In the gardening world, “spring fever” is that time of the year when gardeners flock to nurseries in droves to buy flowers, shrubs, trees and other types of plants by the truckload. During that time, a frenzy of planting takes place, and the nurseries are crowded most weekends.
In Louisiana, spring fever generally shows up in late March, accelerates through April and finally begins to diminish as the heat of summer moves in around mid- to late May. Ask any local retail nursery manager when the busiest time of the year is, and I think they will agree.
The question is, do you have to follow the masses and wait until then to purchase and plant your trees, shrubs and flowers? And the answer is no. A great deal of planting can be done in January and February. Hardy trees, shrubs and flowers are not bothered by the cold of winter, so that is not a concern. In fact, there are very good reasons for you not to wait.
Louisiana celebrates Arbor Day on the third Friday of January each year. That date was chosen because January is a superb month to plant trees here. If you are thinking about planting a shade tree or a small flowering tree, there is absolutely no reason for you to wait until April.
Trees planted now have more time to settle in and make root growth before the intense heat of summer begins to stress them, and so they have a real advantage over trees planted later. In addition, selecting trees for your landscape is a serious decision that requires careful and thoughtful consideration on what tree would be the best choice. You don’t want to make a mistake and plant a tree with characteristics that become a problem in future years, like growing too large.
When spring fever hits and people throng the nurseries, the staff is often overwhelmed, and you are lucky if you can get a quick question answered – like “Where are the trees?” Stop by your local nursery now when traffic is relatively slow, and you will have a much easier time asking the questions you need to ask about trees you are considering. And the staff will have time to talk to you without rushing on to other customers who have questions.
When it comes to selecting trees, do your homework. It’s a really good idea to check appropriate references, LSU AgCenter pamphlets and Internet sites with information that applies to our area to get an idea of which trees to consider. Never purchase and plant a tree before you at least find out how tall and wide it will be when mature.
Information about trees also applies to shrubs. This is a great time to plant hardy shrubs in Louisiana. Some shrubs, such as camellias, are even blooming now, and you can select types with the color and type of flower you want. Shrubs also benefit from planting now so they can become somewhat established before summer.
Again, consider the characteristics shrubs need to have. and carefully asses the growing conditions in the area where they’ll be planted. This information is critical for a professional to provide suggestions of which plants would be suitable for you to choose from.
If you have an area you have been intending to plant with a ground cover, such as creeping lily turf (Liriope spicata), mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) or Asian jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum), prepare the area and plant now. Don’t forget to mulch around the plants to encourage spreading and control weeds while the ground cover plants fill in.
One of the frustrations of the spring fever season comes when gardeners see incredibly beautiful beds of pansies, petunias, snapdragons, dianthus, alyssum and other cool-season bedding plants blooming lavishly in April. Wanting to duplicate the riot of color in their own gardens, people head out to the nurseries and purchase large numbers of these cool-season plants.
Unfortunately, they are doomed to fail in their attempts to recreate the bountiful floral display. The cool-season bedding plants that put on the best display in late March, April and early May were planted much earlier. Savvy gardeners know that a fall planting of cool-season bedding plants produces the most spectacular display in the spring.
If you have not yet planted your cool-season bedding plants, I have great news. Cool-season bedding plants planted in late January or early February will still produce lots of colorful flowers for your spring gardens. The display will be far more attractive and last longer – more bang for your buck – than cool-season plants planted in April. Really, by the time we hit late March and April, it’s time to focus on warm-season bedding plants.
So, head out to the nurseries in your area over the next few weeks to look over what they have and purchase and plant hardy trees, shrubs, ground covers and cool-season bedding plants. When spring fever hits and the nurseries are swamped with customers, you can sit back, sipping on a glass of iced tea and admiring all the planting you’ve already accomplished.
Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu