Sarah Isom, Brock, Andre' P.
March is here and although I haven’t seen the pecan trees breaking buds yet, it’s pretty safe to say that it’s pretty safe to plant warm-season vegetables now. River Parishes Master Gardeners will have a booth selling all sorts of plants at Frisco Fest March 7 and 8. They’ll also be answering lots of questions about horticulture. March 10th I’ll be at the LaPlace library from 2 to 3 pm to talk about container gardening. I like hands-on learning so we’ll also be making hanging basket planters to take home; please sign up with the library ahead of time so I’ll bring enough buckets.
Growing vegetables is a strong suit and a passion for me so I’d like to share some do’s and don’ts. Let’s start with tomatoes since they’re our most popular home-grown vegetable. Spacing is critical so plant them 18-24” apart. Cherry/grape tomatoes (such as ‘Sweet Million’ and ‘Yellow Pear’) are good at 18”. Larger ones (‘Celebrity’, ‘Jet Star’, ‘Bella Rosa’) want 24” so they can spread out. Spacing is important to get good airflow around plants. If they’re too tight, expect worse disease pressure and a few more bugs.
One of the most common mistakes in tomato growing is to over-fertilize. Excess nitrogen will keep the plants in a vegetative state. We want them to try and reproduce; that is, to make tomatoes. Over-fertilized tomatoes will be large and healthy but fail to set fruit. (See the LSU AgCenter’s vegetable guide for specific fertilizer recommendations on all vegetables.)
Cucumbers are popular as well. Varieties abound and they’re all pretty similar. I’m partial to ‘Diva’ and ‘Tasty Jade’ because of their thin skin. Martini is a white cucumber with good disease resistance. You can also pick longer ones, different shades of color, etc. Whichever you choose, plant them a foot or foot and a half apart. Trellising is important to reduce disease, especially “belly rot” of the fruit.
Most cucumber varieties set male and female flowers on the same plant (monoecious). They’ll set male flowers first, which produce no fruit. So don’t be discouraged if all your early blooms drop. You can distinguish the genders by the fact that females have a tiny but visible fruit just behind the flowers. Males just have a tiny stem connecting them to the main vine.
Bell peppers also rank among the most commonly grown summer vegetables, and they can be the most challenging. They’re “heavy feeders” so apply a teaspoon or so of nitrogen side-dressing per plant every couple of weeks. They’ll want two or three applications, maybe more. (This is after your initial pre-plant fertilizer; again reference the vegetable guide.) They also do not tolerate the slightest shade. If your bell peppers did okay last year despite a little shade (maybe the neighboring row of tomatoes?), try them in full sun this year. You may be surprised at the difference. Productive varieties include ‘Touchdown’, ‘Declaration’, and ‘Aristotle.’
Eggplants vary quite a lot by variety. For large purple ones, I haven’t seen anything make like ‘Santana.’ Then you have your long Japanese-types, white ones, green ones… take your pick. Remember that (like bell peppers) they won’t do much until it gets very warm. You might want to wait until April for eggplants and okra.
If you want to know more about gardening, landscaping, or anything else horticultural, contact the St. John & St. James Parishes County Agent André Brock at firstname.lastname@example.org. Calling (985) 497-3261 is often quicker. Also, the LSU Ag Center’s website can be accessed at www.lsuagcenter.com with lots of user-friendly information, including this article.