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Mississippi native plants that shine in the summer landscape

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

Do you have a wet spot in your lawn where your mower always gets stuck? Don’t see it as a shortcoming, consider some native species that are suited to such areas, and won’t require watering during the summer months!

Many common ornamental plants tend to perform best in an average, well-drained soil. Shrubs such as azaleas and camellias are notorious for not liking “wet feet”. You may have already learned that if you try growing certain plants in areas that are poorly drained, they will die due to a lack of oxygen to the roots in heavy or waterlogged soil, or from the diseases that can develop on weakened plants. Fortunately, there are numerous native plants that will prosper in wet or moist conditions.

Few of us want to be outside during summer’s sweltering conditions, watering our garden beds. Because the moisture-loving areas in our landscapes can provide a continuous source of water, consider going “with the flow”, and using some new plants for your landscape that will prosper in these conditions.

Keep in mind that plants that prefer wet sites differ in the amount of water they prefer. For example, some trees such as Southern magnolia or American beech will prefer a moist but well-drained soil, while other trees like American holly, bald cypress and red maple will tolerate heavy, poorly drained (and low-oxygen) soils.

An easy-to-grow perennial for the garden with a very dramatic appearance is the red star hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus). It is also known as Texas star hibiscus, or scarlet rose mallow. Arboretum grounds manager Terry Johnson has grown this plant for years for our native plant sales, in addition to its white-flowering counterpart.

Texas star hibiscus can grow up to six feet tall and has attractive mid to late summer blooms that are up to six inches wide. The plant is attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds and grows in sun to part shade and a range of moist habitats. It can even be submerged at the edge of a pool. And like many aquatic species, although it will thrive in moist soils, it will also do just fine in a typical garden bed.

Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) is a common herbaceous perennial found growing in shallow water or mud. Its handsome leaves and typically purple-blue flower spikes make it an attractive plant for your water garden.  A white form is sometimes seen. The plant grows to around three feet, and its fruit is eaten by water birds that also may use the masses of leaves for cover. At the Arboretum, we often notice that dragonflies will use the flowers as a “rest stop”, making for great photo-opportunities!
On Saturday, August 10, the Arboretum is offering a Silver Wire-Wrapped Jewelry Workshop. From 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., you will enjoy learning how to make a pendant jewelry maker Connie Boyd of Unique Stones. Everyone will go home with a beautiful piece of jewelry. Connie will show you how to create your very own pendant with semi-precious finished polished stones from around the world, wrapped in sterling silver. Program cost is $70, and includes a chain, the silver wire, stone, and lesson to make your pendant. Tools will be provided to use for the workshop. Class fee is paid directly to the instructor on the day of the workshop, cash or check only. More precious stones will be available for a little more if desired. This program is limited to 12 persons. Reservations are required. Please call 601-799-2311 to register.

An “All About Hummingbirds” program will be held Saturday, August 17, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. with long-time bander James Bell, who will reveal how you can fill your yard with hummingbirds. Learn what is going on in the hummingbird’s life, how they feed, why they fight so much, and simple tips and tricks to attract them, giving you a chance to enjoy the beauty of one of nature’s most dazzling creations.  Suited to ages 8 and up. Members $3, non-member adults $5, members’ children $1, non-member children $2. Reservations requested. Please call to register.

Next time you are visiting the Arboretum, check out the beautiful pencil drawings by talented local artist 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. Our public garden 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 always welcome.