Arboretum Paths: Tips for creating low care landscapes

Published 9:25 am Wednesday, October 19, 2016

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

Would you like to know some tips and techniques to create a low maintenance home landscape – one that you can manage, rather than it managing you?

The fall plant sale this past weekend started me thinking about some of the common mistakes made when installing new plants. These mistakes can lead to having to invest more labor into your landscape than necessary.

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For example, one mistake is to not provide new shrubs and trees with proper room to grow to their mature size. Planting too close to other plants or to structures can result in the need for continual pruning throughout a plant’s lifetime.

Before installing your new plant, do some research to find out how large it will grow.

Be cautious to locate new trees and shrubs far enough away from your home that they will not grow into the eaves or walls. Crape myrtles are a common example, and it is not uncommon to see these broad-crowned trees being deformed by building walls as they expand.

Another tip is to plant in the late fall and winter months. This gives new trees and shrubs a chance to become well-established. I admit I fall victim to “planting fever” in the spring when we all yearn to beginning new garden projects. Although the garden centers are bursting with beautiful blooms, in reality, it is much wiser to plant during the dormant time of the year, as this allows plants to have a long period for roots to become established before hot weather returns.

Converting some areas of your property from lawn into naturalistic, low-care planting areas filled with native trees, shrubs, and groundcovers can also reduce the time you spend caring for your landscape.

The exhibits at the Crosby Arboretum provide the home gardener with excellent examples of native plants that have been well-located according to environmental preferences – their preferred degree of sun, soil, slope, and water. Certain native plants have been planted into our exhibits, but these do not survive if they are not appropriately chosen to fit the existing conditions.

Although the Arboretum appears to be a landscape with a very natural appearance, it is actually the result of a very meticulous design.

In 1990, a detailed Master Plan for the Arboretum, completed by our first director and landscape architect, Ed Blake, Jr., received an Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects. This is the highest national honor given in its field.

By applying the same principles used to create the plan for the Crosby Arboretum, you can be equally successful in creating a low-care landscape for your own property.

One aspect that makes a garden enjoyable is to include the element of surprise and discovery for those who journey through it. At the Arboretum, new blooms constantly emerge in the exhibits, and each bend in the pathway seems to bring a new surprise. On a walk through our garden, wildlife also provides unexpected delights when encountered.

Our Savanna Exhibit is a dynamic landscape with a completely different appearance not only in each month of the year, but from one year to the next. Rainy or dry weather affect the distribution of plants in this wet pine savanna. It is enjoyable that this landscape does not look the same every year. Instead, it experiences a constant shift in plant populations and therefore changes in the color, pattern, and texture.

Consider adding plants that attract wildlife, butterflies, birds and hummingbirds, to provide interest to your landscape. This will allow it to literally come alive with movement!

A yoga class will take place on the Pinecote Pavilion Saturday, October 22 at 10 a.m. (Members free, non-members $5). The Painted Pumpkins children’s workshop is Saturday, October 29 at 1:00 p.m. ($5 for members’ children, $6 for non-members’ children, adults free, registration deadline, Noon Friday, Oct. 28). Call 601-799-2311 to sign up for these programs.

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). For more information, see our website at