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Celebrate Arbor Day, and pawpaw trees this Saturday!

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

Are you getting spring fever? Come to the Crosby Arboretum’s Arbor Day plant sale this Saturday, February 15 from 10:00 a.m. to noon! Take advantage of getting the jump on your spring landscape projects and enjoy this opportunity to talk about plants with the staff and volunteers, many of whom are Pearl River County Master Gardeners.

Instead of the abundantly blooming native shrubs and perennials you typically find at our much larger spring sale, the Arbor Day sale will offer a variety of woody shrubs and trees, ready for planting. February is a great time to install new plants because there is still a long time period for root systems to become established before sultry summer temperatures drive us back indoors.

Not sure what to plant? Describe your planting site and let experts help you choose the right plants for your property’s unique environmental conditions. They also may also point you in the direction of some informative publications available for download.

You will find a huge amount of research-based information centered on sustainable landscape practices that is specific to Mississippi on the MSU Extension Service Smart Landscapes site (http://extension.msstate.edu/smartlandscapes). I highly recommend two publications in particular. The first is No. 2698, “Home Landscape Design”, a comprehensive guide to creating a landscape plan that gives you valuable guidance on how to avoid common planning mistakes and create a low maintenance landscape.

Extension Publication No. 2402 on “Establishing a Backyard Wildlife Habitat” is a comprehensive handbook outlining the basic needs of wildlife, and how you can provide them. For example, plant a diversity of “layers” in your yard – plants of all heights and forms – to offer wildlife a wide selection of habitats to live and breed within. Also, provide plants that will provide flowers and food in every season of the year.

Information is also available on the Smart Landscapes website on gardening for birds, hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and pollinators, as well as other topics that interest you, such as composting, fertilizing, or mulching.

A very special opportunity for learning will take place during the Arbor Day plant sale. Harrison County Master Gardener T.J. Testaman will be revealing the secrets to growing pawpaw trees. Pawpaws produce the largest native fruit in the U.S. and are also known as “custard apples.” The curious fruits have a tropical flavor and are related to Papaya.

One secret to having pawpaws is hand pollination. T.J. will cover this method as well as pawpaw varieties best suited to our area, how and where to plant them, grafting methods, growing them from seed, and ways to increase fruit yield. There will be some pawpaw trees available in containers and also in bare root form.

We are planning to give away bare root slash pine seedlings at the sale, and are excited to be offering some bare root selections of hard-to-find native flowering trees and shrubs that are excellent choices for your pollinator and wildlife garden, for example, redbud, black cherry, mayhaw, pawpaw, viburnum, catalpa, and persimmon.

Perennials such as black-eyed Susan, blanketflower, and scarlet sage will be available in containers. Native seed for your garden, from a source here in the Southeast, will be available. The seeds include swamp milkweed, black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, sweet Joe Pye weed, Indian blanketflower, passionflower, cardinal flower, spotted beebalm, Mexican hat, golden Alexander, white wingstem (a.k.a. frostweed), and scarlet sage.

Get ready for planting in the upcoming gardening program, “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 help you get things 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 afternoon, there will be a children’s Nature Crafts workshop from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. Enjoy this family fun activity where children will work with a variety of natural materials to create their craft project. As children must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, there is no minimum age requirement. Members’ children $4, and non-members’ children $6 (no charge for adults). Space is limited, and reservations are requested.

Call now to reserve your place in programs 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 can sign up for email notices of upcoming events. Remember, your leashed pets are always welcome!