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Are you dreaming of spring gardens?

By Pat Drackett

Crosby Arboretum Director

It won’t be long until warm weather returns for good, and we begin the roller-coaster ride – another year of non-stop blooms in the Crosby Arboretum exhibits. Our Woodland, Savanna and Aquatic exhibits contain examples of the native plant communities found in the Pearl River Drainage Basin.

As each area comes into its own unique and glorious season, visitors will have the opportunity to forge a connection with the changing seasons, and hopefully consider welcoming a few of the plants they see into their own home landscapes.

Our spring plant sale will take place the third week in March, and we are busily planning our orders, with the goal of bring the public a well-chosen collection of hard to find, low-maintenance and top-performing plants.

During the sale, the Arboretum’s Green Team volunteers will help answer plant questions and give advice on choosing species based on your property’s environmental conditions. We also have some selected publications on native plants in the Visitor Center.

Activities this spring will include programs that will help you add to your gardening and landscaping skills and your knowledge of native plant species. For those who have been asking, we are pleased to announce that retired MSU Extension Forestry specialist Dr. Glenn Hughes will be returning to conduct another of his popular woodland botany walks on Saturday, March 13 at 1:00 p.m. Details for the program and our new program schedule will be posted shortly on our website.

One native shrub that will most likely be flowering during the walk, and one of the earliest plants to flower, is the Elliott’s blueberry. The plant can grow to 10 feet tall, and has an attractive delicate, lacy appearance due to its many small green twigs. Currently, the branches are dotted with many tiny deep rose-colored buds that will open to reveal light pink, bell-like blooms.

You will soon be seeing other early spring bloomers such as wooly sunbonnets, also known as pineland daisies, in our Savanna Exhibit. This perennial is in the Aster family and has white flowers that resemble daisies. Sunbonnets are usually found in groupings, and true to their nature of being an early bloomer, you will notice that their rosettes of leaves lie close to the ground, benefiting from the stored warmth. If you observe the flowers in both the morning and later in the day, you will learn that their faces follow the sun!

Interestingly, the blooms will close on cloudy days. I remember this from a few years ago, when I took a walk to snap some photos only to realize the flowers had decided to “close up shop” for the day.

Want to learn more on gardening with native species, or home landscaping in general? You will find a huge amount of research-based information specific to Mississippi on the Mississippi State University Extension Service’s Smart Landscapes site (http://extension.msstate.edu/smartlandscapes). I highly recommend two information-packed publications you can view or download from the website that will guide you in your spring landscape projects this year. If you don’t have them already as ready references on your computer or tablet, take the time to download these. The first is the MSU Extension Publication No. 2698 called “Home Landscape Design,” which guides you through the process of creating a landscape plan and how you can avoid common landscape planning mistakes.

The Extension Publication No. 2402, “Establishing a Backyard Wildlife Habitat,” is a comprehensive handbook that outlines the basic needs of wildlife and how to 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 in. Also, plan for a mix of plants to provide flowers and food for every season of the year. Search for these publications by their titles in the search field on the Extension home page.

The Arboretum’s Spring Native Plant Sale will be held on March 19 and 20 (Friday and Saturday), from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. We are also considering extending the sale to Sunday afternoon, so stay tuned. We will be offering a variety of hard-to-find native trees, shrubs and perennials in this sale. Plant professionals including the Pearl River County Master Gardeners will be on hand to help you with making selections.

If your membership has lapsed, you may renew (or join) online at our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. Visit the Crosby Arboretum Facebook page for more information on the site, and our activities. We’re located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4, and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 4:30. Leashed pets are always welcome on our three miles of trails!