By Patricia Drackett, Director Crosby Arboretum
The Picayune Item
Because today is Halloween, you may be wondering how the season of celebrations has returned so soon. Like it or not, New Year’s Day will soon be here, and many of us will be thinking about which new resolutions to aim for as we enter into the new year.
I do apologize for breaking such news, and I realize it may cause some to shake their heads about how I could be so cruel. But I hope to make amends by offering a few suggestions that have the power to transform your life. Well, at the very least, they will improve your home landscape. And should you decide to carry through on one or more of these simple ideas, there is an excellent chance that by the time the first of the year arrives, you’ll be well-prepared to take on next year’s resolutions.
The first suggestion is – plant a tree. Even better, pick someone you will honor with this gesture. A group of live oaks made quite an impression on me about ten years ago. I was visiting some potential clients during my past career as a landscape designer. They were showing me around their property, and pointed out a substantial grove of trees. As each of their children was born, they said, a tree had been planted for them.
At our old house in Bay St. Louis, two oak trees grew in the front yard that had started out as tiny whips transplanted from the woods. They took off like gangbusters. In a six year period they became almost as tall as the two-story house. A common myth is that live oaks are slow-growing. Although they are long-lived, young oak trees grow quite quickly.
There is something pretty awesome about watching a tree grow up, and the late fall and winter months will be offering us some excellent planting conditions. There are so many outstanding native trees to choose from. We currently have some copies available of the Extension publication describing some of Mississippi’s best native trees. Come out to the Crosby Arboretum to pick up a copy and learn some great trees to plant, whether your property is wet or dry or in between.
When planting a tree, consider its purpose. Do you need to screen an unsightly view or create privacy? Perhaps an evergreen species such as southern magnolia, sweetbay magnolia, or American holly is what you need. Do you want shade? If you have room, live oak certainly has it all in this department. Or maybe you are looking for a show-stopping flowering species. Southern crabapple certainly fits that bill. The beautiful pink blooms make it highly desirable for a garden accent. In the “old days” its fruit was often made into jelly, and some dedicated people still carry on this tradition.
If your tree produces fruit or nuts that are beneficial to you or to wildlife, it can be of maximum use in your landscape. For example, pecan trees will serve both you and your neighboring critters. A popular native fruit tree is the mayhaw (Crataegus opaca). These trees produce a tart red fruit in May (hence the name). They also are covered with delicate white blossoms in the spring. The trees are in the Rose family. If you look closely at the blooms, you will see that they resemble blackberry or dewberry blossoms, which are in the same family.
The second suggestion is to start a compost pile for your yard waste, if you aren’t doing this already. My grandmother would have cringed at the rate that people today will discard their lawn clippings, leaves, and other yard wastes. It is estimated that about organic waste represents about 30 percent of the materials that go to landfills. According to the U.S. Composting Council, almost 70 percent of the materials going to landfills are compostable, if paper products are included. Which reminds me, newspaper can make a great organic weed barrier if laid underneath a mulch layer. Search the Web for “lasagna gardening” and you’ll see what I mean.
Other organic materials can be used for creating compost, such as stable hay or chipped tree branches. Many resources offer guidelines for how to make the best use of each material. How long does it need to decompose? For example, mulch from fresh chipped trees should not be used immediately in your garden, but allowed to break down before using. Care should also be taken not to use mulch sources that would include seeds or roots of invasive plant materials. Extension publication No. 1782, “Composting for the Mississippi Gardener” is an informative publication that is available on the www.MSUcares.com website.
My final suggestion is to resolve to get to know the native plants on your property. If you’re looking out into your yard but can’t name a thing out there, the Crosby Arboretum has many resources to help you identify and learn more about your plants. Websites such as www.southeasternflora.com are designed specifically to aid those with little knowledge about native and naturalized plants with their identification.
Get started with a new resolution. On Saturday, November 3, attend a field walk from 1 to 2 p.m. to learn more about the mission and history of the Crosby Arboretum. We’ll stroll through our Exhibits and discuss the plants found in each habitat, and how you can use them in your home landscape. Learn how to select plant material based on your own property’s site conditions. The program is free to Arboretum members and $5 for non-members.
For more information, please call the Arboretum office at 601-799-231 or see our program schedule on our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. Social media links can be found on our homepage. We are open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).
For further exploration: Search the Web or ask an "old-timer" to learn more about mayhaw trees. Where do they naturally grow? How many different recipes can you find for mayhaw fruit? Do you know someone who makes mayhaw jelly? If you have never tried it, do so.