Do you enjoy watching hummingbirds? Try a coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) on your mailbox or arbor. The tubular scarlet blooms can be spotted growing wild along local roadsides, perhaps scrambling up a tree or a fence. This vine prefers full sun, but tolerates partial sun, and is drought tolerant. It’s easy to grow and propagate, and happy in a container or on a trellis. Prune it back in the winter months to encourage flowering. Birds are also attracted to the fruits.
Passion vine (Passiflora incarnata) is a must for the butterfly garden. Look closely for tiny eggs clinging to tendrils or the undersides of leaves. Although the plant may be devastated by caterpillars, the larval form of the gulf fritillary butterfly, the plant is largely pest free.
Passiflora dies to the ground each year after the leaves are killed by frost, but will return each spring. It grows in full to part sun, and prefers moist, well-drained soil conditions. Let passion flower ramble in your garden, perhaps on a tree, pole, or arbor. The plant’s “maypop” fruits are about the size of a small hen's egg. The vine can be propagated by seeds from the mature fruit, or by cuttings.
A common name for the perennial Gaura lindheimeri is “whirling butterflies.” It is an appropriate description, as the blooms remind me of butterflies held on wispy stems. It is beautiful when it dances in the breeze. Gaura grows about three feet tall and blooms from late spring to late fall. It is a fantastic plant for hot climates and dry soils, and while it performs best in full sun it also tolerates partial shade. Cut your plants back when the flowers start to wane, to promote bushier growth. It is particularly attractive near a pool or at the base of a mailbox.
Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis) is a very adaptable and easy to grow perennial, considered by many as one of the most attractive late-flowering perennials. The cut flowers will remain attractive for a week or more. Use at the front of your perennial borders, where it will maintain an evergreen rosette of leaves even in the winter months. Stokesia is native to acidic coastal wetlands such as pine flatwoods or savannas, but it’s not unusual to find it in the garden center. Many cultivars are available, in a wide variety of colors. Pinch off the spent flowerheads to encourage repeat flowering, and locate in full sun to promote maximum bloom. Although the plants prefer moisture, Stokesia grows just fine in regular garden soil that is light and well-drained. Keep the soil on the dry side in the winter months.
After Hurricane Katrina, Indian blanket-flower (Gaillardia spp.) seemed to appear everywhere in the newly vacant lots lining our beach roads. It is a short-lived and salt-tolerant perennial noted for its brilliantly colored, daisy-like flowers and blooms in spring and early summer. More than two dozen species of Gaillardia are native to North America. Blanket-flower thrives in hot, sunny areas and needs good drainage. Soggy soil will cause root rot in winter.
Gaillardia makes a sturdy and colorful addition to borders and beds. Try it in containers located in full sun, or in wildflower and meadow gardens. The showy blooms are great for cutting and bringing inside, where they will last up to a week in water.
The southern blue flag iris (Iris virginica) found at the edges of the Piney Woods Pond is another low-care garden favorite. While it blooms most abundantly in full sun, it is also found growing in the areas with shifting shade from the nearby forest canopy. Although it is found growing in the shallow water at the pond’s edge, blue flag iris will also perform in regular garden soil if it is kept moist with regular watering. The plant spreads by rhizomes, which can be divided. Blue flag iris is easily propagated by seed, and a single seed pod can yield several dozen new plants.
Mark your calendars for Friday, November 1, from 11 a.m. to noon, to join Dr. Blair Sampson, USDA/ARS Research Entomologist at the Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory in Poplarville, for an informative discussion of the valuable role that native bees play, and learn how you can encourage bees and other native pollinators to visit your home garden. Bring a sandwich and make a date with a friend for Friday lunch at the Arboretum.
Learn to plan and care for trees around your home on Saturday, November 2, from 11 a.m. to noon, with Dr. Jason Gordon, MSU Extension Community Forestry Specialist and Certified Arborist. Jason will discuss the homeowner’s purpose for planting the tree, soil conditions, tree location, species growth and form, and undesirable species traits. Members may attend programs free of charge. Cost for non-members is $5.
For more information or to sign up for a class, call the Arboretum office at (601) 799-2311 or see visit the website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. The garden is 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:
Visit the Crosby Arboretum’s Plant Data Base linked from the homepage for more information on the native plants described here.