Arboretum Paths: Going native – easier said than done?

Published 9:17 am Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Crosby Arboretum’s quarterly plant sales are a great way to introduce the public to using native plants in the home landscape. (Photo by Pat Drackett)

The Crosby Arboretum’s quarterly plant sales are a great way to introduce the public to using native plants in the home landscape. (Photo by Pat Drackett)

This past weekend’s fall plant sale at the Arboretum was a lot of fun. It was rewarding to see so many people excited about choosing new additions to their home landscape.

Crosby Arboretum volunteers and staff members also enjoyed indulging in one of their favorite pastimes – talking about native plants. Both days found groups engaged in lively conversations, where shoppers enthusiastically described their property’s environmental conditions and the plants they were hoping to grow.

Several people commented on the difficulty they had in finding native plants for their gardens. Despite the fact that over the past decade or so native species have become increasingly popular, as evidenced through garden magazine articles, books, and Internet discussion, their availability does not seem to have grown by equal leaps and bounds.

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Nurseries and garden centers do carry some of the more popular native species, but it is also understandable that they are remaining cautious and not carrying large amounts of native stock that may or may not sell. The tipping point has not yet come, and it may still be a long time coming, when native plants are widely available to the public.

When I was younger, I remember at the ice cream parlor there was a sign posted above the flavor called French vanilla. There was a note that this selection “Costs a bit more but it’s worth it”. That saying applies fittingly to the search for native plants to use in your garden – the search is a bit more difficult, but it’s certainly worth it!

At the Arboretum we conduct four public plant sales during the year, pulling together a wide selection of native plant material. It’s enough to whet the appetite of those who are interested in our native species, but for the remainder of the year, it would be nice if there were other sources where these plants could easily be found.

Propagation is one way to create new plants (and a great Extension handout on the subject titled “Propagating Plants for the Home Landscape” is available at, but not all of us have the time or patience for this practice.

A reasonable selection of native plants can be found by searching the Internet for mail order nurseries in our region. Again, plants will be are smaller, and a dose of patience is required. Garden centers, if the desire is expressed, will usually agree to locate and stock native species. The larger, more established container sizes of the nursery stock sold in garden centers are certainly better suited for planting directly into the landscape.

To learn more about native plants, consider attending native plant conferences in your area (an excellent one will be held at the Birmingham Botanical Garden in Alabama at the end of this month), or join our state native plant society. At both conferences and native plant society events, you will have the opportunity to go on field trips, attend educational sessions, and meet others who may know of additional sources. Often, native plant conferences will include nursery vendors. And finally, visit your local resource – the Crosby Arboretum. Take a stroll along our pathways, or attend our programs on native plants.

A wealth of information on native plants is available on the MSU Extension website, Simply enter keywords such as “native shrubs”, “native trees”, or specific topics such as “backyard wildlife gardening” in the search field on the home page. Here, you can also find a comprehensive publication on backyard wildlife gardening that contains lists of plants to attract hummingbirds, birds, and butterflies and other wildlife.

Mark your calendar for a full day of Halloween Fun on October 31! The event will include a floral workshop with MSU Extension Professor Dr. Jim DelPrince on creating fairy crowns for princes and princesses of all ages, a children’s workshop for both pumpkin painting and carving, and a special Spooky Woods trick or treat event. See our website’s homepage at and click the Halloween banner for details.

The Arboretum is open Wednesdays through Sundays 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). Call 601-799-2311 for more information or to sign up for classes.

By Patricia Drackett