Mark Wilson, Singh, Raghuwinder, Strahan, Ronald E., Stockton, Gary A., Monzingo, John, Fontenot, Kathryn, Kirk-Ballard, Heather
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Besides the Christmas tree, no other plant welcomes the holiday season as well as the poinsettia. Poinsettias are used as accents or in mass groupings in homes, retailers, hospitals and many more locations. According to the 2018 USDA Floriculture Crops Summary, the value of potted poinsettias totaled $149 million. With so many of these plants being sold, the question of how to take care of them gets asked frequently.
To extend the life and beauty of the plant, the best placement for the poinsettia is near a sunny window or another well-lit area. A well-lit plant will maintain good bract color and avoid leaf drop. With proper care and watering, the poinsettia will remain beautiful in the home for two to three months. Keep the plant away from outside drafts or air conditioning and heating vents. It is best to avoid exposing the plant to sudden temperature changes because a poinsettia prefers daytime temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and nights around 60 to 65 degrees.
Many folks treat a poinsettia as an annual flower to be tossed away at the end of the season. However, they can just
as easily be grown as a perennial and saved with little effort. While poinsettias are not meant to live indoors, they can become acclimated to it.
Determining when and how long to irrigate a poinsettia should be done by observation and physical examination. Use a finger to feel the soil surface. Irrigate with water thoroughly when soil is dry to touch. Irrigate long enough so that excess water flows out the bottom of the pot.
For poinsettias to bloom and develop foliage color, do not pinch after late August or early September. Protect plants from light interruptions during the night hours. Poinsettias need approximately 40 straight days of 14-hour nights to bloom and develop bract color. Normal accumulation of these hours will occur from about Oct. 5 through Nov. 15, and this period of continuous darkness at night should initiate color in time for the Christmas season. Interruptions of this darkness cycle will delay flowering.
After the season, poinsettia plants can be planted outdoors in a sunny area. However, special care will be needed every year to protect them from frost damage. Poinsettias can be kept bushy and compact when growing in the landscape or a container by pinching new shoots when these shoots reach 5 to 6 inches long.
Contact your LSU AgCenter parish office to learn more about poinsettia selection and care.
Mark A. Wilson
Northwest Regional Horticulture Agent
A wide variety of poinsettia colors is available from retailers.
Photo by Rick Bogren, LSU AgCenter
Soon spring gardening may seem a long way off, but it is time to start preparing now so that you are not too late when the time comes. Many people call me right before they plant their gardens or even after asking me what they need to fertilize with and how. I can give you a much better answer with much better results if you plan for this now.
Knowing what is in your soil and what it needs is a basic and first step to a good crop and plant health. Our plants depend on the soil to provide adequate nutrients with which to grow. We must manage that soil balance for best growth.
Fall or early winter is a great time to do a soil test. It beats the spring rush and gives you time to find and apply what is needed. If lime is required to raise the soil pH, it must be applied several months before it is needed to support good spring growth. Lime takes several months to completely react to reduce soil acidity and may cause plant burning if applied when it is very warm outside.
A late-season soil test can also show how well you came through the past growing season. Fall test values should come out in the midrange to show that your fertility program was adequate and not too strong or weak. Too strong of a fertility program will cause a buildup of nutrients to test high or very high by fall. It’s not like having “too much” money in the bank; this can actually lead to growth problems or groundwater pollution. Too weak a program shows low to very low fall values in a fall test. This indicates that you had run out of good fertility before the end of the growing season and may have weakened the plants.
Soil is tested for potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and pH among other values in our routine soil test. These major nutrients fuel growth along with nitrogen. Because nitrogen is so transient, we just advise on its use based on soil type and crop.
If your soil is similar throughout the property, one composite sample from the 4-to-6-inch profile can be used to advise on several crops. List all the crops that you will want fertilizer recommendations for or that will grow in that soil sample type. Be specific because just listing “bermudagrass” may be interpreted as a pasture and not a lawn. You are allowed several crops for each sample, so you may put “vegetable garden,” then “centipede lawn” and “peach tree” all on one sample if all three crops are grown on this same soil type.
After you send your soil sample off it takes about seven to 10 days for the analysis to be returned to you. We also get a copy in our office so that if you have any questions about what the analysis recommendation is you can call and we can look at your analysis while we are on the phone and guide you into having your garden spot ready to grow some outstanding spring vegetables.
County Agent, Bienville, Jackson and Lincoln Parishes
Take multiple soil samples across your lawn or planting bed to ensure a representation of the entire area.
Consider planting trees during the cool weather because this allows the plant to acclimate before the heat of spring. Winter plantings are encouraged because this is the time when the tree goes dormant and is not actively growing. Even though the tree is dormant, the roots will still absorb water and nutrients during the winter. Once spring brings warmer temperatures, the tree will be ready to set leaves and put out new growth. One common tree you see in the South is a willow oak (Quercus phellos). The willow oak grows well throughout Louisiana — it was named a Louisiana Super Plant in 2013. The willow oak can reach mature heights of 60 feet. The foliage is fine textured and grows well in most any setting because it adapts well to most any soil type. The willow oak is excellent for wildlife, producing food and shelter for all types of wildlife. Willow oaks are a low maintenance, reliable tree that would be a great addition to most any landscape.
County Agent, Claiborne and Webster Parishes
Willow oaks are a good choice for most landscapes.
Photo by Allen Owings
Everyone has no doubt begun decorating for the holiday season. You’ve got your excited folks who started listening to Christmas music and threw up the decorations before the Thanksgiving holiday. (Hey, no judgment here.) Then you’ve got the folks like me who put the tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving. And some of us are busy and are just now getting around to it.
No matter what type of holiday decorating you do, there is one thing anyone can do very inexpensively by using what is just outside your door. You can create an evergreen wreath or swag with a few inexpensive floral materials and plant cuttings from the landscape.
The materials you will need to complete the project include fresh floral foam (3 inches by 4.25 inches by 3.25 inches) and a commercially made wire cage or one you create with a wire clothes hanger. You also need waterproof floral tape, 24-gauge wire (or similar) and 4-inch wire wood picks (optional). The tools you will need are pruning shears, wire cutters and a pocketknife or grafting knife.
Then you’ll need to gather an assortment of evergreen materials from the landscape. They could include cedar, camellia, evergreen wisteria, gardenia, holly, juniper, laurel bay, Leyland cypress, nandina, magnolia, mahonia, pine, pittosporum, sweet olive and wax myrtle. And don’t forget all the Christmas tree trimmings.
You also can go to a local nursery or box store selling fresh-cut Christmas trees and get the trimmings from such trees as blue spruce, Fraser fir, noble fir and Nordmann fir. They smell wonderful, and these plant materials offer several textures to incorporate into your wreath or swag.
Hollies such as American, Burford, English, Foster’s, Savannah, Winterberry and yaupon are excellent selections to help incorporate red berries. Another common landscape plant — nandina — also displays red berries in the wintertime.
If you use a commercially prepared cage of fresh floral foam, you can get started right away. However, you can make your own by securing a wire hanger around a cube of fresh floral foam. Add a water-impermeable material, such as contact paper, to the back of the foam to prevent water damage. Secure the backing and foam to the hanger using the waterproof tape in a tic-tac-toe pattern with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines encompassing the hanger and foam brick.
Hydrate the floral foam with water before beginning to add plant materials. This takes about 30 seconds. If you want your live cuttings to last longer, be sure to hydrate the foam several times a week. Next, begin placing greenery in the foam. You can use longer materials in the top and bottom for a swag or place the greenery equally in a circular pattern for a wreath look.
At this point make a fresh cut on the stem of the greenery itself by using a utility knife to create a sharp point. Cut down the bottom half of only one side of the stem as if to whittle away the bark. Now, stick this into the foam. Or you can wrap the wire on a 4-inch pick around the bottom half of the stem for stability and stick the stem and pick together into the foam.
Longer pieces such as fir, Leyland cypress and pine are great to use on the top and bottom of the swag. Then use more pieces to fill in both sides of the foam. This creates the skeleton, so to speak.
Then you may begin to fill in the piece with different textures, such as magnolia, camellia and holly. Finally, install the “centerpiece” — typically something with red berries, pinecones or a festive bow. You can secure the pinecones and bow using the wired picks or lengths of wire by wrapping and twisting the wire through the cones’ scales or around the center of the bow.
Create a swag by elongating the design, making the top and bottom longer and the sides of the piece shorter. For a wreath look, keep all the plant materials similar in length along all sides. You may use the hanger to hang on the door or the grommets or holes already in place on the commercial foam.
Voila! You have a DIY wreath that cost next to nothing. I’ve seen designs that retail for $50 to $100. Save that money to do some Christmas shopping or share with someone in need this holiday season. Merry decorating. It’s a fun activity for all!
Consumer Horticulture Specialist
All joking aside, 2020 has not been a grand year. There are things we can and cannot control, and we have to roll with life’s punches. Nevertheless, we can control many things in our garden. So, let’s make the most of December’s garden and start the new year off right by following best management practices to get the most out of our fruit and vegetable crops.
A beautiful head of cabbage.
December is the last month I think of as actual winter. January and February to me are very early spring. So, in this last month of winter here are a few to-do items to help keep the garden active!
Dr. Kathryn Fontenot
Vegetable Crops Specialist
December begins a bleak time for warm-season turfgrasses. Most lawns should be dormant or at least close to this stage by Christmas. Because lawns are not actively growing, fertilizer applications are not needed during the winter. Actually, you should have stopped nitrogen fertilization on home lawns by late summer (late August to very early September for St. Augustine grass and centipedegrass).
Nitrogen fertilizer on dormant to semidormant St. Augustine grass, centipedegrass and zoysia grass lawns can lead to increased brown patch and winter kill. Also, nitrogen applications during this time have a greater potential for leaching or movement into nontarget areas.
Winter is an excellent time to collect soil samples and submit them for analysis. Samples should be a composite of soil collected from 3 to 4 inches deep at various places around the lawn. Mix well and reduce the sample to about 1 pint of soil and take it to the LSU AgCenter Extension Service office in your parish or to a participating garden center. Make sure to specify the type of grass you are growing on the soil test form.
Soil samples submitted to the LSU AgCenter result in a wealth of information concerning the overall fertility of your soil. If results of the soil test indicate the soil pH is too acidic, lime will be prescribed in the soil test recommendations. Sulfur may be prescribed for soils that are too alkaline. Winter is the best time to apply lime or sulfur so that it can be activated by for the growing season next spring and summer. The correct soil pH is extremely important and has everything to do with nutrient availability and fertilizer performance.
Postpone any permanent warm-season turfgrass seeding until next spring. Soil and air temperatures will be too cold for germination and growth.
Sod, such as St. Augustine grass and centipedegrass, can be laid during winter and established successfully during the spring. But remember to maintain good moisture to prevent the sod from dying. Establishment of sod is easiest, however, when sodding is delayed until the middle of spring, well after spring green-up.
Large patch disease, which was once known as brown patch, can come and go throughout the winter if the weather is mild. Treatment with fungicides containing myclobutanil, propiconazole, pyraclostrobin, and triticonazole and azoxystrobin will reduce the spread of large patch. Damage from large patch will slow spring green-up, and diseased areas will remain unsightly until warmer spring weather conditions help with turfgrass recovery. These diseased areas are more prone to weed problems.
Broadleaf weeds, such as clover and lawn burweed (sticker weed) and annual bluegrass infesting St. Augustine grass, centipedegrass and zoysia grass, and dormant bermudagrass, can be suppressed with a late fall application of atrazine herbicide followed by a winter application. The window for these atrazine applications is from November to early March. Herbicides containing a three-way mixture of 2,4-D; dicamba; and mecoprop (trimec-type herbicides) can be used for winter broadleaf control on the same lawns that were sprayed with atrazine. MSM (metsulfuron) works well on lawn burweed and is highly effective on clovers and false garlic. Weed-and-feed products can be substituted as your first application of fertilizer during the early spring.
Lawns may show signs of green-up in southern Louisiana in late February. Do not push turfgrass growth with fertilizer at that time! Fertilizer applied too early will feed winter weeds and will result in lush turfgrass growth that is more susceptible to injury from late frosts and increased levels of large patch disease. Lawns may be fertilized in the New Orleans area by late March, but delay fertilizing central Louisiana lawns until April. Consider fertilizing lawns in north Louisiana around mid-April.
Dr. Ron Strahan
Turfgrass Science and Weed Science Specialist
Wild geranium is a common winter broadleaf infesting lawns.
Lawn burweed germinates in the fall and produces painful stickers in the spring.
Catchweed bedstraw is a sticky winter weed that attaches to pants and pets.
Many homeowner and commercial landscapers are noticing clusters of mushrooms appearing in their landscapes. These mushrooms are fruiting bodies of Armillaria root rot caused by Armillaria spp. It is a destructive disease of a wide variety of woody ornamentals, trees, shrubs and fruit trees. Common host plants include roses, camellias, azaleas, crape myrtles, bottle brush, jasmine (confederate), Chinese elms, oaks, pines, Leyland and Italian cypress, apples, peaches, pecans and others. The disease is generally attributed to Armillaria mellea; however, several different species of Armillaria are capable of causing root rot. In the southeastern United States, A. tabescens is primarily responsible for causing the disease.
Symptoms caused by this disease are similar to those caused by other root rot pathogens. Infected plants wilt, rapidly decline and eventually die. Leaves turn yellow and defoliate. In some host species, the entire foliage turns brown. A white fungal mycelium is usually present underneath the bark at the base of the stem and the roots, which can be easily seen by removing the bark. In severely infected shrubs or trees, the white mycelium extends into the crown region, and even a few feet up on the trunk. Clusters of honey-colored mushrooms commonly appear at the base of infected plants or around it in the fall.
Armillaria tabescens is a soil-borne fungal pathogen normally associated with hardwood forests. It may survive in the soil on infected roots for several years. Disease can be more problematic in urban landscapes that are created on previously wooded areas. The pathogen becomes active when roots from a new tree or shrub come in contact with old infected roots. The disease spreads from one plant to another through root-to-root contact or by the growth of the fungus through the soil by means of fungal structures called rhizomorphs.
There is no cure for this disease. Once a host plant is infected and the fungus is established, little can be done to save it. No chemicals are available to control this disease. However, there are culture management practices that may help to either avoid or reduce the impact of this disease. Start with disease-free healthy plants. Do not plant them too deep. Completely remove and discard plants suspected to be infected with A. tabescens. Careful removal of the stumps and roots along with significant amounts of soil from previously infected sites may help reduce the fungal inoculum. Avoid planting susceptible hosts in the same locations where infected plants were previously removed. Water thoroughly and deeply and as infrequently as possible without causing drought stress. Avoid continuous wetting of the base and crown region of the plants, which favors the growth of the fungal pathogen. Use of excessive mulch (mulch mounds) around the base of the plant should be avoided to keep the crown region dry. Follow a proper fertilization program.
Suspected host plants infected with A. tabescens can be submitted to the LSU AgCenter Plant Diagnostic Center for confirmation. For more information, please visit our website: www.lsuagcenter.com/plantdiagnostics.
Dr. Raj Singh
Plant Pathologist and Director of Plant Diagnostic Center
Italian cypress showing browning of entire canopy as a result of root rot caused by Armillaria root rot.
Photo by Raj Singh, LSU AgCenter
Bottle brush showing white fungal mycelium extended 2 feet up on the trunk.
Photo by Raj Singh, LSU AgCenter
Cluster of honey-colored mushrooms produced by Armillaria sp.
Photo by Raj Singh, LSU AgCenter