday will be 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Saturday’s activities will be held 9:00 am-5:00 pm. Admission is $2 for adults and free for children 12 and under.
The Southwest Louisiana Garden Festival inside the Burton Coliseum is celebrating gardening with its 13th Annual Show and Plant Extravaganza about gardening, flowers, trees, shrubs, garden accessories, books, demonstrations, educational lectures, and general garden tools. There will be new and exciting educational programs about garden topics of interest by LSU AgCenter specialist, as well as, regional, state and national guest speakers. “The garden festival is a wholesome, educational environment and the perfect activity to bring together friends and families," said LSU AgCenter Extension Horticulturist, Robert Turley.
The festival attracts over 4,000 garden lovers, residents, and visitors each year. There will be a Plant Health Clinic with professionals from the LSU AgCenter as well as Master Gardener volunteers who will help diagnose plant problems and answer garden questions. Educational garden seminars will be on-going throughout the two day event. The 4-H "Rent-A-Kid" will be there to help festival-goers carry out items to their vehicles.
Garden Festival hours are Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Admission is $2 for adults and free for children 12 and under.
March is Time to Plant Tomatoes (Maybe)
The unusually warm winter has jump-started plant growth early this year. March is a great month to plant many warm season vegetables (weather permitting). Since tomatoes are the most popular vegetable, many want to transplant them early. Planting tomatoes in early March gives the advantage of early production, greater stalk growth and helps avoid high temperatures during blooming, providing better fruit set. There’s one disadvantage-a late frost. Tomatoes are very susceptible to cold injury. So, if you plant in early march, you face that risk. Most gardeners feel that it is worth the risk. Be prepared to replant. You will probably have to. Other vegetables that are very susceptible to cold are peppers and eggplant. Okra does not like cold soils. You generally have better success establishing a successful stand okra if you plant seed in April.
Ferns for the Shade
I often get questions about which plants may be grown with success in a shady location. Many gardeners would like to have huge, full live oak trees and lawn grass growing under the trees. Sorry, those two things don’t go together very well. Since the live oak tree is a larger investment in time and money, most are reluctant to remove it for the sake of the St. Augustine grass. There are, however, several plants that will grow and prosper under the influence of shade. Ferns meet this requirement.
Ferns vary in height from less than a foot up to 3 feet high. Ferns aren’t “bloomers”, but their leaves (fronds) are quite attractive and have a unique texture. Not many insects or diseases attack ferns. This low-maintenance feature is an advantage to many gardeners. Ferns do need adequate moisture. Be prepared to irrigate them. Ferns should be planted in a location that receives about one to four hours of morning sun or filtered sunlight per day. Ferns tend to grow best in a higher organic matter soil. Incorporating well-composted material into the plant bed before planting is usually helpful. Mulching the fern will reduce the loss of soil moisture. Several good ferns include: maidenhair fern, holly fern, leather-leaf fern, sword fern, Christmas fern, royal fern, lady fern and lace fern.
If you want a fern-like plant that grows in a sunnier location and is less susceptible to drought, try asparagus fern. It is neither fern nor asparagus, but it looks like both. I have two asparagus ferns that have been growing in large pots on the western exposure of a concrete patio area for several years. They have been very hardy and don’t seem to mind hot afternoon sun. In the summer, I give them a little bit of water in times of very hot, dry weather. Other than that, there is very little care required. They are also cold hardy, as they have survived the past two winters.
Other warm-season plants that require very little sun exposure (partial shade to two-four hours of direct sunlight) include balsam, begonia, caladium, coleus, impatiens, pentas and salvia. The caladiums and impatiens are very well adapted to our area and are very popular for placement under large live oak trees. These plant selections can really bring bright, contrasting color to a shady location. They require more management and special care than the asparagus ferns. I’ll try to address their culture in a later article.