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Dream away the winter nights with seed catalogues. 

January brings cold, sodden weather to our area, and while we are more fortunate than most parts of the country, our gardens can look dreary this time of the year.

Not so coincidentally, seed companies and nurseries mail out their catalogs around this time, offering many temptations and colorful, glossy pages full of the promise of spring.

Seed catalogs are free. If you'd like to get on a mailing list, it's as simple as going online, googling "seed catalog" and signing up for one. We've found that once you're on one or two mailing lists, the catalogs multiply rapidly in your mailbox.

But ordering the right varieties and best plants for our area (zones 9a-10) can really be a challenge. Not everything for sale will thrive in our steamy, challenging conditions. The New Orleans area has pest and disease problems that don’t exist elsewhere. And our high humidity and frequent rain take a toll on some more delicate plants.

That's not all. Nurseries up north may not be ready to ship items when it is the proper time to plant them here. For example, the LSU AgCenter recommends planting your strawberries for spring in October and November. Nurseries in other parts of the country will not have stock available to ship until it is much too late for us to plant for a good crop.

Several local nurseries offer items at the proper time, so shop locally first if possible. Locally owned nurseries should be carrying varieties that are proven in our area. (Some big box stores sell plants on a regional level, including varieties that aren't appropriate for New Orleans. Be sure to check the LSU AgCenter Home Orchard publication for the best varieties of fruiting plants for our area.)

Seed catalogs can be overwhelmingly full of choices. Most have detailed information for each variety, including best growing range, days until harvest or maturity and acronyms for disease or pest resistance. Many use symbols to note suitability as a container plant, cut flower or pollinator. Often the key to these symbols is in the front of the catalog near the USDA Hardiness Zone Map, which has been recently updated.

When shopping for vegetable seeds, be sure to check the free Louisiana Vegetable Growing Guide, updated yearly based on field trials. The guide is available as a free PDF at lsuagcenter.com.

To subscribe to the GNO Gardening Newsletter, email gnogardening@agcenter.lsu.edu

Q: I moved a few plants indoors for the winter, including some tropical houseplants and my hibiscus tree. Lately I’ve noticed tiny bugs covering the hibiscus. They don’t fly, but they seem to be attracting ants. What are they and how do I safely get rid of them? –Debbie

A: Debbie, it sounds like your hibiscus has an aphid infestation. Luckily, these guys are easy to control. The ants are attracted to the honeydew, which the aphids secrete while they feed. The ants are essentially “farming” the aphids. Pretty neat! If you get rid of the aphids the ants will leave also. To kill the aphids, use an insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Since you are just treating one plant, use a small handheld spray bottle to mix up a batch, following the instructions on the packaging. Both of these products are available at most garden centers and are easy and safe to use. – Anna Timmerman

Joe Willis and Anna Timmerman are LSU AgCenter agents. Questions? Email agcenter@theadvocate.com.