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How does your garden grow? 

Getting help for indoor and outdoor gardens

click to enlarge Succulents are low-maintenance house plants because they can store water in their fleshy stems, roots or leaves.

Succulents are low-maintenance house plants because they can store water in their fleshy stems, roots or leaves.

Unlike the easy, glamorous vision broadcast by DIY gardening shows, indoor and outdoor gardening require time and effort. However, most home gardeners aren't trying to grow prize-winning amaryllis, or attempting to create the newest genus of dahlia — we're just trying to not kill the supposedly indestructible tillandsia air plant we got from our office Secret Santa.

 Madeleine Perino, manager at Perino's Home & Garden Center, sympathizes with our garden woes, especially after the string of January freezes that left most outdoor gardeners with a wasteland of brown plants where green once reigned. Perino shares advice about starting and resuscitating indoor and outdoor gardens, and our green thumbs.


click to enlarge Sansevieria, or “snake plant,” can survive indoors with little to no water or sunlight. It’s also known as “mother-in-law tongue” because of its sharp, pointy leaves.
  • Sansevieria, or “snake plant,” can survive indoors with little to no water or sunlight. It’s also known as “mother-in-law tongue” because of its sharp, pointy leaves.

Indoor gardens

Indoor plants add texture and beauty to a room and improve air quality, but they can bring challenges as well.

Bugs:

New Orleans' humidity summons pests that can harm vegetation, both indoors and out.

 "English ivy is one of the most popular indoor plants," Perino says, "but it attracts spider mites, and every one of those plants usually gets them. It's hard to treat because (the mites) come back really fast."

 Fruit fly and whitefly infestations are common as well. Treat for insects as soon as they appear because pests can reproduce quickly in the controlled indoor climate.

Proper Pruning:

Pruning encourages new growth, so it's important to trim dead leaves and stems, especially with flowering plants.

 "With peace lilies ... and orchids, if you don't cut the stem once it finishes blooming, then it won't re-bloom, or it will take twice as long," Perino says.

 Smaller trailing plants such as pothos are easy and grow fast but tend to look leggy — frequent pruning will help the plant grow fuller. Don't worry if it seems like you're cutting off some healthy branches.

click to enlarge Gazanias are low-maintenance annuals that bloom in summer. They grow well in gardens and containers.
  • Gazanias are low-maintenance annuals that bloom in summer. They grow well in gardens and containers.

Watering:

Perino says overwatering is more common than underwatering, but plants can perish either way. If a plant smells like decay, it's likely been a victim of root rot, which is caused by overwatering. If the soil and leaves are so dry that the plant doesn't perk up when you do water it, its demise can be blamed on underwatering. Perino says to err on the side of underwatering, because that can be fixed by adding a little more water at a time. Root rot can't be reversed.

 "You need to be checking indoor plants once a week," she says. "In the summertime ... the sunlight is more intense, (so) the number of times you water may vary from season to season. In summer, it's maybe twice a week, whereas in winter it may be only once every 10 days."

Light exposure:

There's no single lighting solution for all indoor plants, so you should purchase plants based on the lighting scenario in your home. Western or southern sun is best, especially for young seedlings. Peace lilies will grow in any amount of light.

» Low light:

Sansevieria, also known as "snake plant" and "mother-in-law tongue," is virtually indestructible, Perino says, thriving on little to no light or water. Succulent plants are also very hardy, requiring low light and little water. Corn plants add height to a room — they can reach 7 feet tall — and also require low sunlight.

» Medium light:

For color, bromeliads and orchids are amenable house plants, needing medium to high light. Hibiscus also make good container plants, and even though they technically need high light to thrive, in the South's summery climate, they'll do well indoors in low to medium light.

» High light:

Ficus plants do well indoors. Perino says the ficus family's fiddle-leaf fig is a crowd pleaser because of its large, glossy leaves, but the plant needs really high light in order to thrive.

 Indoor plants can benefit from an annual fertilizer treatment. Perino recommends slow-release fertilizer pellets that have a six-month life span for both indoor and outdoor plants; if you want to fertilize your indoor flora twice a year, it won't hurt.


click to enlarge Delphiniums are perennials that bloom from late spring through summer. They prefer outdoor gardens.
  • Delphiniums are perennials that bloom from late spring through summer. They prefer outdoor gardens.

Outdoor gardening

After surveying the damage freezing temperatures levied on your gardens, it may be hard to believe there are plenty of cold-hardy plants that will tolerate New Orleans' sometimes unruly climate. Perino names azaleas, camellias, boxwood, cleyera and juniper, among others, and suggests Indian hawthorn and loropetalum for those looking for resilient shrub plants. Colorful winter annuals that can survive frigid temperatures are pansies, violas, snapdragons and petunias; the cold likely will burn the delicate flowers, but the plant will endure.

 "Whatever is brown is not coming back," Perino says. "Don't cut (it) back yet in case we have another freeze — you don't want it to be like an open wound. The safest bet would be to wait until the beginning of March. ... Some tropicals such as a ginger or a bird of paradise will need to be cut down to the ground, so it can grow back from the root."

 Hibiscus, agapanthus and other tropical plants may take months to flourish again. If there are no sprouts at all by the end of March, the plant may be beyond saving, especially if it was in a container. Topiaries such as eugenia and ferns also may have died.

 "In general, potted plants fared worse because the roots were above the ground and not protected from the freeze," she says. Freezes below 32 degrees necessitate protecting outdoor plants by either bringing them inside or covering everything, first with a frost cloth and then with plastic.

 As you begin clearing away the debris, Perino says it's important to decide whether to do a spring or a summer planting next. Start by pulling up any plants that you know are dead, replacing lost soil and putting down a fresh layer of mulch. If the weather report looks good, begin cutting back still-viable plants. Azaleas, however, shouldn't be cut back yet — Perino says snipping off dead flowers is OK, but the bushes are about to bloom and excessive trimming will stifle blossoms. Fertilize everything (up to three times a year), including the lawn, but be careful that lawn fertilizer doesn't get into the garden — weed-and-feed is too strong for plants.

click to enlarge cue-home-5.jpg

 "Things are starting to come back from the freeze, so we want to tell it to grow," Perino says. "It's time to give it some nutrition. ... (Plant feed such as) Miracle-Gro is fine, but you should use it in conjunction with a slow-release fertilizer. ... It's less work on your part to put down the granules and let five or six months go by before you need to do it again."



There's an app for that

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If your outdoor garden needs professional help, there's no shortage of businesses willing to come to your aid. But depending on the service a landscaping company is providing, it may need a very specific license to operate. If a company is doing routine gardening tasks like mowing the lawn or clearing garden debris, it doesn't need any special permitting. If an irrigation or fertilizing project is involved, the company must have a license issued by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF). These companies must have trained, licensed and insured employees to protect customers and their property.

 In January, Commissioner Mike Strain and the LDAF launched the LDAF Business Search app to help individuals verify whether a horticulturalist or landscaper has a valid license for services offered. Users also can use the app to file complaints against both registered and unregistered businesses.

 "Unlicensed or improper work by arborists is the most common problem," Strain says. "If there's an incident or an accident, you need to make sure that person is properly insured and bonded."

 Strain says there are 26 different licenses regulated by the LDAF, 10 of which are in the horticulture category.

 "We'd like to have it where (the app) connects to all our databases to help people with hiring any professional that we regulate," he says. "We're working hard to make it consumer-friendly, and to make all data accessible to the public."

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