Kathryn Fontenot, Koske, Thomas J.
Getting the right start in the spring is especially important for a productive garden, says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Tom Koske.
First, choose a good site, and properly prepare it for the crops you plan to grow. Good sites have plenty of light, drainage and breezy air flow. If in doubt about drainage, build higher rows.
If the soil was not tested in the recent past, have it analyzed now because it's beginning to get late to test it for this spring's planting. It takes about three weeks to get a recommendation from a soil test, but there will still be time to get your soil sampled if you act immediately.
Test your soil every three years to keep on track. Ask your county agent for help in expediting your soil test. If you have test results, follow the suggestions as closely as possible.
Do not lime unless a soil test calls for lime, Koske cautions. Some soils in the state can generally take lime, but not all. If lime is recommended, broadcast it evenly over the entire area and till in several inches. Liming is best done several months before planting.
Now also is a good time to add compost, grass clippings or leaves. Till or turn them under when you first loosen the soil or incorporate the lime. Organic matter is mostly used up each hot season and should be replaced annually.
Get fertilizer that has the recommended analysis or as close to it as you can, not just common 8-8-8.
"Remember, it's the ratio or blend of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium that is important." Those are the three numbers on the bag. You can use more of a weaker blend or less of a stronger blend to apply a given soil nutrient.
"The saying, 'If a little is good, then a lot will be great,' just isn't so for gardening," Koske says. If your soil fertility is in good balance or you have no test to go on, use the recommendations from our AgCenter’s Vegetable Planting Guide #1980 for guidelines. The best method to apply this material is in a wide band or fertilizer drill that runs 4 to 6 inches deep down the middle of the row.
Most areas of Louisiana will benefit from shaping high rows (10 inches) to improve aeration and drainage. It also warms the soil for better spring growth. This is especially important with the fine-textured clay soils.
Black plastic mulch covering the completed rows is especially effective in the cool early spring for crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, okra and all of the squashes and melons. If you use an organic mulch such as straw or leaves, do not apply it until the soil has had a chance to warm well.
"Gardens prepared this way should get off to a good start and give productive results come harvest time," Koske says.
On the Internet: LSU AgCenter website
Source: Tom Koske (225) 578-2222
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture