Spring native plant sale is right around the corner

Published 11:25 am Sunday, March 20, 2022

By Patricia Drackett

Director of the Crosby Arboretum and

assistant extension professor of landscape architecture with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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Come learn more about native Mississippi plant species at our big spring native plant sale on Friday and Saturday, March 25 and 26.  What plans are you making for spring gardening projects?  Would you like a little help?  The Mississippi State University Extension Service has many publications and resources that will help you make wise decisions when selecting new plants for your home landscape.

You’ll find a huge amount of research-based information specific to Mississippi on the Smart Landscapes site (http://extension.msstate.edu/smartlandscapes). One outstanding publication you may view or download from this MSU Extension website is Publication No. 2698, “Home Landscape Design”, which will guide you through the process of creating a landscape plan and how you can avoid common landscape planning – and planting – mistakes.

One common question we get is how one should amend the planting pit for trees or shrubs if a site does not offer the preferred conditions. But keep in mind that it is best to not to struggle to artificially provide a plant with the conditions that it prefers. It is best to accept that would be less costly and time-consuming to use plants that would be happy growing in your property’s specific environmental conditions.  Consider that native plant species, when provided with the environmental conditions that they prefer, can be planted directly into the site without amendments.

Do you have problem soils? No matter your “problem”, you can find native plants that will be happy in such conditions, such as wet or compacted soils.  At the Arboretum, you’ll find many examples of native trees and shrubs that will do well in such challenging conditions, for example, hollies, Virginia willow (Itea), red maple, wax myrtle, black gum, and bald and pond cypress trees. Moisture-loving perennials such as American Crinum lily, Texas star hibiscus, cardinal flower, and southern blue flag iris also will provide attractive blooms in low-lying areas where typical ornamental species would not prosper.

This year, we will have a selection of the yellow flame (Rhododendron austrinum) and pink (R. canescens) native “honeysuckle” azaleas.  If you’ve taken a walk at the Arboretum in the springtime, you’ve most likely encountered these attractive shrubs blooming along the pathways. A mature pink honeysuckle azalea is currently in full flower along the walkway leading up to the Pinecote Pavilion.  On last week’s field walk with Matthew Herron from the Coastal Plains Outdoor School, his group paused to take in this sight – and sweet fragrance – of the glorious shrub, which is also a destination for butterflies in search of sweet nectar. After the pink blooms of R. canescens, the orange to yellow blooms of R. austrinum will emerge. These flowers have a spicier fragrance. Both of these native azaleas are deciduous, meaning that they drop their leaves in the winter. The shrubs will bloom before or during the emergence of leaves, making for a very dramatic display in the garden.

Many veteran plant shoppers of the Arboretumt sales will remember the Confederate Azalea Series from Dodd & Dodd Nurseries in Semmes, Alabama, a cross of native R. austrinum and an Exbury hybrid with a high heat tolerance and increased bloom size developed by Bob Schwindt and evaluated by nursery owner Tom Dodd III. While Dodd & Dodd closed in 2015, their incredibly informative website remains online as an outstanding native plant resource (http://www.doddnatives.com/).

Our spring plant sale will include Aromi hybrid azaleas, also an Exbury cross between native deciduous azaleas such as R. austrinum, R. canescens, and R. viscosum developed by Dr. Eugene Aromi, an education professor at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. See an informative video about Dr. Aromi and the Mobile Botanical Gardens’ Aromi Azalea Collection at https://mobilebotanicalgardens.org/ by Maarten van der Giessen of van der Giessen Nursery in Semmes, Alabama. Maarten inherited many of Dr. Aromi’s azaleas, which he donated to Mobile Botanical Garden. He has made it a mission to preserve these azaleas that are unique in southern horticulture. Interestingly, not unlike the Crosby Arboretum, in the video Maarten refers to the Aromi hybrids being nationally recognized but unknown “in their own hometown”.

Our spring native plant sale will take place Friday and Saturday, March 25 and 26 from 10:00 a.m. to Noon (members may enter at 9:00 a.m.). You may renew your membership or join online prior to the event.  On Saturday, April 2, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., bring your friends and family to the Strawberries and Cream Festival. Enjoy an afternoon stroll through the Arboretum grounds and see the plant exhibits in full bloom. The event will be held on the Pinecote Pavilion. Listen to music, enjoy ice cream, fresh strawberries, and Picayune Frog Lemonade. Admission is free. More information is available on our website at http://crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu/ and our Facebook page. The Crosby Arboretum is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4. Leashed pets are always welcome!