By Brent Gray
The Mississippi State University Extension Service Yalobusha County office will be closed Dec. 23, 2013 – Jan. 2, 2014. The office will reopen on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 at 8 a.m. Have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season!
Who says the winter landscape can’t be colorful and interesting, especially if you have an abundant supply of trees and shrubs that bear winter berries? Most gardening folks tend to call any showy fruit a berry. Now, if we want to be “botanically correct” a fruit is a ripened ovary that forms around fertilized ovules that become seeds.
There are many types of fruit based on their structure. A “berry” is just one of these types of fruit. A true berry, botanically speaking, has fleshy pulp filled with multiple seeds. A blueberry and nandina are true berries and, believe it or not, so are a tomato as well as a honeysuckle. Contrary to what you may think, a “drupe” is not a condition of a tired gardener, but is a type of fruit that has a single hard seed like a cherry or peach. This hard seed is sometimes described as a pit or stone. Some of our most beautiful winter berries are actually drupes. These include holly, beautyberry, coralberry, dogwood, glory bower and viburnum. Another odd name to describe a unique fruit is a pome. An apple is a pome fruit. The fleshy part that we eat which surrounds the seeds actually is formed from modified stem and receptacle tissue. Bet you didn’t realize you were eating stem tissue when you bite into a ripe apple! Chokeberry, cotoneaster, rose hips and pyracantha “berries” are all examples of pome fruit.
Having an abundance of fruiting plants for the winter landscape is not only very attractive but provides food for wildlife, in particular, our feathered friends. Hungry birds can strip an entire shrub in a day. Planting fruit-bearing plants in mass can ensure an ample food supply without taking away from the attractiveness of the display.
Be aware that some of our berried plants are invasive both in the garden and in native habitats beyond the garden. Bright, colorful ber-ries are attractive and are nature’s way of ensuring that birds and animals consume and disperse the seeds near and far. This is a great system for our native plant species, but when the species is an exotic invasive it is not so good. For example, one of our most destructive invasive species is the privet (Ligustrum sp.) which is spread mainly by birds. Nandina and eleagnus are just a couple of our landscape plants that can escape into the wild. It’s always wise to familiarize yourself with a plant’s origin and habits before you buy it.
So, enjoy the many “berries” of the winter landscape, but be mindful of those plants that could become to “berry bountiful” and spread themselves around too much. Also, it just might be fun to share your new botany terminology with your friends and neighbors. Be prepared to have folks think you are a little odd when you refer to a ripe tomato as a berry or you say you are going to decorate a Christmas wreath with red holly drupes.
Winter does not officially start until December 21 but the low temperatures experienced so far this Fall are colder in some places than the lows reached all last Winter. The national weather service persists in predicting a milder than normal cold season for Mississippi, but the cold has already eliminated many plants form the vegetable garden. Replace them with a cover crop like daikon or oilseed radish to quickly grow organic matter for the soil. Collard and kale planted now will produce edible greens for Valentine’s day.. Gardeners south of interstate 20 can still plant almost any of the cool season vegetables.
Now is the time to be scanning catalogues for sources of seed for next year. Buy a packet of seeds of something new. Purple carrots make a colorful change, particularly the ones that are purple though out like Deep Purple. Ambrosia cantaloupe fans may want to try Sarah’s Choice. Gardeners who like bell pepper flavor but only use small amounts at a time should grow a plant or two of the ‘no-heat’ jalapenos like ‘Fooled You’, ‘Pace 105’,or ‘Dulce’. The smaller peppers keep you from having to bag and store parts of a pepper in the refrigerator. Work with your garden center to arrange transplants for next Spring. Line up English pea seeds and seed potatoes for January or February planting.
Much of Mississippi has enjoyed abundant rain this December. Take advantage of the wet soil and pull up the seedling woody weeds in your flower beds. These small trees are much easier to pull out of wet soil than to try to dig them out of dry soil. Make sure you pull with your legs and not your back.