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News Release Distributed 12/23/13
By Allen Owings
LSU AgCenter horticulturist
HAMMOND, La. – Happy New Year! It is time for new projects, new resolutions and making plans for another gardening season in Louisiana. We may not realize how fully blessed we are in this great state to be able to grow some of the landscape plants that are available to us.
For this new year, make plans to spend more time gardening, landscape and planting. It also fits in well with those weight loss and exercise plans.
A resolution we need to consider for 2014 is to do soil testing. Most of us have no idea what our soil pH is in our landscape beds and home lawns. Soil pH, simply put, is a measure of soil acidity. A soil pH of 7 is considered neutral while a soil pH below 7 is acid and a soil pH above 7 is considered alkaline or basic.
Most ornamental plants we grow in Louisiana prefer a slightly acid soil. Azaleas, blueberries, gardenias and camellias prefer an even more acid soil – normally in the 5.5 range. When considering lawns, centipede grass likes acid soil while St. Augustine grass prefers neutral to slightly alkaline soil. Soil pH is raised by adding lime and lowered by adding sulfur, but these additions should always be based on the results of a soil test
The best way to know your soil’s acidity is through a soil test. Now is a great time to take a soil sample to get analyzed through the LSU AgCenter’s Soil Testing and Plant Analysis Lab in Baton Rouge for $10 per sample. You can find information and obtain forms here or visit your parish AgCenter extension office for assistance.
In the next month, we also need to properly prune crape myrtles. There is almost no better horticultural resolution to make. Prune crape myrtles by removing interior wood, also called thinning. Do not prune crape myrtles by doing height-reduction pruning or “topping” method that is unfortunately so prevalent these days. Pruning this way does not encourage more blooms, contrary to public opinion, and the natural growth habit and beauty of this great plant is lost.
Control weeds in 2014. A little bit of time hand weeding landscape beds goes a long way in preventing weeds long term. Use mulch. Pine straw is an excellent mulch material for weed suppression. Use 2 inches on flowers, 3 inches on shrubs and 4 inches around trees. You can also use pre-emergent herbicides in landscape beds 2-3 times annually. Excellent products are Preen and Amaze. Read the label prior to application. These products are safe for you to use and safe for plants in existing beds.
Try some new plants in 2014. We have mentioned Louisiana Super Plants before. Some are new to some people, but they have a proven track record of being excellent landscape performers in Louisiana. Our next selection of Louisiana Super Plants will debut this spring. Be on the lookout.
Attending gardening events is always fun. It is a great way to see what is going on and to visit with other gardeners and check out plant vendors. Not to mention, almost every garden show has great educational presentations. The LSU AgCenter has garden shows, garden days and like events in Hammond, Baton Rouge, Covington, Houma, New Orleans and may other places around the state. Locate those near you and attend.
Best wishes for 2014 from the horticulture faculty and staff at the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station and around the state.
You can see more about work being done in landscape horticulture by visiting the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station website. Also, like us on Facebook. You can find an abundance of landscape information for both home gardeners and industry professionals at both sites.