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Would you like to know where to find free plants?

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

During this recent period of outstandingly gorgeous spring weather, I’ve heard many tales from people who have been enjoying their time at home tending vegetable or flower gardens and installing new landscape beds. To help with your spring plant projects, the Arboretum will be taking native plant sales over the phone this Friday and Saturday, April 3 and 4, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Drive-through pickup times will be scheduled, and plants will be loaded by staff so you will not need to get out of your vehicle.

While purchasing plants is probably the most common acquisition method that comes to mind, there are many other ways. Just like a new kitten or puppy, you may have already brought home new “pass along plants” for your garden from a friend or relative. This is a term for plants which are easily shared because they are easy to divide or grow from cuttings or seed.

The Internet abounds with articles and tips for “backyard propagation.” Many of these projects use recycled materials such as 2-liter plastic soda bottles that create a self-watering, terrarium-like environment for raising new plants.

For years, grounds manager Terry Johnson has propagated many plants from seed at the Arboretum. One example is the magic he will weave with seed pods of Southern Blue Flag Iris (Iris viriginica). One seed pod collected around the Fourth of July can yield several dozen plants! Terry has worked this magic recently with the tiny seeds he collected from the pitcher plants in our south bog. He’s also well-known for his famous annual crop of Red Texas Star Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccinea), and Red Buckeye trees (Aesculus pavia), a favorite of ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Many year ago, I knew a couple in Long Beach with a beautiful slice of wet pine savanna in their backyard. In the late summer, scarlet pine lilies bloomed here in great abundance. When they moved away from coastal Mississippi, the Arboretum was fortunate to receive a donation – a precious jar of their collected pine lily seed. Terry Johnson scattered these seeds in our north and south pitcher plant bogs, and to our delight the numbers of pine lilies seen in these areas have increased. The striking scarlet lily appears in late fall, and it is a breathtaking sight when spotted sparkling among late-season grasses as a solitary bloom.

Imagine a field of these crimson beauties, mixed with yellow pitcher plants and other wetland blooming species, and you have an idea of the kind of “garden” my friends had encouraged on their property, because they understood the habitat offered by these particular environmental conditions. Many persons in Pearl River County tend to have larger properties than those in our more urban coastal areas. Perhaps you too have numerous types of natural habitats you can enhance on your own land.

Lastly, one excellent source of free plants is to transplant the small seedlings you find growing under shrubs and trees to other areas on your property. Such seedlings rarely have room to grow into mature plants and can be considered a nuisance to be weeded.

However, in the right place they can save you time and money as well as becoming new specimen plants. Surprisingly, they may become established much more quickly than larger plants in containers.

You can download a wealth of useful information on propagation techniques from the Mississippi State University Extension Service website at http://extension.msstate.edu/ such as “Propagating Plants for the Home Landscape” (Information Sheet No. 207). This and many other Extension articles and publications can be accessed by entering the key words “plant propagation” in the search field on the home page.

The Crosby Arboretum will be offering drive-through native plant sales for spring gardening projects. Orders for plants will be taken over the phone on April 3 and 4 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., credit card sales only. A receipt for your payment will be emailed.

A plant list that includes prices is posted on our Facebook page and our website at http://crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. Periodic announcements are sent to the public via our email listserv. If you would like to sign up for our email listserv to stay updated on Arboretum activities, just select “Events Updates” from the menu bar on our website.

Want to learn more about native plants? Visit the Mississippi State University Extension website listed above and search by this topic or scroll down on our home page to the orange rectangle to visit our Native Plant Data Base, hosted by The University of Texas at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Crosby Arboretum’s spring native plant orders are now postponed, in accordance with the order issued Wednesday by Governor Tate Reeves requiring that all Mississippi residents are to shelter in place. In addition, the Crosby Arboretum is closed to visitors until further notice. Updates will be issued via the Arboretum listserv and on our Arboretum Facebook page as information becomes available.