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Learn about gardening with native plants this weekend

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

This is the time of year when we tend to spend as little time possible working in our gardens. And few will argue that what we strive for when installing new plants is to have them reward our efforts with year-round robust growth, and aesthetic features such as gorgeous blooms. However, the summer months can really take their toll on new plants, and on our gardens in general.

In East Tennessee where I grew up, gardeners would take advantage of the down time that comes in a cold winter, planning next year’s garden, marking up seed catalogs, and visualizing spring projects. But here in coastal Mississippi, when winter offers us many perfect days for working outside, summer offers a season with the opportunity for planning for the coming year.

Take a look around your neighborhood, and the landscape beds you pass when going about your business. What looks good right now, and what do you notice blooming? What plants stand out as thriving in the hot, humid summer weather? These are the ones to put on your shopping list for planting in the winter or spring. If you don’t know the plant, snap a photo and email this to your county Extension agent to identify.

Many Mississippi’s wildflowers are at home in hot, wet environments. If you have an area of your property that is difficult to garden in a traditional manner, you may want to consider letting it go a “little bit wild”. Allow it to grow up and see what develops, or sprinkle some wildflower seed such as Coreopsis, Indian blanket flower (Gaillardia), or black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), or even a wildflower mix designed for our region.

For an excellent guide to wildflowers, visit the MSU Extension website at http://extension.msstate.edu/ and search for Publication No. 1709, “Wildflowers for Mississippi Meadows and Gardens”. Topics such as planting times, soil preparation, seed mixes, and weed control are covered. Lists of perennials and annuals that re-seed for sunny meadows are included, and perennials that are suited for sunny wet areas.

Right now, Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis) is blooming robustly in the Ridge Road ditch across from our visitor parking lot. This plant is on my top ten list of native perennials, as it is a high performer in the garden, in shade or sun, or wet or dry conditions. Increasingly, this tough native perennials is appearing in garden centers and magazine articles, due to it being a very adaptable and easy to grow perennial.

This plant is considered one of the most attractive late-flowering perennials. Cut flowers will remain attractive for a week or more. It can be used at the front of your perennial borders, where the plant maintains an evergreen rosette of leaves, even in the winter months.

Many cultivars of Stokesia are available, with a wide variety of colors. Pinch off the spent flowerheads to encourage repeat flowering. For maximum bloom, locate in full sun.

Durable, low-maintenance plants for your garden will be discussed in the Landscaping with Native Plants program that will be held on Saturday, July 13, from 11:00 a.m. to Noon. Learn how to have a low-maintenance and attractive home landscape by incorporating Mississippi native plant species into your yard with Arboretum Director Pat Drackett. The program is $2 for members, and $5 for non-members $5. Call 601-799-2311 to sign up now for this or our other great programs next Wednesday.

Learning about Venomous Mississippi Snakes will be a children’s program offered on Wednesday, July 17, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Enjoy this fun and informative class with your Pearl River County Extension Agent Dr. Eddie Smith! (Lifelike snake replicas will be used in this program, not live snakes!) Children attending the program must be accompanied by an adult. Members’ children $1; non-members’ children $3 (no charge for adults).

Following the children’s program, an adult program on Gardening to Attract Birds will take place Wednesday, July 17, from 11:00 a.m. to Noon. You will learn about the types of birds found here in coastal Mississippi, the plants that are useful to them, and how to attract them to your home garden, with Dr. Eddie Smith. Members $2, and non-members $5. Please call 601-799-2311 to register for programs. While you are here, be sure to check out the beautiful pencil drawings by Robin Veerkamp which will be on display in the Arboretum gallery through the end of August.

For more information on programs, please see the Crosby Arboretum website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. The Arboretum is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4, and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 4:30. Leashed pets are welcome.