Arboretum Paths: Celebrating winter at the Arboretum

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Wax myrtle is a common shrub found at the Arboretum. It is evergreen, has aromatic leaves, and its berries are eaten by many species of songbirds.  (Photo: Pat Drackett)

Wax myrtle is a common shrub found at the Arboretum. It is evergreen, has aromatic leaves, and its berries are eaten by many species of songbirds. (Photo: Pat Drackett)

The Arboretum’s Forge Day event drew an appreciative crowd last weekend. Nearly four hundred persons enjoyed Saturday’s balmy weather and the talents of over a dozen metalworkers demonstrating their skills.

A perfect activity to celebrate the winter months, the event is its eighth year, and attracts many persons who most likely would have not chosen to visit the Arboretum otherwise. Hopefully, they will return again to explore other activities at our public garden.

Several uniformed Scouts attended, perhaps pursuing their metalworking badges. Years ago, we marveled at photos sent to us of several attractive antler handles and leather sheaths crafted by Scouts to finish their project after each had fashioned a knife blade from a common file at a Forge Day.

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Several commented on this being a unique family event, and it is also heartening to know that several metalworkers include their own family in the craft. The opportunity for other youth to observe “one of their own” at work on the forge is an awe-inspiring experience! Last week, the seed may well have been planted for the development of a future hobby.

Another perfect winter activity is planting trees and shrubs during the dormant period. Winter still offers some warm weather to encourage root growth, but a longer time period for plant establishment before the hot temperatures of summer return.

This year, Mississippi Arbor Day will be observed on Friday, February 12, and the Arboretum will hold a plant sale, primarily trees and shrubs, on Saturday, February 13. Both container and bare root trees will be available.

National Arbor Day is always the last Friday in April, but is observed at different times based on the planting times for each state. The fir American Arbor Day took place in Nebraska City, Nebraska on April 10, and on that day approximately one million trees were planted in the state!
Planting at this time of the year, rather than in the heat of summer, is a wise practice. Remembering to water during a plant’s establishment period is another. If you can get your plant through its first year, and have located it in an appropriate location, it should be well on its way to success. But keep an eye on your “new addition” for a bit longer, especially to give it a drink in periods of drought.
How can you learn to predict the exact conditions that a plant prefers? Well, start by getting to know your property. Perhaps you have a new lot – a cleared “blank slate”. Even in areas of compacted soil and new construction, there are many plants that will thrive in these conditions, such as hollies, wax myrtle, sweet bay magnolia, and red maple.
If you are fortunate enough to have a large property containing numerous microclimates ranging from deep shade to full sun, study these various habitats – are the soils moist or dry? Does water stand in certain areas? 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?
Remember that your county Extension office offers soil testing and that the MSU Extension Service offers some great publications to aid in choosing plants. “Selecting Landscape Shrubs” and “Selecting Landscape Trees” are two of these, both comprehensive documents may be downloaded at no cost The publications include extensive tables of trees and shrubs and give the pH range for each species. Check this against your soil test results to see if your site provides the necessary conditions.
If you would like to learn more about using native species in your landscape, the Arboretum is one of the best places to learn how to be successful. Walk through our exhibits and take note of the site conditions where certain plants are thriving!
Learn about how to use our native plants in a winter field walk on Saturday, February 6, at 1:00 p.m. with Arboretum director Pat Drackett. Members free; non-members $5. Call the Arboretum office at (601) 799-2311 to sign up.

The Arbor Day Native Plant Sale will be Saturday, February 13, from 1:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free to the public this day! The Arboretum 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).

Patricia R. Drackett, Director, and Assistant Extension Professor of Landscape Architecture
The Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University Extension Service