For gardeners who are just getting into gardening as well as those finding themselves having to replant after last year’s brutal winter, there are plenty of new plants to consider this year. However, local experts say the basics of setting up a garden that will last for years comes down to good planning.
Both Jennifer Osburn, owner of Martin’s Nursery in Luling, and Henry Hunter, general manager and horticulturist for Banting’s Nursery in Bridge City, said gardeners should be sure to check out information provided by the LSU AgCenter both online and in their local office located at 1313 Paul Maillard Road in Luling.
“They keep really good track of new and up and coming plants and they deem some of them ‘Louisiana Super Plants’ for which they have done all of the work. They have tested them out and made sure they are going to grow here. That is the first resource to tap,” Osburn said.
Before setting out to build a great garden, Hunter said there are a few things every gardener needs to know.
“Whenever you are starting you are going to get what you put into it. I would suggest starting off with a good soil quality,” he said. “You can work with soil to improve it. The LSU AgCenter can give you a soil test.”
Next, a gardener needs to plan their planting and map out the shape of what they hope their garden will look like once it is fully grown.
Osburn said a gardener must determine the concept behind their garden.
“The thing to determine in your home garden is do you want your plants to be annual or do you want them to be perennial?” she said. “Perennials are things that come back year after year and annuals are plants that you plant annually. In Louisiana we could say we have two seasons, a warm season and a cool season. So in Louisiana, you’d have two plantings for annuals, warm and cool. That’s what you have to determine in your own garden.”
Osburn said there are many options when considering new plantings.
“Things that are perennial here in Louisiana are lantanas, blue days, Mexican heather, which all good blooming plants that usually come back year after year. Some examples of annuals would be petunias, periwinkle or impatiens depending on how cold we get,” she said.
However, Osburn said the annuals available at local nurseries vary from week to week.
“There are many, many to choose from, and it all depends too on what week you go to the nursery. For instance, now I don’t have everything just yet because it is still not warm enough for some of these things to have sprouted out. So if you came to the nursery today you would find Louisiana phlox for instance, you would find delphinium, but if you come in three weeks those things will be finished,” she said
For gardeners who are planting for the first time or coming back from the cold winter, Osburn encourages them to build the garden with a foundation of evergreen plants that will last through cold winters and then fill the holes in with annuals, whose life cycle is only one season.
“Set up a foundation. I’d suggest three or four plants to set up a foundation planting. Indian hawthorn, loropetalum, amelias, azaleas, something like that for instance and then leave pockets in the bed for annual color,” she said. “Leave areas open for annuals, but definitely set up an evergreen foundation.”
This year Hunter said new plants are being recommended, especially due to the historically cold winter, and should become more popular with local gardeners.
“Especially after this winter people are going towards things that are evergreen and hearty,” he said. “People are leaning more towards azalea, camellia, Indian hawthorns and hydrangeas. For their landscapes people are still doing tropical things, but maybe it is a better idea to do tropical plants in planters so you can bring them inside when it gets cold.”
Gardeners should also take into account the placement of plants. Hunter said researching growth patterns of each plant will provide gardeners with a good idea of how the plants should be arranged in the bed.
“Of course tiers are going to be the best way to go. They need to be arranged by height, you don’t want anything growing taller in the front than something that is going to grow smaller in the back,” he said. “Pay attention to growth pattern as well as the sun and light requirements.”
In addition to selecting the proper plants and arranging them, gardeners should also keep in mind garden bed preparation and maintenance.
Hunter said doing the right things in the beginning of the planting process can save a gardener from doing a lot of work on the back end.
“Bed prep is where you want to start for sure,” he said. “After you get everything planted, mulch is the second most important thing. You really want to lay a heavy coating of mulch to keep those weeds down. That is the secret to being successful, doing it right the first time. That will keep from a lot of labor in June or July.”
Gardeners should also keep in mind that even hearty plants need to be cared for the first month or so before they can grow on their own.
“The first year you plant anything you are going to want to water every other day for the first couple of week and then once a week for the first couple of months and then you are on you own,” Hunter said. “You are going to have to take care of it for the first couple of months before you let it go. The key to success is not just planting, you need to follow up.”