Local gardeners look to bounce back from brutal winter

After a historically cold winter, local gardeners are preparing for a comeback and are planning their gardens for this spring.

With March 20 as the official first day of spring, most years local gardeners would have started their planting as early as mid-February, but the cold weather this winter has kept many indoors and the conditions unsuitable for gardening to begin in earnest this year.

Unfortunately, many who had tropical plants or other plants susceptible to cold that did not survive the sub-freezing temperatures will now be tasked with rebuilding their gardens.

“With this winter a lot of stuff is dead. So many of us had tropical plants and they are all dead. I guess we are going to have to rebuild,” Marie Coons, president of the La Belle Fleur Garden Club in Destrehan, said.

For those who had plants that did not survive the cold, Coons said one big tip for future years is knowing how to care for their plants when freezing temperatures strike again. While gardeners should protect their plants, they should be mindful of what kind of material they use to keep out the cold.

“You don’t want to put plastic over things. You do want to put sheets over it rather than plastic because you still want them to be able to breathe,” Coons said.

Out of the 15 varieties of plants Coons has in her garden, she said only her hibiscus died. Despite the plant’s inability to survive the cold, she will likely replant because such a cold winter only comes along once a decade.However, even the rebuilding process has been delayed due to recent cold snaps that have seen the mercury drop below 40 within the last week.

Coons said her group is still waiting out the weather to begin planting this year.

“Normally you would start planting now, but not so much because of the weather,” she said. “We are really not sure when to plant again, it just depends on what the weather does.”

Coons said she has been glued to TV newscasts every night hoping for a better forecast and also checking in with the LSU AgCenter for suggestions. Last weekend when the temperature went above 70, she attempted to organize the La Belle Fleur Garden Club members to plant the community garden they tend each year in front of the St. Charles Parish Hospital ambulance substation on River Road in Destrehan, but relented after many of the members were not able to attend.

“We normally plant our front garden in the front of the ambulance center in mid-March,” she said.

After the temperature dipped again early last week, Coons said they were lucky they didn’t plant the garden.

“It’s a good thing we didn’t plant because the cold came too soon,” she said. “You really need the sun for a few days after you plant. You need more heat after you plant because the ground is so cold. You have to have a heat source from somewhere.”

Now that the planting has been delayed again, Coons said getting plants that will bloom at the right time will be tricky.

“We’re all at a loss. Now we have to check on when plants bloom, because if you get some plants you will only get one week of bloom. So we are all in an uproar. Mother Nature has thrown us for a loop,” she said.

While waiting for temperatures to rise, Coons said she and other gardeners have had a chance to knock out some of the other required garden work.

While gardeners are not encouraged to plant until the warm weather is back for good, perennials do need to be cared for now.

Coons said the La Belle Fleur Garden Club’s last meeting focused on providing fertilizer to perennial plants that survived the winter.

“We really focused on the time to weed and feed. You don’t want to feed right now unless you have that weed killer,” she said.

In addition, rose gardeners should be pruning their plants in anticipation of the warm weather.

“People can prune their rose bushes at this time because rose bushes can pretty much handle anything,” Coons said.

That is exactly what Connie Hatfield, past-president of the Bonnet Carre Garden Club, said she has planned for this weekend in addition to other tasks.

“Tomorrow I am going to be getting the old pots and the dead stuff out of them,” she said. “My roses have to be cut back before they start blooming again.”

The Norco resident said she has ordered a variety of plants and is also just waiting on the weather to calm down before she starts planting.

“It’s been too cold to get out there and work with it,” she said.

However, she said there are a couple of plants that you can go ahead and plant while the cool weather is still in play.

“Probably a couple of weeks ago I would have planted the roses. The cold weather is when you ought to plant roses,” she said. “Something else that is really good for cold weather is petunias. They will give you blooms when you don’t have anything else.”

Hatfield has big plans for when the weather gets back to normal this year. Included in her planting for this spring are petunias, amaryllis, bougainvillea, lilies, gardenias and more roses in addition to the ones she already has growing in her garden.

As far as tips for other gardeners, Hatfield said getting used to the basics of gardening is pretty easy, especially when you know what the payoff is in the end.

“You need to keep the soil loose and have it mixed with other things to kind of loosen it up. When you plant you need to be sure to put some fertilizer in there and do it routinely. Be sure to keep everything watered when it is planted. Deadhead the stuff when it blooms,” she said. “Then just enjoy it, all of your hard work. We have a swing in the back and I just love sitting in I and watch everything bloom. That gives me a lot of joy.”


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