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Native plants for your wildlife garden

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

Get a jump on your spring planting projects at the Crosby Arboretum’s Arbor Day plant sale, right around the corner, on Saturday, February 15. The upcoming native plant sale is a “flash sale” from 10:00 a.m. to noon that day. Arboretum members are admitted at 9:00 a.m.

In celebration of Mississippi Arbor Day, take home some of these trees, shrubs, and selected perennials. Consult with Pearl River County Master Gardeners and other plant professionals to learn the right plant for the right place on your property. Admission is free. The sale will be near the Arboretum greenhouse. Look for our signs on Ridge Road to guide you down our service road entrance.

Our Arbor Day sale is a prelude to a larger sale in the spring on March 20 and 21. But by planting shrubs and trees in late winter, they will benefit from the long period of time for root establishment before Mississippi’s scorching hot summer days.

During the plant sale, from 10:00 to 11:30, enjoy a presentation by Harrison County Mississippi Master Gardener T.J. Testaman, “All About Pawpaws.” No, not that kind, silly, I’m talking about pawpaw trees! T.J. will reveal his secrets to successfully growing pawpaw (Asimina triloba) trees.

Pawpaws produce the largest native fruit in the U.S. It’s also called “custard apple.” This curious fruit has a tropical flavor, which may make sense if you know it’s related to Papaya. T.J. will discuss varieties suited to our area, how and where to plant pawpaws grafting methods, hand pollinating, growing from seed, and methods to increase fruit yield.

Bare root plants for sale for wildlife at this February sale will be redbud, persimmon, and mayhaw trees, and the shrubs sparkleberry, arrow-wood viburnum, and sweetshrub.

Redbud’s showy flowers make it an excellent specimen tree in your landscape. The small tree performs well in high pH soils, also called “alkaline” soils. Redbud’s seeds are eaten by many species of birds. Like many other plants, it is browsed on by deer, and bees visit its prolific spring blooms.

Many species of wildlife enjoy the tasty fruit of the native persimmon tree, so many that it might be a much shorter list of the critters who don’t like to make a meal out of it. Humans living on this continent have a long history of consuming persimmon fruit and more recently, using it in pudding and bread.

Many locals know about the tasty jelly made from the fruit of mayhaw trees, especially when slathered on hot buttered biscuits, and if you are a bird gardener you probably already know the value of shrubs such as sparkleberry (also known as farkleberry), arrow-wood viburnum, and sweetshrub. Overall, these wildlife species are also great for pollinators, as they usually also support insects like caterpillars in their larval form, and these are consumed by wildlife.

Learn more about native plants Saturday, February 8 on a winter botany walk with retired MSU Extension Forestry specialist Dr. Glenn Hughes. On his field walk, Dr. Hughes will point out characteristics of trees evident during the winter months, for example, patterns of tree bark or the shape of buds. Bring your questions, and samples of plants you would like identified.

Attend “Preparing Your Garden for Spring” on Saturday, February 22, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. with Pearl River County Extension Agent Dr. Eddie Smith, who will tell you how to get your garden in order early and help make your spring a little less hectic. Cost for members is $2, and $5 for non-members. Reservations are requested.

That same afternoon, a children’s Nature Crafts workshop will be held from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. They will enjoy this fun activity where they will be working with natural materials to complete a craft project. As children must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, there will be no minimum age requirement. Members’ children $4, and non-members’ children $6 (no charge for adults). Space is limited and reservations are requested.

Remember, the Arboretum’s Arbor Day plant sale is Saturday, February 15 from 10:00 a.m. to noon. Visit our winter gallery exhibit, to see the stunning nature photography by member Nadine Phillips, on display through February 28.

Reserve your place in programs now by calling 601-799-2311. The Crosby Arboretum is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4, and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 4:30. For more information see our program calendar on our website at http://crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu/, where you may sign up for email notices of upcoming events. Remember, leashed pets are always welcome!