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Research to benefit Louisiana iris producers
08:07 PM CDT on Saturday, October 9, 2004
By KATHERINE KELLY GILBERT
The Houma Courier
CHACAHOULA, La. — Rustella "Rusty" Ostheimer has been raising Louisiana
irises since 1963 and doing so commercially since 1983.
Each spring, her field of 500 or so irises — some old varieties, some
hybrids — blooms across a four-acre field in Chacahoula.
"It's like a sea of color," she said, with nearly every color imaginable
gracing the landscape. The beauty inspires Ostheimer to welcome visitors
to the garden in May to see their splendor and has resulted in her making
a number of friends. "It's amazing."
But when Ostheimer's husband, Ed, died a couple of years ago, she lost not
only her gardening partner, but a business partner as well. The two
operated Bois d'Arc Gardens, their Louisiana iris field.
She feared the workload would be too heavy to bear alone as the garden,
one of a handful its size in the state, wasn't her only responsibility.
Ostheimer also teaches art and computer science at St. Matthew's Episcopal
Planting rhizomes, weeding rows, harvesting irises to ship all over the
United States, Japan, Canada and even Iran a few years back — all add up
to countless hours of work. Ostheimer was nearly ready to mow down the
Instead, she turned to a longtime friend and fellow gardener, Bernard
"Bud" McSparrin, for help with the business. And the two have been
managing the iris fields ever since.
But with only the two of them working, the load is still heavy. With their
demands and complications in life, Ostheimer found it necessary to reduce
the acreage toiled.
That's why the duo turned to the Louisiana State University Agricultural
Center Research and Extension Service. The agency's mission, according to
area horticulture agent Bobby H. Fletcher Jr., is to help local growers
become more productive and make better decisions based on research.
The result is a two-year, cooperative research study to test the
effectiveness of herbicides on the Louisiana irises at the Chacahoula
site. The aim is to reduce the weed population within the iris beds to
increase efficiency and productivity, said Ron Strahan, AgCenter assistant
professor of agronomy, who is leading the study.
Strahan regularly conducts weed-control research and extension programs in
turfgrass and ornamental plants for the AgCenter.
"The key to iris weed control is to have a good pre-emergent herbicide,
since post-emergence weed-control options are limited," Strahan said.
Iris production is labor-intensive, so any help a grower can find —
through herbicides, for example — can be beneficial.
The study involves 105 plots growing five different iris varieties — four
of which are registered, and one is a hybrid Ostheimer developed. It also
involves evaluation of seven pre-emergent herbicide treatments being
applied in cycles.
"Now, they've got a lot of chemicals that should work, but most have never
been tried on Louisiana irises," McSparrin said, although some have been
used on bearded irises.
"This research won't just benefit here," Strahan said. The results will be
published and available for use by iris growers throughout the country.
"The research has never been done," Strahan added.
Toward the study's end, the site will be showcased as part of a national
tour when the Society for Louisiana Irises hosts the national iris group's
meeting in Lafayette in 2006, Ostheimer said.
The study also furthers the AgCenter's mission — helping a local iris
grower become more productive.
"They're going to be working with us, learning at the same time," Fletcher
said. "If, through this research plot, we can develop a plan they can
follow ... that will definitely assist them in being more productive and
With luck, McSparrin said, the AgCenter's study will reduce manual labor
by about 50 percent.