Plant the right warm-season vegetables, nurture them properly

(04/16/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — There’s still time to get warm-season vegetables into the ground. And while it’s easy to get excited about the potential fruits of your labor, it’s also important to plant the right crops for the right season.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls from people wanting to plant the wrong types of plants,” said LSU AgCenter vegetable specialist Kiki Fontenot. “This is the spring season, so we definitely need to be focusing on planting warm-season crops.”

“All seeds are available in national box stores year-round,” she said. “Seeds can be stored for a year and, after that, refrigerated. The problem is, people are picking anything and everything off the shelf and planting them.”

Unfortunately, for some of those gardeners, cold-season crops are not a good choice.

“What grows in Michigan now won’t necessarily grow in another state at the same time,” Fontenot said.

Some plants that will grow well from seed now in Louisiana include cantaloupes, watermelons, gourds, pumpkins, cucumbers, loofah, zucchini, squash, okra, sweet corn, southern peas and butter beans.

Some warm-season transplants that will grow well now are tomatoes, bell peppers and eggplants.

“If you want to start with these three right now, you’ll have to go with plants,” Fontenot said. “April is too late to start them with seeds. But if you wait until late May or early June, you can plant seeds for a fall crop of tomatoes.”

The AgCenter Louisiana Vegetable Planting Guide is an excellent resource to know what to plant and when to plant it. It is available online at

If you want to order vegetable seeds online, Fontenot recommends checking the Louisiana Vegetable Planting Guide first.

“There are hundreds of different varieties to choose from, so this guide will help you narrow the field down to tried and true ones that work best in our conditions,” she said.

“When you’re planting seeds, plant them about twice as deep as they are wide and then, let them pop up and grow,” Fontenot said.

Whether you’re direct seeding your plants or growing transplants from seeds, Fontenot stresses some important things to keep in mind:

— Use germinating potting soil mixes. A soil containing fertilizer could burn tender, young seedlings.

— Don’t use any fertilizer until the first “true leaf” fully unfolds. This is the third leaf you actually see. The first two leaves you see are called cotyledons — and they aren’t really leaves. Wait for the first “true leaf” to unfold. Then it is safe to fertilize.

— While many fertilizers can be used, a liquid fertilizer that’s generally about 15% nitrogen can be mixed with water at a rate of one tablespoon of fertilizer per gallon of water for adequate coverage.

— Give the seedlings a quick drink of fertilizer mix once a week. You do not have to drown them.

— Do not let the seedlings wilt. Keep them moist but not saturated with water.

For most cucurbits (cucumber, squash, zucchini, mirliton, pumpkin, gourd, cucuzzi, watermelon, cantaloupe, cushaw, luffa), seed-started transplants should grow for three to four weeks before you place them into the garden.

“Since it’s quarantine time, we’re not trying to get people to leave their houses because you can use seeds you might already have in your refrigerator or in your shed,” Fontenot said.

“But if you do need to leave home — say you’re going to get groceries — you can call a local nursery ahead of time, place your order and they’ll meet you at your car with your seeds or transplants,” she said. “We want you to maximize your time at home, and we want you to plant vegetables that are the correct warm-season crops.”

More information is available on the AgCenter vegetable website for home gardeners at

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Seeds for watermelons, left, and cantaloupe can be planted in April along with seeds for gourds, pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchini and other types of squash. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter

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The triangular leaf is considered the first “true leaf” on this young cucumber transplant started from seed. The two symmetrical leaf-looking growths, which formed first, are called cotyledons. They provide storage food to keep the seed alive until it is able to germinate, but they are not “true leaves.” Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter

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A tomato transplant grows in a raised bed garden. Other vegetables that should be planted as transplants at this time and not as seeds include bell peppers and eggplant. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter

4/16/2020 2:38:16 PM
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