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Spring planting time is here

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

The Crosby Arboretum “green team” has been hard at work selecting the plants for our spring native plant sale to be held Friday and Saturday, March 15 and 16. In answer to the constant inquiries we get about where to purchase native plants – the time is almost here!

With the recent warm weather, many native species are already in bloom, such as Carolina yellow jessamine vine, native blueberries, and mayhaw and red maple trees. You’ll probably see these plants at the upcoming sale, in addition to long-time garden favorites such as Grancy graybeard, native honeysuckle azaleas, and oakleaf hydrangea.

This year’s spring sale will be much larger than in past years, as we’ll be ordering many new native perennials and wildflowers in addition to the usual selection of trees and shrubs.

Recently, curator Jennifer Buchanan and I attended the Gulf States Horticultural Expo in Mobile, Alabama, a trade show that for a plant addict is a “kid in a candy shop” experience, with seemingly endless aisles of wholesale nurseries and green industry products. We had the chance to visit with our native nursery suppliers and to talk with other nursery representatives, such as large-scale nurseries who supply traditional garden centers.

We hear the same question over and over, “Where do we buy native plants?” Despite the popularity of magazine articles urging homeowners to plant natives for their low-maintenance qualities, wildlife benefit, contribution to biodiversity, and their beauty, they are still not easy to locate.

So, at the trade show, I posed the question to some of the larger nurseries – why they didn’t grow more native plants.

Their answer was simple – plants are a product. If they aren’t blooming, they don’t sell. While many of the large growers loved native species and grew them in their yards, they basically had the same answer – if it’s green 11 months out of the year, it won’t sell at the garden center.

The bottom line is that native plants will probably continue to be available largely at “mom and pop”, specialty nurseries. And that’s fine, if you know where to find them! Few exist in our region, and are usually a bit of a drive.

With recent renovations to our greenhouse irrigation system, we’re excited for the opportunity to be growing more of our own plants, and to fill this need. Our Native Pollinator Plant Sale is planned for Friday and Saturday, May 31 and June 1, featuring plants we are propagated.

Don’t overlook other ways to get your own native plants through propagation! Many species are easy to grow from seed or cuttings, and there are excellent books available to help you.

As I overhear the species being discussed for our order list, I think about how fortunate people are in Pearl River County. Many of them live on ample parcels of land, allowing them room for planting whatever they wish.

When I worked with Mississippi landscape contractors on the gulf coast before coming to the Arboretum, our residential design clients typically lived in subdivisions. Their small yards, and often, neighborhood design standards, gave them little room for creativity or for planting anything more than dwarf and compact versions of the usual trees and shrubs.  When we had a homeowner with a larger property, it was very exciting because of the opportunities for using canopy trees, old-fashioned garden shrubs, and generally, plants that could be allowed to grow and mature without the need for labor-intensive pruning to keep them “groomed”.

Prepare for your spring gardening projects with this Saturday’s program on “Maintaining Home Landscapes”, February 23, from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. with Pearl River County Extension Agent Dr. Eddie Smith. Learn to improve your home landscape and increase its property value through regular maintenance and proper care.  Dr. Smith will discuss how to maintain a variety of popular landscape plants, recognize diseases, pests, nutrient deficiencies, how to prepare your landscapes for changing seasons, and adapt your maintenance practices to a maturing landscape. Cost for non-members is $5 and $3 for members.

That afternoon, attend the native plant field walk from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m., with Pat Drackett. Learn to identify the native species coming into bloom, and how to use native species in your home garden, as well as their wildlife value. Bring your camera and dress for walking. Members attend free; non-members $5.

Call 601-799-2311 to sign up for these programs. See www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu or visit the Crosby Arboretum Facebook page for more information. We’re open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 to 4. Leashed pets are welcome! The Arboretum is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4.