The LSU AgCenter will soon trumpet the newest additions to the Louisiana Super Plant list, and professor Allen Owings of the Hammond Research Station says they should be available in nurseries in the coming weeks.
“The Mesa series gaillardia should be available by the end of this month, followed by the rabbiteye blueberry in the first two weeks of October,” Owings said. “Now is a great time to plant them.”
Ever since the fall of 2010, scientists at the AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station have issued semi-annual lists of plants that thrive in the tough testing environments concocted by researchers.
The goal of the testing? To highlight new and underutilized plants that perform well in the Louisiana climate and to diversify the home garden’s plantings.
Twenty-eight plants have been identified thus far, each after undergoing a demanding two-year trial (see the complete list at www.lsuagcenter.com).
According to Owings, Mesa gaillardia (also known as blanket flower) is a native Louisiana perennial that blooms in peach, yellow and bi-colored blossoms.
Mesa yellow, an All-America Selections winner, flowers profusely in yellow with red markings.
The plant grows in compact mounds about 16 inches tall and 20 inches wide and produce daisy-like flowers about 3 inches in diameter.
When blooming ends, a globe-shaped seed head forms and provides additional interest.
Butterflies are attracted to the nectar of the flowers and other beneficial insects and pollinators (such as bees) also flock to the plant.
Despite the heat and humidity, Mesa gaillardia thrives during the summer months and flowers all season long, especially when planted in full sun and a well-drained bed.
Likewise, the plant can handle cold weather and may even bloom throughout winter months if temperatures are mild enough.
For an attractive bed, Owings suggests planting Mesa gaillardia with companion plants, including Diamonds Blue delphinium, Swan columbine, Amazon dianthus, Camelot foxglove and sorbet violas (all of which are previously designated Louisiana Super Plants).
When planted in a container, he notes, Mesa gaillardia can cascade over the side, making a stunning display.
The rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei) is the second named Louisiana Super Plant for fall, 2014. Rabbiteyes serve two purposes in the garden: First, they bear delicious edible fruit over the summer; second, they perform well as ornamental shrubs, bearing small white flowers in spring and exhibiting fall color before dropping their leaves heading into winter.
Rabbiteyes are native to Louisiana and are the best-performing blueberries in the regional climate, reliably bearing fruit from late May to early July, as long as they are planted in acid soil (a pH of 4.5 to 5.5) and full sun.
They require cross-pollination to set fruit, so it is important to plant more than one variety for best fruit yield.
More good news: Rabbiteye blueberries require very little in the way of maintenance and are virtually pest- and disease-free.
Left to grow naturally, rabbiteye blueberry bushes can grow up to 6 feet wide and 8 feet tall, but can be hedged to keep them at a lower height as long as pruning occurs just after the summer harvest is complete, as pruning too late risks reducing the next year’s harvest.
According to Owings, the most popular varieties include Tifblue, Brightwell, Premier and Climax. The fruit-bearing season can be extended by planting an early season variety such as Brightwell with a mid- to late-season performer such as Tifblue.
Contrary to what some gardeners may think, fall is the best season for planting in Louisiana, followed by winter, then spring.
“Everyone wants to plant in the spring because they get immediate gratification, but fall is when we recommend planting Super Plants and anything else,” Owings said.
“What you want to do is encourage good root growth and in the fall, all of their energy can go into root growth since they don’t flower as much or put out as many new shoots,” he said.
“If you wait until the spring, plants will have only a short period of time to establish a root system before the heat of summer sets in.”
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at email@example.com