Time to plant late-summer veggie gardens

Tomato transplants for a fall crop should be available in nurseries now. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

Tomato transplants for a fall crop should be available in nurseries now. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

August is a transitional time in the vegetable garden. While cool-season planting begins in earnest next month, some of the more heat-tolerant cool-season vegetables, such as the cole crops, can be planted into the garden now. And because our first frosts generally don’t arrive until late November or early December, we can also plant warm-season vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers for fall production. Visit area nurseries to find out what vegetable transplants and seeds they have available to plant.

It is important to prepare beds properly before planting. Clear the site of all weeds or finished vegetable plants. Turn the soil with a shovel, fork or tiller to a depth of at least 8 inches and spread the tilled soil with a 2-to-4-inch layer of organic matter — leaves, grass clippings, aged manure or compost. This helps maintain a high level of organic matter in the soil, which encourages a strong, healthy root system, improves drainage, retains moisture, provides nutrients and promotes vigorous plant growth.

Fertilizer can be sprinkled on top of the organic matter. Apply general-purpose fertilizer following package directions for rates. Gardeners should consider having their soil tested through their parish LSU AgCenter extension office to learn more about the fertility of their soil and what fertilizer to use. A soil test will also tell you if you need to add lime to the soil.

Mix the organic matter and fertilizer thoroughly into the soil. Turn the soil by digging with a shovel, garden fork or tiller until the added materials are evenly distributed. If you are not gardening in raised beds, form the soil into raised rows about 8 inches high and 2 to 4 feet wide, with narrow walkways between them. If you are gardening in containers, use a quality potting mix, and fertilize with balanced soluble or slow-release fertilizers used according to label directions.

Insects and diseases have had all summer to build up their populations, and insects such as whiteflies, stink bugs, aphids and caterpillars are commonly seen this time of year. Because insect and disease pressures are often greater in late summer and early fall than in spring, watch plants carefully for problems and use appropriate control measures promptly when needed.

Now is the time to plant tomato and bell pepper transplants for fall production. If your pepper plants from the spring are still in reasonably good shape, they will often produce an excellent fall crop once the weather begins to cool down (this also goes for eggplants). Keep them well fertilized and protected from insects and diseases.

Spring-planted tomato plants rarely survive the summer in decent shape, and new transplants are generally used for the fall crop. Tomato cultivars that produce well in fall include Florida 91, Spitfire, Solar Set, Heatwave II, Phoenix, Sunleaper, Sunmaster, Solar Fire or Talladega. Plant several varieties, and see which you like best.

Fall snap beans often produce better than those planted in spring. This is because as the fall snap beans come into production, temperatures begin to cool down, while in spring, the weather gets increasingly hotter as the beans produce their crop. They are one of the easiest and most reliable vegetables and are especially appropriate for children’s gardens. Wait until late August in north Louisiana or early September in south Louisiana to plant so they will come into bloom after the weather has begun to turn cooler, and choose bush types. You may want to plant bush lima beans.

Cole crops to be planted this month from seeds or transplants include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale, rape and collards. Cole is the Old English word for cabbage, and these days is used to refer to this group of closely related vegetables (we still use the word when we call cabbage salad coleslaw).

Broccoli is one of the best and easiest to grow of the group. Transplants may be planted now through early October. Seeds can be planted now through early September and may be planted into pots or flats and transplanted into the garden, or direct seeded into the garden where they will grow. Plant transplants 12 to 18 inches apart into well-prepared beds. The closer spacing will produce smaller heads but more total production.

Here’s a list of the vegetables that can be planted into the garden this month:

  • Transplants of tomato, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage.
  • Seeds of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, collards, cucumbers, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, turnips, squash, bush lima beans and bush snap beans and Swiss chard.
  • Sets (small bulbs) of shallots and bunching onions.
  • Small whole Irish potatoes saved from the spring crop.

Contact your parish LSU AgCenter extension office to receive a copy of the LSU AgCenter Vegetable Planting Guide, a free publication that will provide you with information on the year-round planting dates for many vegetables. This publication is also available online. Simply do an internet search for “LSU AgCenter Vegetable Planting Guide.”

Dan Gill can be reached at 225-578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu 

Louisiana’s Best: Summer bulbs

Crinums are classic summer-blooming bulbs. Photo by Kathie Rowell

If you automatically think spring when you hear the word “bulb,” it’s time to broaden your horizons. While it’s true many of the bulbs we are most familiar with bloom in spring, some do their thing after the heat sets in.

Here’s a look at bulbs that perform well in our sultry summers, as recommended by retired LSU AgCenter horticulturist Denyse Cummins:

  • Surprise lilies : Also known as naked ladies because they send up flowering stems before they sprout foliage, these frilly flowers bloom in July. Lycoris squamigera  is a rosy pink and Lycoris incarnata, also called the peppermint lily, has darker pink stripes down each petal. They are related to the red fall spider lily.
  • Philippine lily: Also known as the Formosa lily, this fragrant flower looks like an Easter lily, but blooms in mid- to late summer.  The stalks can reach more than 5 feet tall and produce a dozen or more white, trumpet-shaped flowers. Let it dry in place and the seeds will drop to the ground and sprout, but it will probably take a couple of years for them to bloom.
  • Rain lilies! Photo by Kathie Rowell.

    Rain lilies! Photo by Kathie Rowell.

    Rain lilies: Like their name implies, you won’t see these beautiful star-shaped white, pink or yellow flowers until after a good rain. “They are a terrific choice to edge a bed with because they are fast reproducers and the foliage stays a lovely green year-round,” Denyse said. “They are such a joy because we suffer so much with hot, droughty spells in the South.  Walk outside the day after a rain and you’ll find that rain lilies are celebrating just as much as we are.”

  • Crinums: Known as the queen of the summer garden, crinums come in a multitude of varieties so you’re sure to find one that blooms just about any time from spring to fall. They’re big, tough, beautiful and often fragrant. Local crinum lover Donna Shope fell in love with them after reading a magazine article. “Of course I had seen crinums all my life, but I hadn’t SEEN them,” Donna said. “I started noticing them everywhere.  My cousin Debby dug crinums from our grandmother’s place.  I thought I remembered every inch of that yard but I swear I never noticed the crinums. As to favorites, Powellii Album is a favorite with lovely white trumpets and a long bloom season in the spring. Ellen Bosanquet is a readily available summer bloomer.  Deep pink/red blooms.  Elizabeth Traub is probably a little better since it is similar in color and bloom time but is slightly larger and more likely to rebloom if conditions are good.  By good conditions I mean rain. My most reliable fall bloomer is a digweedii with an open flower and light pink stripe.  … Less easily found favorites would include White Queen and Super Ellen. White Queen is a beautiful spring bloomer with white trumpets that are curled around the edges.  The flowers dangle like bells.   Super Ellen is very large with deep pink/red trumpets. The scapes can be 6 feet though mine have never been over 5 and half feet. It blooms spring, summer and fall when conditions are good.  Again, I mean rain.  Crinums can act very much like rain lilies.”

Interested in adding one or more of these to your garden? Denyse has some advice:

“The most important thing to know about tropical bulbs is that they are not great mail order bulbs,” she said. “They have a pretty short shelf life and are best obtained freshly dug or potted.”

12 houseplants that clean the air

Dracena have been shown to remove pollutants from indoor air. Photo by Kathie Rowell

Dracena have been shown to remove pollutants from indoor air. Photo by Kathie Rowell

Did you know that indoor air is usually more polluted than outdoor air? That’s because many building materials, cleaning products, furnishings and office equipment emit gases or particles into the atmosphere.

Golden pothos.

Golden pothos.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency says indoor pollutant levels can be two to five times – and as much as 100 times – higher than outdoor levels and ranks indoor pollutants as one of the top five environmental risks to public health.

Those of us who live and work in drafty older homes or buildings have less to worry about than those who live or work in newer, energy-efficient homes and offices.  That’s because new buildings are built tighter and largely constructed with man-made materials and finishes that are known to “off-gas” benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.

But there’s a low-tech way to remove some of these pollutants from the air – and beautify your home or office at the same time.

Grow houseplants.

Red-edged dracena.

Red-edged dracena.

In the 1980s, NASA spent two years studying the effects of houseplants on indoor air quality as a way to purify the air on its space facilities.

If it works in space, surely it will work on earth, right?

Here’s a list 12 of the plants NASA found to be effective. You probably already have one or more of them, because they’re easy to find and easy to grow. Plan to use one potted plant per 100 square feet of living space.

  • Aloe vera
  • Bamboo or reed palm
  • Chinese evergreen
  • English ivy
  • Golden pothos
  • Heartleaf philodendron
  • Peace lily
  • Snake plant
  • Spider plant
  • Red-edged dracena
  • Warneck dracena
  • Weeping fig

Now, aren’t you breathing easier?

Louisiana’s Best heat-tolerant perennials

Hot weather doesn't faze Rudbeckia Goldsturm. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Hot weather doesn’t faze Rudbeckia Goldsturm. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

It’s hard to find perennials that strut their stuff in the blazing heat of a Louisiana summer, but they do exist.

I asked Denyse Cummins and Dr. Joe White, both retired LSU AgCenter horticulturists,  for their heat-tolerant perennial recommendations. (Don’t run out and plant them now, though. Put them in next spring and come next summer you’ll be sitting pretty.)

Here’s what they said:

  • Goldsturm rudbeckia: A classic black-eyed Susan, this tough plant was named the Perennial Plant of the Year in 1999 and a Louisiana Select Plant in 2000. It bears masses of golden daisies with black cones that look great both in the landscape and in bouquets. Deadhead the flowers to encourage rebloom.
  • Ruellias: Also called Mexican petunias, these lavender flowers come in both dwarf and tall forms. Because they spread by both rhizomes and seeds, they can be invasive, especially in rich soil. The named dwarf form Katie is said to be less aggressive and was named a Texas Super Star. Bonus: Mexican petunias need no deadheading.
  • Salvia Victoria Blue

    Salvia Victoria Blue

    Salvias: Most perennial salvias are native to the Southwest, so heat doesn’t faze them. Colors can range from red to pink to blue to white, depending on the variety. Try autumn sage (Salvia greggii), mealy-cup sage (Salvia farinacea), Black and Blue salvia (Salvia guaranitica) or Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha). All prefer well-drained soil.

  • Agastaches: While these are not yet widely know, Denyse thinks they should be. Their pink, lilac or purple spike flowers lure butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.
  • Lantana


    Lantana: This old favorite makes a mound of foliage set off by clusters of flowers in yellow, white, orange, pink, red and purple, or often a mixture of several colors that change as the flower ages. There are dwarf, medium and huge varieties, so make sure you know which you have before you plant it. Lantanas are also known for attracting flying pretties to your garden.

“All perform very well in high heat from mid-summer into fall,” Denyse said. “A nice trick is to cut back the fading early summer-blooming agastaches, salvias and Goldsturm in midsummer and they’ll all rebloom.”

Louisiana’s Best: Annuals for mid-summer

Cheerful zinnias just keep on blooming. Photos by Kathie Rowell.

Cheerful zinnias just keep on blooming. Photos by Kathie Rowell.

How does your landscape look right now?

Having a beautiful flower bed in spring and early summer isn’t that hard. Like us, flowers look their freshest when temperatures are moderate and rainfall is plentiful.

But when the blast furnace of late summer arrives, most of us wilt. Luckily, there are some plants that can stand up to a summer scorching.

Here’s a list of Louisiana’s Best heat-tolerant annuals, recommended by retired LSU AgCenter area horticulturists Denyse Cummins and Dr. Joe White:

  • Dragonwing begonia.

    Dragonwing begonia.

    Begonias:  Yes, you see them everywhere, but there’s a reason. A reputation for blooming nonstop from April through hard frost deserves plenty of popularity points. Wax begonias, which usually grow about 8 to 12 inches tall, are mostly used as bedding plants and come in shades of red, pink and white, with either green or bronze foliage. They appreciate morning sun and afternoon shade, but the bronze-leafed varieties tend to have more sun tolerance. The popular Dragon Wing begonias, which can grow to 2 feet high or more, are well suited for containers and hanging baskets since their clusters of red or pink blooms cascade down from the foliage. Both varieties need regular water and fertilizer for peak performance. In late summer, when wax begonias begin to look ragged, they can be cut back and fertilized to stimulate new growth and blooms. When branches of Dragon Wings are past their prime, cut or snap off the canes at the base of the plant and fertilize to jumpstart new growth.

  • Caladiums: If you need something to light up the shady areas of your garden, caladiums are up for the challenge from spring to frost – as long as you remember to give them plenty of water. Caladiums offer dazzling color and pattern in their heart-shaped leaves, with contrasting veining and splashes of red, pink, white and green. Because caladiums are grown for their exotic foliage, it’s best to remove the insignificant flowers as soon as they form. Fertilize in mid-summer to keep them pumping out the leaves.
  • Cockscomb: For vivid color in the dead of summer, choose cockscomb, also known as celosia. With flower heads in hot shades of red, orange, yellow and pink, it fits right in. Blooming from summer through frost, cockscomb comes in two varieties: One produces feathery plumes, and the other makes flowers that look like – big surprise here  – cockscombs. Go easy on the fertilizer with these plants. And for the best show, mass plant them.
  • Gomphrena: Here’s another one that can take sun, heat and humidity and put on a show from summer through fall. Gomphrena bears loads of cloverlike blooms in red, pink, purple or white that make good dried flowers. Give it a drink during dry periods and fertilize it about every six weeks.
  • Marigolds: Chances are marigolds were among the first flowers you ever planted. That’s because their easy dispositions make them great for beginning gardeners. And their heat-loving ways make them great candidates to provide color in summer shades of yellow, cream, orange and rust. To keep them blooming, deadhead frequently. If your spring-planted marigolds get tired by mid-summer, plant new ones. Marigolds are among the rare flowers that can be planted from spring through fall.
  • Periwinkles.


    Periwinkles: These plants like heat so much they don’t even want to be planted until about May. Stick their toes in cool soil and they’ll reward your efforts by promptly dying. Ditto for putting them in poorly drained soil. Take care of these details and they’ll cover themselves in pink, white, red, lavender or coral flowers all the way to frost. Be aware, though, that periwinkles are susceptible to a type of aerial blight. Mulching helps deter it because it keeps soil from splashing onto leaves. New, disease-resistant varieties, such as Cora and Nirvana, are being bred as well.

  • Wave petunias: Up until the 1990s, petunias wouldn’t have made this list. They were known for lovely spring blooms and burning up when scorching weather arrived. That changed with the introduction of new varieties, such as the Wave series, bred for better garden performance. Wave petunias look great massed as bedding plants or in containers. Wherever you plant them, make sure they get plenty of sun and feed them about every month.
  • Zinnias: Is there anything more cheerful than a patch of zinnias? Well, maybe a bouquet of them on your desk to brighten up a long work day. Zinnias are tough sun lovers with the bonus of being super easy to grow from seeds. There are short ones perfect for bedding plants and tall ones that make great cut flowers. As a bonus, you can keep sowing zinnia seeds all the way through summer so you’ll always have fresh flowers on the way. Just make sure you put them in well-drained soil because they can’t abide wet feet.  To keep them bringing the blooms, deadhead regularly and feed them about every month.

What plants would you add to this list?


Blue Ridge flowers a vacation delight

Rhododendron (clockwise from top left), monarda and sage (maybe), black cohosh, spiderwort and wild hydrangea. Photos by Kathie Rowell.

Rhododendron (clockwise from top left), monarda and sage (maybe), black cohosh, spiderwort and wild hydrangea. Photos by Kathie Rowell.

We just got back from a vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains and were lucky enough to hit the rhododendron season. Here’s a glimpse of them and some of the other wildflowers we saw.

Vitex a source for summer color

Vitex makes a great patio tree. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

It’s not a butterfly bush.

It’s not a bottlebrush.

It’s not a crape myrtle.

But it is beautiful, super easy to grow and it’s to blooming all over Louisiana. After a brief rest, it will probably cover itself with flowers again later this summer. And if that’s not enough, the blooms are blue. What’s not to like?

Shoal Creek vitex is a Louisiana Super Star winner. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

Vitex have been a part of Southern landscapes for centuries, sending up pretty 5-to 7-inch, pale lavender bloom spikes. Modern varieties, though, have left pretty behind and are full-on gorgeous, with their bigger, bluer, more vivid flowers on 12-inch spikes. Their good looks and pleasing disposition led LSU AgCenter to name Shoal Creek vitex a 2011 Louisiana Super Plant and Texas A&M to award Texas Superstar status on Shoal Creek, LeCompte and Montrose Purple.

A native of southern Europe and western Asia, vitex is adapted to hot, dry climates, so you can check off that drought-tolerant requirement you added to your plant choices after recent droughtsl.  Vitex actually prefers dry soils so planting it in a sunny, well-drained spot is a good idea for best performance. Of course, as with most plants, that whole drought-tolerant deal doesn’t kick in until after its roots are well established. You’ll need to water young trees regularly through their first couple of years in the ground.

Did I say trees? Vitex is so accommodating it can be pruned into a small tree or grown as a massive shrub.  Your choice.

But no plant is perfect. Some gardeners say vitex seeds sprout too readily, creating a nuisance. Others say they’ve never had a problem.  I can’t be a judge because, although I want one, my yard is just too shady for one to thrive.

What do you say?  Prize or pest?


Sunflower Trail and Festival is June 17

Photos by Kathie Rowell.

Photos by Kathie Rowell.

Is there anybody who doesn’t smile when they see a sunflower?

On Saturday, June 17, sunflower lovers of all shapes and sizes will follow a two-lane highway through fertile farmland to the 19th annual Sunflower Trail and Festival in Gilliam.

They’ll enjoy thousands of blooming sunflowers and enjoy arts and crafts, food, entertainment, a photo contest and children’s activities.

sunflowers2Sponsored by the Red River Crossroads Historical Association, the festival is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Gilliam. But you can drive the trail at any time.

And bring something sharp. A highlight of the trail is the 60 acres of sunflowers planted on John Sloan’s Cairo Plantation on Sentell Road, which makes a horseshoe loop off Highway 3049. A rough path has been cut through the flowers and it’s OK to take some home with you.

So meander on up the road and take a look. Smiles are not optional.


Farmers markets focus on fresh

farmers mkt sign

Fresh produce is ripening in fields all around Northwest Louisiana.

And everybody knows fresh is best.

To get your share, check out these area farmers markets:

  • Shreveport Farmers’ Market: 7 a.m. to noon every Saturday except June 17, beginning June 3 through Aug. 26 at Festival Plaza, 101 Crockett St., Shreveport. Info: http://shreveportfarmersmarket.com.
  • Benton Farmers Market: noon to 4 p.m. Sundays through July 23 at Simpson Street Park, 495 Simpson St., Benton. Info: bentonlafarmersmarket.com.
  • Bossier City Farmers’ Market: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday through November on the Pierre Bossier Mall Parking lot, 2950 E. Texas St., Bossier City. Info: http://www.bossiercityfarmersmarket.com.
  • The Mall St. Vincent South Highlands Summer Market is open from 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays through July 7 on the Fairfield Avenue side of the Mall St. Vincent parking lot. Info: www.mallstvincent.com.
  • Cane River Green Market: 8m. to noon Saturdays through July 29 on the Natchitoches downtown riverbank. Info: www.crgm@natchitochesla.gov.
  • DeSoto Parish Farmers Market: 8 to 11 a.m. Saturdays through June 24 at the David Means Memorial 4-H Center, 10117 Highway 171, Grand Cane. Info: facebook.com/Desoto-Farmers-Market-427100894076189/?fref=nf.
  • Ruston Farmers Market: 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays through Aug. 12 in the public parking lot at 220 E. Mississippi Ave., Ruston. Info: http://www.rustonfarmersmarket.org.

Louisiana’s Best: Plants for deep shade


Among the shade-loving plants in retired LSU AgCenter horticulturist Denyse Cummins' former garden are false indigo, hydrangea, false Solomon's seal and bear's breeches. Photo courtesy of Denyse Cummins

Among the shade-loving plants in retired LSU AgCenter horticulturist Denyse Cummins’ former garden are false indigo, hydrangea, false Solomon’s seal and bear’s breeches. Photo courtesy of Denyse Cummins

Shade is no excuse.

Sure, a yard in deep shade won’t be a showplace for roses, and forget about growing tomatoes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a lovely garden.

“The choices for deep shade are endless,” said retired LSU AgCenter horticulturist Denyse Cummins.

Here are some of her picks:

  • Azalea: What would spring in the South be without azaleas? You can find cultivars that grow from dwarf to giant, so if you’ve got shade and acid soil, you can create a showplace.
  • Hydrangea: To me, nothing says Southern landscape better than big, billowy, blue hydrangeas. Pink ones are nice too.
  • Camellia: Both camellia japonica and camellia sasanqua give color to the landscape in the cool months of the year.
  • Silverbell: This native understory tree, which reaches 25 to 30 feet in height at maturity, bears small, bell-shaped white flowers in spring. While it’s not as showy as a dogwood, it’s not as finicky either.
  • False indigo: A low-growing ground cover with lacy leaves that bears pink clusters of flowers in spring. Can be aggressive.
  • Ferns: Even in the hottest weather , you can look at ferns and imagine it’s cooler. Pair them with white impatiens for even greater chill.
  • Acanthus: Also called bear’s breeches (don’t you love plant names?),this make a large plant with huge leaves and bears tall spikes of white or purplish flowers in spring.
  • Hellebores: Leathery evergreen leaves are attractive year round, but they’re at the best in winter and spring when they bear flowers in unusual colors like chartreuse  or white splotched with purple or rose.
  • Tiarella: Foam flowers have evergreen leaves and can serve as a groundcover because they have a tendency to spread. Spikes of white or pinkish flowers are borne in spring.
  • Strawberry begonia: Another good ground cover, strawberry begonia has scalloped, beautifully veined leaves year round and becomes even more attractive in the spring when loose clusters of flowers shoot up to form a haze of white.
  • Firespike: If you’re looking for a shade-loving plant that hummingbirds and butterflies can’t resist, try firespike. The plant grows into a large, airy shape and bears spikes of bright red flowers in late summer.
  •  False Solomon’s seal: This native looks great in a woodland setting. It bears 1 to 3-foot long arching stalks that feature creamy white flowers in spring and red berries in fall.