Spring is now in full swing at the Arboretum

Published 8:55 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Over the past week, we have had an explosion of blossoms here at the Arboretum. These include hundreds of native Iris blooms that grace the shallow edges of our Piney Woods Pond and Slough Exhibit. They literally seem to have appeared overnight. It is a real treat to stroll along the paths in our Aquatic Exhibit while experiencing so many hues of purple in flowers held above the sword-shaped leaves of this popular perennial.

Eileen Hollander, President of the Pearl River County Master Gardeners, who is also active with the Greater New Orleans Iris Society, told us recently that most of our iris is Iris virginica, known as blue flag Iris, or Southern blue flag. This native plant is found growing from Virginia to Texas, along the shorelines of ponds and lakes, swamps, stream edges, wet ditches and marshes

Gardeners will be pleased to learn that this perennial it is extremely easy to grow. Although it prefers rich, moist conditions, it will also perform in ordinary garden soil. It is a beautiful addition to your water garden, where it will spread by rhizomes and form colonies.

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Some gardeners will comment that they have native Iris that never seems to bloom, or has sporadic flowers. If this plant is first planted in an area that over time has developed a denser tree canopy, the increasing shade will cause it to bloom less frequently. While blue flag iris will tolerate shade, it blooms much more prolifically in sun. So next time you visit, take a look at the conditions where ours are growing on the site, and you will get a good idea of where to locate this plant in your own garden.

Another reason that blooms might be declining on your blue flag iris is that they need to be divided. We will occasionally thin out our areas of Iris in the Aquatic Exhibit. Like other perennials, this Iris will greatly benefit from division every three to five years. This is a great way to make your gardening friends very happy!

Stand on the edge of the Pinecote Pavilion and look across the pond toward our Cypress Head overlook, to see an area where the native Iris is particularly attractive. Here, and throughout our Aquatic Exhibit, the flowers range from a light blue to a deep violet. Some blooms are a very pastel shade of purple, almost white.

The iris in our Aquatic Exhibit is certainly an outstanding show, but there are other areas at the Arboretum that are also decorated with spring blooms. On a ride through the north end of our Savanna Exhibit site last week, I was surprised to see that the blooms of the yellow pitcher plant blooms are much denser there this year than last year. Oh, they are so beautiful! Their leaves are beginning to really take off, and it won’t be long now until the “pitchers” are capturing some unsuspecting insect life for a tasty snack. Speaking of beautiful, our grounds manager Terry Johnson is very proud of the results of the controlled burn his volunteer crew performed earlier this year for that area. We agreed that this north Savanna area is giving our more popular South Pitcher Plant Bog a real run for the money! So, if you want to take a walk to the north end of the property, keep your eye peel for the later blooms of Liatris, red pine lily, and Stokes aster that are also on the increase in this area. Another interesting note is that the pitcher plants seem to be slowly migrating to the south, which is the direction of the site water flow.

Our spring native plant sale will be held on April 7th and 8th, and will include blue flag Iris as well as other blooming shrubs and perennials. This is a wonderful opportunity to consult with Master Gardeners and Arboretum staff about the native species that will perform best for your property. If you locate plants in the site conditions that they prefer, they will continue to reward you with optimum performance. And if you provide them with ample room to grow, they will require minimal care.

Please mark your calendars for Sunday, April 1, which will be our Strawberries and Cream Festival. I do believe that this will be a peak time for our blooms. The yellow flame azaleas have started blooming, so this event should see our plant exhibits in full spring glory. If it has been a while since you have visited, this would be a perfect opportunity to do so! Bring your family and join us at this event to celebrate the history of our site being an old strawberry farm. The event will be held from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. on the lovely Pinecote Pavilion. We will be serving ice cream, fresh strawberries, and Picayune Frog Lemonade. Please take advantage of this day when we open our doors to the public. Admission is free, and we have so much to offer. Gardeners can browse the MSU Extension publications on gardening and native plants in the Visitor Center. We have a lot of great programs coming up this spring, including Earth Day and Spider Day.

Curious about our programs?  Visit our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu, which contains links to our blog and other social media. For more information, call the Arboretum office at 601-799-2311. The Arboretum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).


For further exploration:

 Visit www.MSUcares.com to search by keyword for information and publications on home gardening tips, home landscape design, and the best plants for use in Mississippi gardens.