Going Green – Easy tips for gardening, flowers and the lawn

Spring’s burst of colors and warmer temperatures draw many people outside to the garden and flower beds, but getting it right means working with nature.

Of these typical do’s and don’ts with gardening, the most important rule is watering and that can be tricky depending on where the plants are going, according to Hope Zeller, manager of Martin’s Nursery and Landscape Co. in Luling.

Watering too much or too little can kill them.

“If it’s out in the full sun or a pot, you need different watering than if it’s in the ground,” Zeller said. “Some plants need a good soaking, not a sprinkling, like a rain so the water goes down in the ground – and the roots go looking for that water.”

In between days, the ground should go dry.

To determine this, Zeller said there’s only one way to really accurately determine if the plants need water.

“You have to put your hands in the dirt and that’s what people don’t understand,” she said. “Lack of water and too much water is all the same symptoms, so you have to get your hands dirty to see what the problem is.”

This time of year, Zeller said a lot of people also come to the nursery asking about their fruit trees. They could be what appears to be mold on the leaves while most of the time it’s an insect that has to be eliminated and this is where dealing with someone with experience really makes a difference.

“We grow our plants here so if someone’s got a problem all they have to do is come here and ask or we send them to the [LSU AgCenter] county agent if we don’t know.”

People also like color and easy maintenance on their gardens and flower beds so Zeller said they recommend plants indigenous to Louisiana. They’re called Louisiana superplants such as hydrangeas, camellias, Pieris (dwarf shrubs), celebrity tomatoes and the ichiban eggplants, although she said this plant is being discontinued.

“Southern Living plants are a really big hit and there are different kinds,” she said. “The less maintenance they have to do, the more they like it.”

Asked what to plant, Zeller recommended perennials over annuals because the plant blooms every year instead of just one year.

Christine Trevett, as master gardener in Luling, agreed with going with perennials for longer beauty and easier maintenance, particularly as she has gotten older but still wants a beautiful and fragrant yard.

“I always try to find something that has a fragrance to it,” Trevett said.

This year’s favorite is assylium, which she said produces a purple little flower. She also likes pansies, which have a beautiful fragrance.

For Trevett, a big gardening tip is preparing the soil.Her mix is 60 percent soil, 20 percent peat moss and 20 percent manure, which can be gotten any nursery. She removes several inches of the existing top soil and replaces it with her mix. Don’t forget to mulch.

When choosing plants, stick to the regulars but don’t be afraid to be adventuresome, too.

Also, Trevett said she has learned that if a plant doesn’t do well in a particular spot to just move it somewhere else.She’s also found that tomatoes do better in pots and don’t attract as many insects.

For beginners or plant-challenged people, herbs are easy to grow and are sturdy, according to Trevett. But she advised to definitely plant them in pots. Her passion is basil (added to fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and balsamic oil) and her husband’s love of mint juleps requires her herb garden include mint. Rosemary has proven a hardy plant that grows year round.

For fruit trees, she warned against using pesticides until they stop blooming to avoid killing bees that are pollinating them.

The lawn is another aspect of outdoor living in spring that requires some attention.

Rene Schmit, county agent with the LSU AgCenter in St. Charles Parish, recommended fertilizing from now through mid-April, which provides the greatest benefit to lawn grasses for timely nutrition for the new growing season.

“When applying a fertilizer, always apply to a dry lawn and preferably after the lawn has been freshly mowed,” he said.

“Be sure to water in the fertilizer after application or apply the fertilizer when you know a rain is to occur within a three-day period.

Equally important is applying the right amount of fertilizer.

It should be spread at the recommended rate based on the bag label. Schmit said it is best to use a mechanical push applicator, either a broadcast or drop type spreader.

Apply half the needed amount in one direction (east-west), then apply the other half in the other direction (north-south).

Generally this process takes several weeks to be fully accomplished and is important to developing a stronger and healthier root system for the new growing season. Therefore it is beneficial to wait until the grass has achieved a full active growth before applying fertilizer to the lawn.

“Be patient in allowing your lawn grass to reach its full green-up and an active growth stage before fertilizing,” he said. “Timely fertilization will go a long way in contributing to a healthier lawn this growing season.”


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