Fall is an excellent time for new planting projects

Published 8:00 am Sunday, October 23, 2022

By Patrician Drackett

Director of the Crosby Arboretum and assistant extension professor of landscape architecture with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.


Yes, you read that correctly! In fact, by the time you are reading this column, you may have already acquired a few new plants for your property at the Crosby Arboretum’s big fall native plant sale.  After our sale, we will “repopulate” the ongoing sale on our Visitor Center deck, and chances are you will still find some outstanding trees, shrubs, and groundcovers that need good homes.

With cooler temperatures having already made an appearance, there will be many more of these glorious days to come, which will offer excellent conditions for being outside and to be planting some lovely new additions in your home landscape. A fall installation will allow for an extended period of time, allowing for root establishment before the warm temperatures return again.

Over the last few years, we have been growing more and more of the plants you will see in our sales, especially flowering perennials that attract butterflies and other pollinators, and native fruit trees such as persimmon, flatwoods and Chickasaw plums, and mayhaws. This year, we grew over one hundred mayhaws!

We also grew American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), a deciduous native tree that grows 40 to 50 feet in height but is typically only seen half this size.  The tree can be identified by its characteristic dark “blocky” bark. Persimmon is in the ebony family, and from this you might rightly surmise that its wood is very dense. It is famous for its use in making golf club heads (much more popular in days gone by) and is also used to flavor meats by smoking.

The fruit is delicious and sweet when ripe and is enjoyed by humans as well as wildlife. It is high in nutrients, including potassium. Perhaps you have made persimmon bread, pudding, or jam.  The pulp will freeze quite well.

Persimmon is found growing in a wide variety of site conditions, ranging from wet bottomland forests, old fields, to dry scrublands or woods, in full to part sun. At the Arboretum, persimmon occurs along woodland edges and near the bridges, as well as in our Savanna Exhibit, where you will see multi-trunked trees that are continually cut back by prescribed fire. Look closely at persimmon leaves in the various site conditions where it is found, as there is often quite a bit of variation.

Many of the shrubs we are growing now make excellent choices for the wildlife garden – for example, beautyberry, now gracing local roadsides, turning heads with its brilliant magenta fruits clustered in balls around the stems. It’s an undemanding shrub, easy to grow in sun or shade. Arrow-wood viburnum, black cherry, winged sumac, inkberry holly, and ‘Savannah’ holly are also excellent choices for supporting area birds and wildlife.

The Extension Service website (http://extension.msstate.edu/) offers a wide range of gardening information specific to our state to help you design a bird-friendly landscape. “Attracting Birds to Mississippi Gardens”, written by former Arboretum site director Bob Brzuszek, contains tips for landscaping to support birds, and includes a list of plants with high wildlife value.

Extension publication 2402 on “Establishing a Backyard Wildlife Habitat” is an informative 28-page handbook you may download from the Extension website and 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 within.

Join us for “Alexa, What’s this Plant?” – The Ins and Outs of Plant ID Apps on Saturday, Oct. 29, from 10:00 a.m. to Noon. These days, it seems like all knowledge is at our fingertips through technology – but only if we know who to ask.  Which virtual assistant knows the name of your mystery plant in the field? (Hint: It’s not Alexa.)  Retired ecologist Dr. Janet Wright will compare some popular plant ID apps for smartphones.  Afterwards, the group will take “our virtual buddies” onto the trail to see how they enrich our connection to the natural world.  If possible, please download the iNaturalist app prior to attending the program. Members $3, non-members $6.

On Saturday, October 29, from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. families will enjoy creating Halloween-themed crafts together, in a fun Crafts Workshop.  As all children must be accompanied by an adult, there is no minimum age requirement. Cost is $3 for members (adults and children), all non-members $6. Registration required.

For more information, please call the Crosby Arboretum office at 601-799-231 or see the program schedule on our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu<http://www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu/> or our Facebook page. The Arboretum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).  Leashed pets are always welcome.