“Groundwork” column for April 7, 2013

Looking for the perfect place to pick up a Mother’s Day gift, choose a hanging basket for a plant lover or an herb pot for the cook in the family? Then this year’s LSU AgCenter’s Master Gardener plant sale — Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. April 14 — is just the stop for you.

There will be amsonias, coleus, verbenas, torenias, day lilies, irises, cacti and succulents, angel trumpets, lantanas, hanging baskets, phlox, geraniums, sage and salvias, culinary herbs, firespike, purslane and buddleia to name a few.

To make your shopping experience easier, see photos of available plants at http://www.mgplantsale.com. It’s also advisable to bring along a wagon.

Children can visit the children’s booth and pot a plant to take home while you shop. It’s never too early to introduce gardening to your children and grandchildren. And homeowners with plant problems can consult at the Plant Health Clinic tent.

Here are some of my favorites from the wide assortment of plants being offered at the sale at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden, 4560 Essen Lane. Come early since many of the plant selections are limited in number.

Tricyrtis formosana Samurai is a variegated toad lily that loves Louisiana landscapes. It thrives in shady gardens rewarding the landscape with glossy green leaves bordered in yellow. As the plant awakens from winter dormancy, stems will gradually develop to a foot or more in height and the top third or half of the stem will bear flowers in each leaf axil in fall.

Easily propagate plants by digging and dividing in the fall or early spring. Plants also start easily from stem cuttings. Plants develop rhizomes that spread underground only to throw up a new plant a few inches from the mother plant.

A single plant will quickly transform a garden spot into a small patch of toad lilies. One caveat — never let the plants dry out. They love a consistently moist soil. If they ever dry out, the leaf margins will brown.

Succulents and cacti have always been an interest of mine since I was a youngster in Metairie. My first garden was a rock garden planted with a variety of these desert lovers. Unfortunately, our Louisiana rainfall limited my success and I moved on.

But my love for Haworthia, Stapelia (carrion flower), Euphorbia (crown of thorns), Crassula (jade plant), Sedum, Aloe (burn plant), Aeonium (desert rose), Echeveria (hen and chicks) and Bryophyllum (mother of thousands) has not diminished.

Many of these are planted in decorative pots and strawberry containers ready for instant enjoyment. What’s so great about succulents and cacti is that they require so little care.

A little water now and then is all they ask for. And what many don’t realize, they flower, some in small rosettes; others on flower spikes. This is one of the most diverse plant groups on Earth so I know you’ll find something that will interest you.

Lotus Parrot’s Beak is a new plant to me but this Proven Winner has great reviews and I can’t wait to see how it performs in the landscape. Though its genus name is Lotus, it is not related in any way to the lotus plant seen in aquatic gardens.

Parrot’s Beak develops a loose ground cover growth habit, some may call it semivining. It provides a wonderful cascade of grayish-green, fernlike foliage when planted in a container. Plants enjoy a well-drained soil and a full sun exposure.

Bloom period occurs in the spring and fall, when night temperatures range between 40 to 60 degrees. Vibrantly colored reddish-orange flowers, shaped like small lobster claws, will continue to develop as long as the plant receives cool night temperatures.

A staple in Southern gardens, or at least it should be, angel trumpets (Brugsmania) have provided needed structure in the herbaceous garden. Their supportive branches and large growing stature add a strong design element in the landscape.

Colorful and fragrant, plants flower prolifically summer to fall in colors of yellow, white, pink and peach; single and double; frilled and wavy.

The fragrant flowers are most enjoyed during early morning and evening hours, so plant where it will be most appreciated. A cold winter will kill plants to the ground but mild winters may only burn the leaves as occurred a few weeks ago.

Amsonia Blue Ice is a must if you are an LSU fan — well, if you can stretch the truth a bit. The dark blue flowers appear for three to four weeks in spring and the foliage turns a lovely shade of yellow during the fall (almost purple and gold).

The foliage of this native plant selection is deer-resistant. Clusters of very dark lavender blue flowers rise above the vigorous foliage in spring to welcome visitors into the garden.

After flowering, prune the plants to maintain a neat appearance. This is a perennial plant and will persist in the landscape growing larger each year. In short order plants will develop into beautiful 2-foot mounds of growth.

Mangave (Manfreda) Macho Mocha is an easy-to-grow, cold hardy plant that will surprise you with a 6-foot-tall flower spike which acts like a beacon for hummingbirds.

Plant one and basal suckers will allow you to share with friends in just a year or two. This plant was found in Mexico as a natural bi-generic cross between an Agave and Manfreda.

Plant in full sun to partial sun for best leaf coloration. New growth in spring is so heavily spotted with purplish-brown spots that you may think the plant is diseased but this is its natural coloration.

As leaves mature into summer, the color will fade. The leaves, though thick and substantial, are brittle, so plant in a container away from traffic or in the ground where it will quickly form a nice clump.

Torenia Kauai Mix gets its common name, Wishbone Flower, because inside newly opened flowers, a floral part, the stamens, are fused in the shape of a wishbone. As the flower ages, it naturally separates — but it’s also fun for kids to help this process along. Also called Clown Flower because of its vividly contrasting colors, look for purple, white and pink flowers to grace your shade garden.

Because of disease affecting one of our summer favorites, the impatiens, torenia is picking up the slack and is fast becoming a disease-free substitute for those who can’t grow impatiens, or who want to change or add to their plant selection. Torenia is your answer for a moist shady area where little else will grow and one of the few plants that will provide seasonlong flowers.

Got a gardening question? Write to Bob Souvestre, horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter, at Burden Center, 4560 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge, LA 70809, or email to bsouvestre@agcenter.lsu.edu, or call Master Gardeners at (225) 763-3990.