Arboretum Paths: Conserve resources with sustainable landscaping

Published 9:21 am Wednesday, September 21, 2016

By Pat Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum
MSU Extension Service

Have you heard the buzz about “sustainable” landscape practices? Just what kind of gardening is this?

Sustainable landscaping methods are simply practices used to design, install, and maintain your landscape that will reduce the need for chemicals, water, and energy, such as gasoline or your own labor. In other words, ways to allow you to spend time doing more enjoyable things, and keep more of your hard-earned money!

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Discover more about sustainable landscaping in a program at the Crosby Arboretum this coming Saturday, September 24 at 11:00 a.m. with Pearl River County Extension Agent Dr. Eddie Smith. Dr. Smith will reveal tips and tricks and simple gardening practices to conserve resources, such as reducing maintenance needs, and reusing yard waste and rainwater.

Native plants suited to our region, or any plant for that matter, can be delightfully low maintenance when correctly located. Matching a plant to the conditions it prefers will reduce or eliminate the need for water and care in times of drought, for example.

One of the most ironic and expensive practices by home gardeners in the U.S. is the wide use of bagged bark mulches. It is ironic, because many of us have trees in our yards and rake leaves or pine straw from our lawn in the fall, but instead of adding these to a compost pile where they can break down and later be used to mulch our garden beds or amend soil, we bag them up and leave them by the curb.

Then, we go to the store and buy bagged mulch, some of it which even comes in atrocious unnatural colors of red, orange, or black. Not only is bagged mulch expensive, but it can also rob nitrogen from your soil, as it is needed to break down the wood.

Seasoned gardeners know just how valuable yard waste is. In fact, many of these persons take great delight when they come across your bags of leaves sitting by the curb. Smart gardeners usually own a truck, just right for fitting a big load of these bags so they can haul them back home to their garden. Consider the fact that these smart gardeners have benefited quite well – someone else supplied the labor to rake up this useful yard waste for them!

In the interest of recycling and saving money, some people will reuse wood chips obtained from utility companies chipping trees in their neighborhood. But garden beds mulched with fresh wood chips often cause plants to yellow and become unthrifty. This is due to the fact that a good deal of nitrogen is needed to break down the fresh, green material.

Simply allow the chips to break down for a time before using in garden beds. And use caution when accepting that offer of free wood chippings. See if you can get some idea of the species of trees that have been chipped, to ensure that invasive species are not present.

Gardeners in European countries learned to use resources wisely long ago, and tend to use plants in every “layer” of their gardens. Here in the U.S., in general, we do not use groundcovers as often as our European counterparts. Instead, Americans tend to have large bare areas of mulch in their gardens, and plant our plants far apart from one another. Weeds will find these open areas a good home, so you end up having to pull them, instead of doing something more exciting.

The Crosby Arboretum is certainly an excellent example of sustainable landscaping. By installing plants suited to the site’s soil, water, and light conditions, they have prospered. With only one staff person tending our 104 acre public garden in Picayune, there is little time available to maintain the landscape. Instead, this public garden’s dynamic and ever-changing grassland and forest landscapes have a natural beauty all “on their own”. No irrigation is necessary!

Saturday’s Sustainable Landscape program with Dr. Eddie Smith is $5 for non-members. Call 601-799-2311 to sign up. Mark your calendar for a day exploring botany at the Arboretum on Saturday, October 1. More details on our website program calendar at

The Crosby Arboretum is located at I-59 Exit 4 and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.