ARBORETUM PATHS: Summer offers the perfect time for garden planning

Published 5:31 pm Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Are you just about ready to throw in your towel into the gardening arena yet? Yes, with the exception of an hour or two in the early morning hours, unless you are one of those rare individuals that will continue to maintain your landscape over the summer months, the season for gardening-tending is drawing to a close. And for those persons who believe that air conditioning is one of the most progressive innovations of the last century, the door has probably already slammed shut with a resounding “bang” several weeks ago.

Many gardeners who reside in our nation’s colder climates have a long tradition of using the long winter months to plan their spring gardens. After all, there’s not much to do when the ground is frozen and you may even include a thick layer of snow. Picture yourself sitting in a comfortable armchair in front of crackling fire, sipping a cup of hot cocoa, tea or cider, and turning through colorful seed catalogs, dog-earing page corners, making long lists, and dreaming of the splendor you will create in your garden beds next year.

Here in our south Mississippi winters, we don’t experience such long periods of cold that serve to drive us inside for a good part of the season. Instead, we are able to easily work the soil, and many of use will plant trees and shrubs throughout late fall and winter. Regional garden magazines urge us to take full advantage of this “dormant” period, which allows plants ample time for becoming established before hot weather returns. But rather than being a true dormant period, our winters contain warm periods when plant roots will experience short growth spurts. However, temperatures typically will remain cool enough to keep overall plant growth in check, resulting in plants that are well on their way to being established by the spring.

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So, let me propose an interesting idea – why not use our Mississippi summers for your garden planning period? Look around your yard. There are many valuable lessons to be learned now that our temperatures are heating up. Are there areas in your landscape beds where plants are dying back, or looking tired?

This doesn’t bode well if you are expecting them to keep performing for you all summer. Perhaps you can replace these plants now, with species that will do well in our coastal heat and humidity. This works best if you have an automatic irrigation system or are willing to water until they become established. Or, simply remove these plants once they cease to be attractive, and explore a substitute for planting next year in these areas.

Search the Internet for books or articles about plants that are drought tolerant or proven to perform well in summer heat and humidity. Create lists of your favorites, and learn about where they prefer to grow. Visit the Crosby Arboretum and walk our exhibits. You will see many attractive and low-maintenance native plants that will easily “beat the heat” because they are adapted to our local climate.

Have you noticed the many butterflies that have been dancing around our local countryside lately? You can learn more about what plants will attract them, so you can plant more of these in next year’s garden. Visit the homepage at the Crosby Arboretum website at: and select the “Fact Sheets and Guides” link at the bottom of the page to download the informative MSU Extension publication “Establishing a Backyard Wildlife Habitat” (No. 2402), in addition to information sheets on attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, and much more.

Remember that to attract butterflies it is best to include not only plants that provide nectar for the butterflies, but ones that feed the larval stage of the butterflies – otherwise known as caterpillars – that need to consume large quantities of plant material in order to fuel their cocoon spinning activities.

Native perennials can be attractive not only to local birds and butterflies but to you and your neighbors. Species such as Liatris (blazing star), Stoke’s aster, purple coneflower, butterfly weed and black-eyed Susan will light up your eyes as well as those of the critters passing by your beds. Most of these plants are well-known natives that are commonly available from your local garden center.

Mark your calendar for the Crosby Arboretum’s Summer Aquatic Plant Sale on Saturday, July 7, from 9 a.m. to noon. We will offer an excellent selection of low-maintenance, non-invasive native aquatic plants, including hardy water lilies, Texas star hibiscus (both red and white varieties), Louisiana iris, American crinum lily, lizard’s tail, and golden club. Some of these native plants, such as the Texas star hibiscus, native iris, and crinum lilies, will grow in typical garden soil as well as under wet conditions. Grounds manager Terry Johnson has been busy growing plants for this sale, and many will be divisions that he has collected from our exhibits or grown from seed. The plant sale will be held behind the Visitor’s Center, and site admission that day is free to the public. So, if you’ve never visited the Crosby Arboretum, please take advantage of this great opportunity to come and see what we are all about.

A program on hummingbirds will be presented at the Arboretum on Saturday, July 21 at 10 by local hummingbird bander James Bell of the Hummer/Bird Study Group Inc. He will teach you tips and tricks to fill your yard with hummingbirds. Learn about hummingbird habits, such as how they feed and why they fight so much. For more information, see the program schedule on our website.

For more information on the Arboretum, please call the office at 601-799-2311, or view our program schedule on our website at: Social media links are also available on our homepage. We are open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).

For further exploration: Why not use this time of year to notice which trees and shrubs are performing well in the summer heat? Then, make plans to incorporate them into your garden next year.