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Mississippi horticulturists stay 'ahead of the curve'
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Three recent experiences provide evidence that tells me Mississippi growers and garden centers are hitting the mark when it comes to the newest plants.
First, a landscape architect in Memphis called me about some plants. He finished the conversation by saying somehow Mississippi was ahead of the curve when it comes to the availability of new plants. Later, the editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram called to tell me the local garden centers did not know about the plants mentioned in an article I had written. Because our garden centers in Mississippi have had those plants for three years, I was shocked. Finally, gardeners in an adjoining state recently told me that they shop for plants two or three times a year in Mississippi.
It is amazing to see the changes that have taken place in the growing and retail segments of the ornamental horticulture industry. Why is Mississippi ahead of the curve? One reason is that these businessmen and women are going to professional meetings and plant trials all over the country.
They are serving as the impetus for what is happening across the state, because it is not just happening in the business sector, but with Mississippi State University as well. The MSU Extension Service has been reorganized and streamlined to operate more efficiently and effectively. The horticulture unit has come together as a team and will be better suited to assist growers, retailers and individual consumers.
It is incredible to see the changes that have taken place with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in the seven years I have been in the state. Back then, there was little, if any, ornamental horticulture research in north Mississippi. Today, the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona is not only doing research but also conducting plant trials and helping develop a cut-flower industry. The center will be hosting a Fall Garden Expo for the public on Sept. 28.
Seven years ago, the Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs was dedicated almost exclusively to vegetables and fruits. Today, ornamental horticulture has become a significant program with a new greenhouse and more staff. The 4,000 visitors to the Fall Flower and Garden Fest on Oct. 18 and 19 will see not only the vegetables and herbs, but also a sea of color from beautiful flowers.
The South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station in Poplarville was significant in ornamental horticulture seven years ago, but almost totally trees and shrubs. Today, this site has become one of the shining examples of MSU's dedication to ornamental research. The woody plant research is ongoing, but flowers have been added to the extent that other states are recognizing it.
In addition to the Mississippi Medallion trials, this is also the site for the All-America Selections. This is the only place between Georgia and Texas where gardeners can come and see the plants before they are named winners. The public is invited to see the trials on Oct. 25.
The new Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi has broken ground, and it will not be long until more trial grounds are underway at this facility.
The granddaddy site for research and plant trials is on MSU's campus in Starkville. This location sometimes is either ignored or taken for granted. I wish everyone could have seen the trial grounds at the arboretum on campus this spring and summer. If you had, you would be digging some new ground for next spring's plantings.
MSU has been attracting and going after some of the best and brightest ornamental horticulturists in the Southeast, forming a team of true experts who will lead Mississippi gardeners into the wisest decisions. The future looks bright, and it appears Mississippi will stay ahead of the curve. You always will have the best tried and proven plants as well as the hottest new ones. Gardening should be fun in the Magnolia State; it is the best.