By Heather Kirk-Ballard, LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Garden centers are full of color right now. Plants of all kinds — from annual and perennial bedding plants to flowering shrubs and flowering trees — are available to add to your landscapes.
But before you make your color selections, there are some spring gardening tasks you should take care of first so you can start with a clean slate.
First, pull out all of those winter weeds and remove any unsightly cold-damaged plants. Undoubtedly, when you remove those plants, you will remove a great deal of soil with them. You will need to replenish the soil or raised-bed mix to bring your beds back up.
Additionally, the plants you grew last year have no doubt used up the nutrients that were available, and those nutrients need to be replenished. Top off your beds with a mixture of raised-bed media and compost. This will add organic matter and nutrients back into the beds, bring them back to the appropriate levels (8 to 12 inches) and prepare the bed for your next plant selections.
This provides a great opportunity to incorporate some organic matter back into your beds with compost. You can use homemade compost made from kitchen scraps such as vegetable peelings, eggs and coffee grounds combined with leaves, or you can purchase manure composts containing an assortment of manures from cows, sheep, horses and chickens.
In addition to homegrown compost or composted manures, another option is worm castings — also known as vermicast or, affectionately, worm poop. In addition, mushroom compost is available. We depend on these little fungi for decomposition, and in return, they provide organic matter and make nutrients available to plants. Many of these options are readily available at garden centers.
Next is the fun part: selecting plants. Choose the right plant for the right place. Be aware of the amount of sunlight the area gets and be sure the area gets adequate water with good soil drainage.
When choosing plants, consider selections in the LSU AgCenter Louisiana Super Plants program. This year’s warm-season bedding plant selections are the Beacon impatiens series and the Suncredible Yellow sunflower. Both were top performers in field trials at the Hammond Research Station.
Beacon impatiens do best in shaded areas. There’s no need to be envious of your neighbors with all that sun and color. You can have color in the shade too with impatiens. Other Super Plant selections for shade are BabyWing begonias, compact varieties from the SunPatiens series and the Kauai torenia series.
If you’ve got an area that is blazing with full sun all day, the Suncredible yellow sunflower is just the plant for you. This is an ever-blooming sunflower that is best suited toward the back of the bed because it gets some height. They make great cut flowers, and the pollinators just love them. If you enjoy yellow sunflowers, this one will not disappoint.
2020 marked the 10th anniversary of Louisiana Super Plants. This program is an educational and marketing campaign that highlights tough and beautiful plants that perform well throughout the state of Louisiana. Each spring and fall, AgCenter horticulturists announce new Super Plants selections.
Super Plants have a proven track record with many years of reliable performance in Louisiana landscapes or have gone through several years of university evaluations and observations. Look for these plants at local nurseries.
You can find a complete list of Super Plants selections along with information about each plant on the LSU AgCenter website at www.lsuagcenter.com/superplants. Below are all of the warm-season bedding plant selections grouped by growth habit and area.
Flowers for shade:
— BabyWing begonia series.
— Beacon impatiens series.
— SunPatients, compact varieties.
— Kauai torenia series.
— Little Ruby alternanthera.
— Henna coleus.
— Flamethrower coleus series.
— Fireworks pennisetum.
Plants with flowers that attract pollinators:
— Serena angelonia series.
— Serenita Raspberry angelonia.
— Intenz Classic celosia.
— Senorita Rosalita cleome.
— Mesa gaillardia series.
— Luna hibiscus series.
— Evolution Violet salvia farinacea.
— Evolution White salvia farinacea.
— Flutteryby Tutti Fruitt buddleia.
— Butterfly pentas series.
— Lucky Star pentas series.
— Bandana lantana series.
Ground covers and border plants:
— Homestead Purple verbena.
— Lemon sedum.