Kathryn Fontenot, Heafner, Kerry, Singh, Raghuwinder
Producing vegetables is a favorite hobby for many people. Homegrown vegetables have better flavor because they are harvested closer to their peak ripeness, which enables the production of more of their natural sugars.
Plus, there is complete joy in watching a small seed develop into a delicious treat!
Gardening provides a means of exercise, recreation and therapy, as well as opportunities for many to experience nature. Statements such as “Let me show you my garden!” or “I grew that!” give a sense of self-satisfaction.
Home vegetable gardens range in size from a single potted plant to large gardens. Make your garden the size that will meet your needs without becoming a burden. Remember, we can plant and harvest 12 months a year, and some of those are really hot and some are cold, so don’t overdo it!
Plan ahead. Locate the garden in a sunny area. Six to eight hours of sunlight each day is preferred. Fruit-bearing crops, such as tomatoes, peppers and squash, need full sunlight for best production. Otherwise, too much shade results in very little production for those crops. If you only have shady spots to garden in, leafy vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli and cabbage will tolerate more shade than fruit-bearing crops.
In Louisiana, vegetables can be planted year-round. As soon as one crop finishes bearing, pull it out, rework the rows and plant something else. For example, after harvesting Irish potatoes in May or June, rework the area and plant peas, okra or sweet potatoes. Successive plantings made a week or two apart provide a continuous fresh supply of bush snap beans, peas, greens and other certain vegetables. Also, planting early, midseason and late-maturing varieties at the same time will extend your harvest.
This publication should be used as a guide to growing a successful Louisiana garden. The information was developed after considerable research and practical experience. The comments about each item in the following tables may help you better understand the cultivation requirements of vegetables. But please remember, it is just a guide. Always pay attention to local forecasts as those will help you decide to plant at suggested dates or maybe wait a bit if the weather is not acting in a predictable manner.
Planting Dates – We have included a table that has columns for both north Louisiana and south Louisiana gardeners. Those living in central Louisiana will do best if they defer to north Louisiana planting dates for spring vegetable crops, but they can use dates from either north or south Louisiana for fall crops.
Generally, with spring vegetables, the first planting should be made after the danger of frost is over (March 15 for south Louisiana/April 1 for central/north Louisiana). Figure 1 is the most recent Plant Hardiness Zone map released by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It shows that Louisiana comprises four zones: 10a, 9b,9a, 8b and 8a. These zones represent annual average minimum temperatures.
Seeds/Plants per 100 Feet of Row – The amount of seeds (or the number of plants) given is the minimum amount required to plant a 100-foot row.
Depth to Plant Seeds – This will depend on the seed size and soil type. Small-seeded crops are planted shallower, and crops with larger seeds are planted deeper.
Heavy (clay) soils require a shallower depth of planting than do lighter (sandy) soils. This is because clay soils tend to form a crust. If irrigation water is not available and the soil is dry, your seeds may have to be planted a little deeper than normal. Generally speaking, most seeds should be planted two to three times as deep as they are wide.
Space Between Plants – Correct spacing between and within rows is important to allow for proper growth, cultivation and efficient use of space. It is also important to follow the recommended spacing because planting too close can be more enticing to insects and enables diseases to spread easier between plants. Additionally, planting too closely will result in poor, weak growth and lower yields. It is a common practice to sow seeds thickly and then thin to the proper spacing. Allow for unplanted rows between watermelon, pumpkin and cantaloupe plantings. In the home garden, you can plant on every other row and space these plants 4-6 feet apart.
For intensive culture or “wide row” gardening, use the larger “in row” spacing and allow enough room between rows so that when the plants are mature, they will barely be touching those in the neighboring row. Remember that yield, quality and pest control normally will be superior if plants are given plenty of room to grow.
Days Until Harvest – The number of days from planting until harvest depends on the variety selected, the seasonal temperatures, seasonal rainfall, cultural practices and whether the crop was direct-seeded or transplanted. The number of days indicated in these charts are average ranges that can be expected.
For the gardener who is interested in the detailed culture of a certain crop, gardening tips for these crops are available on the LSU AgCenter website (https://bit.ly/3dqe3cn).
General fertilizer recommendations are based on soils of average fertility that have no imbalances of major soil nutrients. A soil analysis will determine if certain soil nutrients are exceptionally high or low. Most garden vegetables need a soil pH (acidity) between 5.5 and 7. Lime should not be applied without first completing a soil analysis that shows the need for lime. You should have your soil tested at least every three years!
It should be understood that the numbers (analysis) on a bag of fertilizer represent the percentages of nitrogen, phosphate and potash. For example, a 100-pound bag of8-8-8 fertilizer is 8% (8 pounds of the 100-pound bag) nitrogen (N), 8% (8 pounds of the bag) phosphate (P2O5), and 8% (8 pounds of the bag) potash (K2O).
Fertilizers with different analyses can be substituted for those listed to provide approximately the same amount of plant food, but they will need to be applied at different rates. For example, 6 pounds of a 12-12-12 contains an equivalent amount of nitrogen, phosphate and potash as 9 pounds of 8-8-8 because it contains approximately one-third more plant food (36 pounds per 100-pound bag of 12-12-12 compared to 24 pounds per 100-pound bag of 8-8-8).
See PDF for tables.