[Image: LSU AgCenter faculty testing soil in Jefferson and Orleans parishes]News Release Distributed 10/06/05
NEW ORLEANS – Will the grass come back and how long will it be before vegetable gardens can be planted were questions on the minds of LSU AgCenter faculty members who recently toured the New Orleans area.
LSU AgCenter horticulture agents, specialists and Master Gardeners joined staff from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry this week crisscrossing the area, taking soil samples at each stop and making notes of what they saw in Jefferson and Orleans parishes.
Dan Gill, a consumer horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter, said the group of people on the tour Tuesday (Oct. 4) shared knowledge of and a love for horticulture but each of them also was concentrating on a unique area of the work.
"I’m looking at the plant materials in the area, doing an assessment of the damage caused both by flooding and by wind," Gill said, adding, "We’ve gone to locations in Kenner where there was freshwater flooding to see some of the effects, and we’ve come into New Orleans to see affected areas where brackish water came in."
Gill said the brackish water – mildly salty water – came into the city from Lake Pontchartrain. He said he was looking to see if there were differences in the amount of damage done by freshwater flooding or brackish water flooding.
Throughout the flooded areas of the city, experts said there is clear evidence that some plants held up better than others.
LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Ginger Fortson of Jefferson Parish noted that many of the magnolia trees in the area had succumbed to the floodwater.
"I can’t tell if maybe the trees are from different stock or just why some in the same yard would be alive while others were clearly dead or dying," Fortson said.
Gill said the group’s assessment was of herbaceous plants, lawns, trees and shrubs. Their goal was to find out what survived, what tolerated the water and what didn’t.
"We’ll be able to use what we see here when people come back to their homes and have questions," Gill explained. "We will have seen what they’re talking about and will be in a better position to tell them what will survive or what needs to be removed because it didn’t survive."
Gill said the question he wants to answer is what effect the brackish water will have on various plants. He said plants that are adapted to fresh water normally can’t handle salt water, but brackish water is somewhere in between.
"Brackish means mildly salty, which is the case with Lake Pontchartrain as it’s fed by fresh water as well as salt water from the Gulf," Gill explained. "So it’s not nearly as salty as water in the ocean."
According to Gill, the information that’s being collected will be used in publications, news articles and bulletins that can be referred to in case of future storms.
LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Karen Blackburn of Orleans Parish worked closely with AgCenter horticulture professors Dr. Ed Bush and Dr. Jeff Kuehny, who were taking soil samples that will be tested for salt content as well as for other substances. Kuehny said the locations where the samples were taken were being mapped using the global positioning system.
"With the readings from the GPS system, we’ll be able to come back to the exact spot in the future to take samples for comparison," Kuehny said.
Blackburn, who works in the city, said there is a lot of devastation in New Orleans, but she also said there’s a lot of hope.
"People from New Orleans are deeply rooted here," Blackburn said, adding, "We had a lot of depressed areas with blighted housing that may have an opportunity now to become green space. So I see a good future for the city."
Overall, the horticulturists touring the area said there is a feeling of optimism. For example, Bush said there’s no way to know conclusive results until the soil is tested, but he said his personal opinion was optimistic.
"With a few rains to wash the salt out, this area should be in good shape by next spring," Bush said of his hopes for the area.
As for whether Bush’s hopes will prove true, Kuehny said the researchers will come back to the area later to take samples for comparison to the ones taken this week.
For additional information about flood and storm recovery, as well as information on topics ranging from home grounds and landscaping to food safety, visit www.lsuagcenter.com or contact your parish LSU AgCenter office.