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Trial gardens offer good info to home gardeners
One of my goals for this column has always been to promote the planting of ornamental varieties -- and to some extent vegetable varieties -- in our Mississippi landscapes and gardens. Sometimes, these plants are tried and true favorites of mine; other times, they are new to market and deserve a chance to shine and be enjoyed.
I’ve shared plant performance from my own garden, as well other gardeners’ landscapes. Greenhouse and nursery professionals are always willing to share opinions and good new plants. And, of course, we can get growing information from the national organizations like All-America Selections and national branding sources like Proven Winners and First Editions.
Most of this information is good, but many times, it is anecdotal for individual Mississippi gardeners. And let’s face it: We’ve probably all had plants that were highly recommended, even by yours truly, that just didn’t live up to the hype because of the unique growing conditions we have in Mississippi. My landscape in Ocean Springs on the Gulf Coast is vastly different from that in New Albany.
One of the limitations to these recommendations is the lack of good, reliable research data on a particular plant’s performance in Mississippi. But this is changing for the better.
Over the past several years, Mississippi State University has made a commitment to establish trial gardens across Mississippi to generate plant growth and performance data and make fact-based recommendations for the gardening public. We now have trials gardens located at five sites from north Mississippi to the Gulf Coast, and from USDA Hardiness Zone 7b to 9a.
Plant trials take a big commitment of time, patience and personnel to complete, and this has been a handicap for us in the past. But the team MSU has put together is remedying the situation. We currently have five Extension/research faculty, up to 10 research associates and technicians, and three graduate students participating in various roles from trial bed preparation to planting, maintaining and evaluating the growth performance of the trial plants.
The Mississippi Medallion program is going to be one of the first beneficiaries of these trialing efforts. We are currently growing plants for Mississippi Medallion consideration for the years 2017 and 2018. Providing this information earlier allows growers to produce the plants and ensures an adequate supply will be available for the home gardener.
These are the five trial locations:
- North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona, home of the Fall Flower and Vegetable Tour on September 26;
- Mississippi State Trial Gardens on the main campus in Starkville;
- Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Spring, which is home to the Fall Flower and Garden Fest on October 16-17;
- South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station in Poplarville, home of the Ornamental Horticulture Field Day on October 1; and
- Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.
Each of these trial gardens welcomes visitors throughout the year, but I advise calling ahead before a visit in case there are maintenance activities in progress.