(03/18/19) ALEXANDRIA, La. — Gardeners, landscapers and vegetable growers gathered tips at the LSU AgCenter spring garden seminar and expo held March 8 at the State Evacuation Shelter near Alexandria.
“The show is an inaugural event for the central region and serves as a launching pad for new outreach initiatives designed to meet the growing need for horticulture-related programs in the area,” said Tara Smith, director of the AgCenter Central Region.
The program drew about 60 people who took part in a variety of informal educational sessions, allowing visitors to ask questions, share personal experiences and visit with AgCenter experts.
Beekeepers, garden clubs, local plant societies and various agricultural organizations provided information on their events and activities.
“Our goal was to provide attendees with a range of timely gardening topics as they gear up for the spring gardening season,” said Sara Shields, AgCenter horticulture agent and coordinator of the AgCenter Louisiana Master Gardener program.
Growing herbs has become increasingly popular for many home gardeners and gourmet enthusiasts who want to save money and get the freshest product available.
“Herbs are enjoyable to grow and not only make our food taste and look better. They offer many aromatic benefits,” said AgCenter 4-H and FCS coordinator Esther Boe.
In Louisiana, herbs can grow for as much as nine months of the year — usually February through November — but careful selection and maintenance is still important, she said.
Soil type, pH, sunlight and moisture requirements vary among many herb favorites, and while some may need special attention to produce a good stand, others can take over the landscape, Boe said.
AgCenter horticulturist Ed Bush offered recommendations on how to construct raised bed gardens and design and maintain both drip and sprinkler irrigation systems.
“Simple construction using wood boards or cinder blocks makes sturdy beds for years of gardening. Weed control is much easier, and garden beds can be easily moved if necessary,” Bush said.
A drip irrigation system is a great way to conserve water and reduce water waste, he said.
Incorporating containers into the landscape can provide many benefits, said AgCenter ornamental horticulture specialist Jeb Fields. They are adaptable for small and large areas and allow home gardeners to easily relocate plants, reduce maintenance and increase resource efficiency.
Fields also discussed composting and the selection of soilless media for the garden, such as pine bark, peat moss and perlite, wood substrates and coco coir, a fibrous alternative to peat moss.
“Often backyard composts have high salt levels that may burn some young plants,” Fields said. He recommends blending compost with another component like pine bark.
Tackling tough weeds is familiar to most landscapers. AgCenter weed and turfgrass specialist Ron Strahan discussed how to take out the toughest of them, including lawn burweed or stickerweed.
“Stickerweed is a winter annual that will be producing seed capsules (stickers) very soon,” Strahan said. Burweed needs to be sprayed in the lawn now with metsulfuron.
“The best defense against lawn weeds is healthy and thick turfgrass,” he said.
Preemergence herbicides are the backbone of weed control in flower beds, Strahan said, and grass-killing herbicides like sethoxydim can be useful for killing emerged grasses in flower beds as well as in vegetable gardens.
Louisiana’s conducive weather and extended growing period offer a perfect environment for landscape pathogens to flourish, said AgCenter plant pathologist Raj Singh.
“An abundance of susceptible host plants benefits pathogen survival and contributes to their spread at a rapid rate, and successful disease management begins with accurate identification of the cause of the problem,” Singh said.
Poor landscape practices, such as deep planting, overcrowding plants, excessive mulching, overfertilization, overirrigation, planting in clay-rich soils, soil compaction and poor drainage create conditions that promote disease development, he said.
AgCenter horticulture agent Keith Hawkins offered tips for homeowners on how to identify and manage hazardous trees in landscape settings.
“A hazard tree is one with structural damage, posing a risk that the tree may fail and possibly hit a target,” Hawkins said.
To prevent personal injury or damage to property, homeowners should scout trees for cracks, cavities or den holes that can weaken the tree structure.
A V-shaped branch angle is more likely to split and cause damage, while U-shaped branch angles provide greater strength and stability, he said.
“We are currently in the planning phase for a summer horticulture seminar to be held in conjunction with the 2019 LSU AgCenter field day expo set for June 27 at the Dean Lee Research and Extension Center in Alexandria,” Shields said.
Smith said the expo will highlight research in field crops and beef cattle and include horticulture sessions featuring demonstration beds with Louisiana native plants and Louisiana Super Plants.
Visitors examine irrigation materials at the LSU AgCenter spring garden seminar and expo held March 8 at the State Evacuation Shelter near Alexandria. Photo by Tara Smith/LSU AgCenter
Young visitors appear mesmerized by a beehive at the LSU AgCenter spring garden seminar and expo held March 8 at the State Evacuation Shelter near Alexandria. Photo by Esther Boe/LSU AgCenter