The secret to planting success is simple

Published 12:49 pm Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Last weekend, it was a pleasure to see so many enthusiastic shoppers attending this year’s Arbor Day plant sale, taking great delight in choosing their “new additions to the family”. Particularly popular were the deciduous magnolias, native honeysuckle azalea, mayhaw, pawpaw, red buckeye, and Grancy greybeard.

Conversations at the sale centered on the need to match the desired plants to the site conditions they prefer. When you invest in a plant, you invest much more than just the purchase price. Consider your time in selecting it, carting it home, digging a hole and installing it, and take to provide water and attention during its establishment period. After all of this time spent, I believe most of us would agree that we would like to be rewarded with a plant that prospers. No one wants to plant a tree or shrub only to watch it decline and die.

The secret to planting success is incredibly simple, but apparently it continues to elude many. We know this, because during our sales we are told many stories of past planting failures. And native plants are not a panacea — just because a plant is a native species does not mean that it will grow any better for you than an ornamental plant hailing from another country.

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Sure, some native plants may grow in a wide range of site conditions, such as red maple. And many species that tolerate wet conditions such as bald cypress, will also do fine on higher ground. But others, such as mountain laurel, oakleaf hydrangea, and native azalea, need to be located in much more specific conditions – moist, rich, well-drained sites. Do not give them constant, blazing sun. Rather, they do best with some shade – but not so much that they are starved from the light that fuels their gorgeous blossoms.

So, how do you learn to intuit the exact conditions that a plant prefers? Well, the first place to start is to really know your property. Perhaps you have a brand new, cleared, blank slate, with no trees and compacted soil characteristic of new construction. Believe it or not, there are plants that will thrive in these conditions. Or, perhaps you have a large property containing numerous microclimates ranging from deep shade to full sun.

The second thing to know is what makes the plant happy that you would like to add to your landscape. Does it prefer sun or shade, or something in between? A moist, well-drained site, or one that is high and dry? Will it tolerate compacted soils and seasonal flooding? One place to learn this information is on those pretty little tags that usually accompany the plants you purchase in the garden center. By matching the plant to the right place, you will achieve success.

The third piece of advice is to seize every opportunity you have to learn through observation. If you yearn to grow a particular ornamental plant, keep your eyes open for a landscape where it is prospering. What do you notice about the site conditions? What is the slope of the land? This will affect the available soil moisture. What degree of sun is the plant growing in?

If you would like to use native species in your landscape, well, the Arboretum is certainly one of the best places to learn about how to be successful. Walk through our exhibits and note of the site conditions where certain plants are thriving, particularly plants such as mountain laurel or native honeysuckle azaleas.

Apply all of this new knowledge on a visit to the Arboretum’s spring plant sale, which will be held on March 22 and 23, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Site admission will be free that day, and the sale will feature many hard to find native trees, shrubs, and perennials. To prepare for your visit, you may download the plant guide from our website, and print to bring along with you, as we noticed many visitors had done for the Arbor Day sale.

In preparation for spring landscaping activities, this weekend will bring you some excellent opportunities to learn more about plants and gardening. Visit the MSU Extension booth at the Garden & Patio Show in Biloxi at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center on March 1, 2, and 3. Biloxi. Extension professionals will be on hand to answer your questions about garden pests and diseases, turf care, plant identification, and more. Extension publications on these topics will also be available. Information on the event, including hours and admission, can be found on the website of the Mississippi Nursery & Landscape Association (, and is also linked from the Crosby Arboretum Facebook page.

Learn how to create a low-maintenance and attractive landscape by incorporating native plants into your home landscape. Join Arboretum Director Pat Drackett on Saturday, March 2, at 10 to 11 a.m. for a program on “Home Landscaping with Native Plants.” Pat will discuss her favorite native plants for landscaping, and tell how to analyze your planting site so you can choose the appropriate plant material. Then, from 1 to 2 p.m., Darla Pastorek, landscaper, horticulturist and plant lover, will speak on “Edible Plants for the Landscape”, discussing native plants and vegetables that can be used in the landscape, and their edible uses. The cost for these programs is $5 for non-members, and $2 for non-members’ children. Please call the Arboretum office at 601-799-2311 for more information, or to pre-register to guarantee your seat.

For more information on the Crosby Arboretum’s upcoming programs, pick up a spring program calendar in our Visitor Center, or visit our website at You can access our Arboretum blog and other social media links from our website’s home page. Enter your email address on the blog site to receive updates when new material is posted.

The Crosby Arboretum is 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 Internet to learn more about the species of native azalea in the South. Which species will grow best in coastal Mississippi?