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Archives for February 2, 2017

This week’s gardening tips: remove unattractive foliage, plant bulbs and potatoes

To remove unattractive foliage, rejuvenate the plants and control growth, you can clip ground covers back now through February before new growth appears. Liriope, monkey grass, wedelia, Japanese ardisia and Asiatic jasmine, among others, can be cut back with a string trimmer, hedge clippers or a lawn mower adjusted to its highest setting.

If you purchase pots of spring-flowering bulbs in bloom, it is best to discard them after they finish flowering. Some exceptions would be amaryllis, paperwhites, daffodils and other narcissi. These can be planted into the garden when the flowers fade. Wait until April to plant amaryllis in your yard.

Now is a good time to dig, divide and transplant dormant hardy perennials. Do not dig and divide any perennials that are in active growth now, such as Louisiana irises, calla lilies, Easter lilies, acanthus and spring-flowering bulbs.

Plant Irish potatoes into the garden now through mid-February. Cut seed potatoes (available at nurseries or feed stores) into pieces about the size of an egg. Make sure each piece includes at least one eye. Allow the cut seed pieces to heal a few days, then plant them into well-prepared beds about 12 inches apart and 4 inches deep. Harvest generally takes place in May. Red LaSoda (red) and Kennebec (white) typically are the most readily available, and both produce well here.

Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter.

Love to read about gorgeous gardens? Sign up for’s online home and garden newsletter for Dan Gill’s latest tips and stories about local landscapes. It’s free. Click here. And while you’re at it, head over to the’s New Orleans Homes and Gardens page on Facebook.

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Gardening Tips: Avocados main ingredient for Super Bowl snacking

As we approach Superbowl Sunday, some of us are thinking about an interesting fruit — a single-seeded berry, actually — that is the avocado.

Of course, this fruit is the main ingredient in the tasty snack guacamole. If you are hosting or attending a Superbowl party, I highly recommend this tasty alternative to many snacks that are far less healthy, such as most cheese dips or any dip containing mostly mayonnaise.

Guacamole is made from mashed, ripe avocados mixed with any of several different ingredients such as sea salt, onion, tomatoes, lime or lemon juice, jalapeno or cayenne pepper and, my favorite, cilantro.

The resulting dip or spread is relatively high in calories at about 234 per cup, or roughly one whole avocado. More than 80 percent of those calories are derived from fat, but the fat is unsaturated and considered to be quite healthy.

Alligator pears, as avocados are sometimes called, are considered to be a very heart-healthy food and contain at least 20 different vitamins and minerals.

Two medium-sized fried chicken wings with the skin on contain about the same number of calories as 1 cup of avocado, but lack most of the other healthy stuff found in the fruit. Chicken fat, or the oil used to fry the wings, is also high in saturated fat.

Botanically known as Persea americana in the Laurel family, avocados are native to south central Mexico, but are widely cultivated in most sub-tropical regions all around the world.

Mexico is the world’s largest producer of avocados with about 400,000 acres yielding 1.5 million pounds a year. About 60,000 acres yield the fruit in southern California — 92 percent of which are in San Diego County. I was surprised to learn it is the official fruit of California — I would have guessed oranges!

At least six different cultivars are commercially grown, with many shapes ranging from small pears and oval-shaped to large, almost round, fruit the size of a grapefruit.

The cultivar Hass, named after the man who patented it back in the 1930s, now accounts for 80 percent of all production. His single, original tree, from which all others are derived, died in 2002.

This is the variety most of us see in our local supermarkets. The fruit mature on the tree, but are picked when still hard and green and allowed to ripen in transport or at the market.

I am fortunate to have a friend here in Florida named Willy who grows a local variety commonly called the Florida avocado. These fruit are much larger than Hass avacados with green skin, versus speckled, black skin. They are also lower in fat and calories, but in my opinion they are just as tasty! This may be because I can harvest these local fruit in the almost ripe stage, which could never be shipped.

The trees Willy has growing are at least 50 feet tall and just as wide and spreading. He picks them with a long-handled pole with a basket designed specifically for this task.

Like coconuts, this is not a fruit you would want to fall and hit you on the head. The trees are majestic and beautiful to look at and produce fruit almost year-round.

Sadly, Willy has lost many of his avocado trees to the deadly fungal disease Laurel wilt, which is spread by non-native insects called ambrosia beetles. There are pesticides recommended to kill the beetles and suppress the disease, but Willy uses no pesticides in his grove. Consequently, he has lost most of his grapefruit and at least half of his other citrus to another deadly disease called greening.

I will have more to say about this disease as I continue to enjoy my Florida lifestyle. It is wonderful to be able to enjoy truly fresh fruit and vegetables even in the dead of New York’s wintertime.

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7 Seed-Starting Tips for Smarter Indoor Gardening

Spring is just around the corner. I repeat, spring is just around the corner. Can you believe that winter is already almost over? Do you know what that means? It means we’ll get more sunshine (and maybe even some more rain) and it will be time to really starting digging into our spring garden plans!

Indoor gardening is just the start

Just because we still have a month and a half to go until spring arrives doesn’t mean we can’t get started on our spring gardens now. If you can get a jump-start on planning your spring garden, you can actually reduce your gardening costs.

How, you ask? I have one simple answer for you: indoor gardening.

It is so much more affordable to start a garden from seeds than from seedlings if you know what you’re doing. Seeds are far less expensive and easier to come by, too. Plus, you can buy them any time of year and store them until you’re ready to use them. Try doing that with seedlings!

Image Credit - Grigoriev Ruslan/Shutterstock

Indoor gardening can be incredibly rewarding. Photo: Grigoriev Ruslan/Shutterstock

While I grew up planting seeds directly into the ground in our garden because we lived in a very temperate climate, I live in a much colder climate now with a much shorter growing season. That means we have to start our garden from seedlings or start our seeds indoors so we can transplant them once the weather is warm enough. There is no other option in many parts of the country.

If you haven’t started seeds indoors for your garden before, it’s so easy! And you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that you used green gardening practices from the start. You won’t have to worry about accidentally buying plants that were sprayed with neonicotinoids or started with GMO seeds, either.

Indoor gardening can be incredibly rewarding. The satisfaction you get from growing a garden from seed is tremendous. Just seeing the food on your plate grow from a seed to a nourishing meal is very rewarding. It’s a great lesson for kids to learn where their food really comes from, too!

Ready to try out indoor gardening once and for all and start your seeds? Give these seven tips for starting seeds indoors a try.

1. Choose Organic, Open-Pollinated Heirloom Seeds

If you’re going to the trouble of growing your own food, you also want to make sure you’re choosing seeds that are sustainable. By choosing organic seeds, you’re choosing seeds that never encouraged the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides. By choosing open-pollinated heirloom seeds, you’re ensuring that you can save seeds and use those seeds to start your garden in years to come. Seeds from hybridized plants can’t be saved, so if sustainability is a concern for you, steer clear.

2. Select Your Seed-Starting Containers

Woman planting seeds for indoor gardening

Containers and soil make a big difference when it comes to indoor gardening. Do your homework. Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

There are so many different seed-starting containers to choose from! You can make your own upcycled seed starters or you can buy something premade from your local gardening store. No matter which way you go, you’ll want to make sure that excess water can drain from the container. You’ll also want to consider where you’ll keep your seed-starting containers. If it’s somewhere that can be water damaged, you’ll want to choose a method that will reduce that risk.

3. The Right Soil Does Make a Difference

You can definitely find very cheap soil — many dollar stores even carry potting soil this time of year. However, if you want your seeds to germinate and turn into beautiful plants, you are better off choosing a quality soil. Quality seed-starting mixes are designed to reduce the risk of your seedlings succumbing to rot from soil-borne pathogens. A good soil mixture will also retain water and allow airflow at the same time. Consider those factors when choosing your soil.

4. Make Sure Your Plants Get Enough Light

During the winter months in some locations, getting enough light can be a real challenge. You typically can’t get enough light from windows during the winter months. Once your seeds have germinated and your plants have sprouted, they’ll need adequate light to continue their growth. You can use supplemental lighting in your house where you keep your seedlings. Fluorescent lights work well and don’t cost a fortune to run.

Another option is to keep your seedlings on a rolling cart in the garage. Every morning, you roll them out into the sunshine. Then every evening, you roll them back inside. Not only will this ensure they’re getting enough sunlight, but it will keep them from the frigid nighttime temperatures.

5. Don’t Forget the Nutrition!

While your soil mixture may start with enough nutrients in it, your hungry little seedlings will quickly consume them. Once that happens, you will need to add nutrients to your soil if you want the seedlings to thrive. You can absolutely buy some wonderful soil nutrients, but you can also make your own! According to this source, you can even make your own liquid soil nutrients for free. Making your own fertilizer tea is a great way to make your garden even more sustainable and affordable.

6. Keep Your Seedlings Toasty and Warm

Seeds need warmth to sprout. It’s that warmth combined with the moisture and light that triggers a seed to sprout. If you’re using a fluorescent light to give your seedlings light, that should be enough warmth. If, however, it still seems frigid in the area where you keep your seedlings, you can buy a seedling heat mat that you place under the plants to keep them warm. Keep in mind that you’ll want the temperature to be around 75 degrees for several hours of the day. You’ll also want the temperature to go up or down around 10 degrees each day, too. This ensures that the seeds will germinate and thrive.

7. Set a Timer for Best Results

If you have trouble remembering to turn on and off your lights or seedling warmth mat, then use a timer! You can set a reminder on your phone each day if that works for you. Better yet, you can get timers that plug into the wall just like a surge protector. Then you plug the light or seedling mat into the timer and set the hours you want it to run. The timer does all the work for you — the light or mat gets turned on and off at the time you designated.

Are you an indoor gardening guru with great seed-starting tips? What can you share?

Feature image Alena Brozova/Shutterstock

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10 tips to get your garden ready for spring

It doesn’t seem possible, but we’re already half way through winter. There hasn’t been nearly enough time to catch up on reading, or snooze away lazy days by the fireplace, and yet I’m already worried that the pruning tools need sharpening and new seeds must be ordered soon.

Plus, who knows what Mother Nature has up her sleeve? March 20 is the first calendar day of spring, but warm weather might come early this year.  It seems plausible, especially since the swelling flower buds of my Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) look like they could burst into bloom any day now.

If you’re feeling the pressure, like I am, here are 10 tips to get ready for the warm season just ahead.

Check Vegetable Seeds: If you’re counting on seeds left over from previous years, take note that their germination rate can vary based on species, variety, and storage conditions.  The seeds of carrots, onions, and lettuce, for example, don=t keep nearly as well as those with hard coats, such as peas and okra.  To avoid disappointment, always start with a fresh supply.

Wait to Work Soil: It can be hard to hold off when you’re ready to get started in the garden, but avoid working the soil when it’s wet.  Turning soil containing enough moisture to form a ball when you squeeze it together in your hand can form clumps that are impossible to break apart once they dry.

Start Seeds Indoors: Get a jump on the growing season by starting some seeds indoors.  To begin, fill a well-draining container with sterile seed-starting mix and set it in water until it’s moist, then spread seeds evenly across its surface.  Large seeds should be pressed into the soil and medium seeds should be lightly covered.  Tiny seeds should remain on top, but have good contact with the soil.  If light is required for germination, move the container to a sunny area; if darkness is called for, cover it with newspaper. Soil should be kept moist.  Transplant into small individual containers once plants have developed true leaves, and grow them on (under lights as necessary) until all danger of frost is past and they can be hardened off and planted in the garden.

Build a Biodegradable Cold Frame: Put together a cold frame for hardening off seedlings in a matter of minutes by arranging bales of straw into a rectangle (or other shape) and cover its opening with reclaimed windows.  When the job is done, recycle the straw as mulch and store the widows for future use.

Prune Ornamental Grasses: Remember to prune ornamental grasses before new growth begins, or you risk nicking the tops of new shoots and marring their beauty for the rest of the year.  When cutting tall grasses such as pampas grass and maiden grass, the job will be easier if you use twine to bundle the blades together before you begin.  Cut short grasses, such as mondo and liriope, with a lawn mower raised to its highest setting.

Renew Fruit Trees: If you grow tree fruits such as apples, pears, plums, or peaches, prune out crossing or damaged branches and remove any mummies, as these old fruits could be filled with spores that spread fungal diseases.  If fertilizer is needed, apply it sparingly. Too much food can cause excessive vegetative growth and poor fruit set, and make the trees more susceptible to a variety of ills. 
Treat for Scale:
Examine camellias, euonymous, and other plants susceptible to scale infestation, and spray with horticultural oil as necessary.  Treatment is most effective when applied during spells of warm weather, but before spring leaves emerge.  For effective control, remember to spray the underside of leaves, as well as tops.

Prune the Right Shrubs at the Right Time: Late winter is a good time to prune some shrubs, but not others.  You can cut back those grown for foliage and those that bloom in very late summer or fall now, or in the next several weeks, but wait to prune shrubs that bloom in the first 6 months of the year until just after their flowers fade.  In other words, keep clippers away from away from camellias, daphne, rhododendrons, azaleas, gardenias, French hydrangeas, or any other shrubs that bloom before mid-summer.

Groom Lenten Roses: As soon as new foliage begins to emerge on Lenten roses and other hellebores, you can safely remove old and tatty leaves.  Then, renew the plant=s energy with a good soil amendment, such as mushroom compost, worm castings, or rotted leaf mold.  If you failed to lime in the fall, do this now too, as these plants like a soil pH that is close to neutral.

Plan for Nesting: Mating pairs of birds will soon be scouting for homes, so clean birdhouses and then, using a 10% bleach to water solution, scrub them with a firm brush, rinse, and let them dry before rehanging.  Whenever possible, mount houses on a slender pipe or pole, as trees and fences provide easy access to predators, and face them towards an open space with a tree or shrub within reach of young birds.

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5 garden tips for the week starting Jan. 28

Declare war on weeds

It’s no fun, but we’ve been putting off this job almost too long now. It’s time to tackle those weeds whether we want to or not. They’re starting to produce seeds, so we had better get them out of the garden now. It will reduce our workload in the future, and besides that, once they’re gone, it’s amazing how much better we’ll feel.

Deciduous fruits

Don’t wait any longer to plant deciduous fruits, such as grapes, apples, apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, boysenberries and any other varieties that drop their leaves in winter. Watch out for withered stems, however, which could weaken the plants’ growth or even cause premature death. Select plants with a plump (not shriveled) trunk. Hold off on planting citrus and avocados until March, just in case Mother Nature throws in a late freeze in the next few weeks.

Pruning time

Prune old flower heads off of hydrangeas. Remove the upper third of each stem along with the dead flowers, but don’t cut any lower if you want good blooms this spring. The best new blooms come on growth that arises from last year’s healthy stems. To get the largest possible blossoms, reduce the number of flower stems. Otherwise you’ll get more numerous blooms of moderate size.

Rose care

Feed and mulch established roses now, if you haven’t already done so. Use any balanced plant food high in phosphorus (such as 10-10-10 or 16-16-16). Spread a quarter cup of Epsom salts around each mature rose plant to boost vigor and flowering. Add a 3-inch layer of organic mulch or plant a “living mulch” (a groundcover) under roses to conserve moisture and optimize plant performance.

Harvest time

If you were able to wait until now, Satsuma tangerines are wonderfully sweet and ready to harvest. Although tangelos taste pretty good now, a few more weeks will render them even sweeter. Grapefruit is still a bit too puckery, but Washington and Robertson navel oranges couldn’t be better. Harvest these gems as you need them, leaving the little green “star” on the fruit as you cut it off the tree with pruning clippers. Citrus stores best on the tree — because it stops ripening once picked — and holds longest after picking if the “star” stays on.

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