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Get ready for the fall planting season

By Pat Drackett

Crosby Arboretum Director

Are you eagerly anticipating the appearance of some “real” fall weather? Several times in recent columns, the point has been made that planting new species into your home landscape during the fall and winter months is an ideal time not only because of the cooler temperatures being more comfortable to labor in, but due to the long period of time that will pass before hot weather returns again.

Gorgeous early spring days beckon us into the garden centers to select flowering plants for our gardens. But in the autumn, we tend to instead be thinking about the holidays and upcoming family visits. It’s not typically a time for planning new landscape projects. Even Arbor Day, well-known for encouraging the planting of trees, is in the early spring. In reality, fall would be better!

Once daily temperatures become cooler, plants will need much less water, particularly if they are deciduous species that lose their leaves during the winter and therefore don’t need to support a crown of green leaves.

In the last decade or so, more media articles seem to mention the benefits of planting woody plants – shrubs and trees – in the fall and winter. This “dormant season” begins when the leaves of deciduous plant species start tumbling to the ground, until warmer days in spring coax out new buds, leaves and blooms. Take advantage of this!

Here in coastal Mississippi, we don’t have to endure thick blankets of winter snow for long periods of time. Instead, a winter day could be in the 50’s. So, you can still dig a hole! Consider getting outdoors to add a few new plants to your landscape over this coming month or so, and then rest assured that they will have a long while to slowly develop a root system, making them a much stronger and established plant by spring.

Now, take the “spring fever” concept a bit further, to flowering perennials. Yes, consider planting fall-blooming perennial plants in your garden. You’ll find some winners at the Arboretum this weekend! Over the past few months, the Arboretum’s Green Team volunteers have been hard at work growing some top-performing, low-maintenance native perennials such as beeblossom, blazing star, Stokes’ Aster, cardinal flower, purple coneflower, scarlet sage and blanket flower. Many of the volunteers on this team are Pearl River County Master Gardeners, so they are well-acquainted with these tough-as-nails perennials that will attract pollinators, hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden.

Attend The Crosby Arboretum’s big Fall Native Plant Sale this Friday and Saturday, October 16 and 17. Select from an excellent selection of trees, shrubs and native fall-blooming perennials for your fall planting projects. Arboretum staff and Master Gardeners will be available to answer your questions and to help make suggestions for plants that will thrive in your property’s unique environmental conditions.

Grancy greybeard, an old-time garden favorite also known as “fringe tree” will be available at our fall sale. This plant prefers a moist, well-drained soil, but also tolerates drier conditions. Fringe tree has unusual, airy, white fringed flowers that light up a spring garden, and a sweet but not overpowering fragrance. Use this plant in the wildlife garden or as a specimen tree.

Many of the plants available are excellent choices for your wildlife garden, such as beautyberry, which grows along local roadsides. This shrub turns heads with its brilliant magenta fruits that are clustered in balls around the stems. It’s an undemanding plant that is easy to grow in sun or shade. Arrow-wood viburnum, oakleaf Hydrangea, and winterberry holly, also good shrubs for wildlife, will also be available at the sale.

The Mississippi State University Extension website contains a wealth of information to guide you in designing your landscape and choosing plants best suited to your home landscape.

Visit http://extension.msstate.edu and enter “home landscape design” or “smart landscapes” to get started reading. More information on Mississippi’s native species can be found in Extension publications No.2334, “Native Shrubs for Mississippi Landscapes” and No. 2330, “Native Trees for Mississippi Landscapes.”

We’ve just released some new Arboretum programs for October and November. See our website event calendar at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. Coming up on Saturday, October 24, we are offering both a Yoga class and a Forest Bathing Workshop. Learn about the origins and benefits of this practice which can strengthen one’s connection with nature. Originating in Japan, forest bathing has become known worldwide for improving health and well-being.

For more information, please call 601-799-2311. Sign up on our website to receive updates on The Crosby Arboretum’s activities and programs. We’re open Wednesday through Sunday and located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road. Exit gates are closed at 4:30 p.m. The business office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.