Mississippi State Extension service to honor Plants

Published 1:12 am Sunday, March 23, 2014

Each year a select group of plants are designated Mississippi Medallion winners. They must be outstanding performers in all four Extension Service test gardens across the state. The four 2014 selections bring the program total to 65 ornamentals, vegetables and trees with Medallion status.
Tumbling Tom Red and Tumbling Tom Yellow tomatoes head up the 2014 Medallion list. These cherry style tomatoes were bred for container planting. With a weeping growth habit, they are compact and vigorous determinate vines, meaning they quit growing at some point. Advertised as appropriate for patio containers, window boxes and hanging baskets, they bear 1-2 inch sweet fruits on stems that cascade from the plant. Due to their branching structure, they do not require staking. They are both attractive in a garden as well as being abundant producers.
Gary Bachman Mississippi State University Horticulturist with the Coastal Research and Extension Center states that for best production, a gardener needs to provide consistent moisture and frequent fertilizer. He uses a water soluble fertilizer which keeps the leaves abundant and green to support the fruit production on these plants. Full sun is required just as it is with any other tomato.
They take 70 to 80 days for maturity if seeds are planted, 50 to 65 if gardeners buy transplants. Seeds are readily available from several of the larger seed companies. Look for transplants locally.
Rabbiteye blueberry is another 2014 Medallion winner. Vigorous, sometimes growing up to 10 feet tall, rabbiteyes generally produce large, juicy, delicious fruits. They are also attractive shrubs in the home landscape with foliage that becomes orangey red each fall. Best of all, they are easy to grow and relatively pest-free if their growing conditions are met.
The Extension Service has produced several publications related to growing blueberries. They have become a cash crop in Mississippi and other southeastern states and home gardeners are benefitting from the knowledge and experience of the commercial growers.
It takes two varieties for cross pollination according to the Extension publications. So plant at least two and preferably more varieties. There are early season ones such as Austin, moderately vigorous with large berries; Brightwell, vigorous with medium size berries ; Climax with large berries that ripen in May to early June; and Premier, a vigorous, productive plant with disease resistance and large berries that ripen about 2 weeks before Tifblue. Mid to late season varieties include Tifblue, the most productive of all rabbiteyes and the major cultivar planted throughout the southeastern states with large tasty fruits that remain on the bush fully ripe for several days; Powderblue, vigorous, disease resistant and productive; Centurion, vigorous with tasty fruit that ripens two to three weeks later than Tifblue extending the blueberry season; and Baldwin, a late ripening variety with good flavor which is often suggested for home gardeners.
Blueberries can be planted in full sun to partial shade but produce more in full sun. Late fall and winter is the ideal time to plant. Soil testing is strongly recommended prior to planting. Blueberries need moist but well-drained acid soil (pH of 4-5 to 5-5) rich in organic material such as peat moss. One Extension publication suggests working ¼ to ½ bushel of peat moss into the soil with each planting hole. Then setting plants ½ to 1 inch deeper than they were growing in the nursery container plus cutting them back to 8 inches when planted. After watering, mulching is recommended with pine needles or bark to conserve moisture and prevent competition with weeds. It also mentions that too much fertilizer damages young plants so gardeners should wait until they are at least a year old to apply a light dressing of acid appropriate fertilizer such as that used for azaleas or camellias, increasing the amount annually for the next few years and periodically soil testing for appropriate pH.
The last 2014 Medallion winner is Pow Wow Wild Berry coneflower. This is the new coneflower that grows only 20 inches tall and produces lots of intense non-fading rose colored blooms. Most coneflowers are tall but this one was developed for small gardens and containers. Dead heading is not required but like most other blooming selections this plant will produce more blooms if deadheaded periodically. They like full sun to light shade with good drainage and are heat and drought tolerate once established in a landscape. Plant in groups of 3 to 5 for best results.
1996 was the first year for the Mississippi Medallion Program. It was developed to identify plants and trees selected for their outstanding performance throughout the state. It is a combined effort by the Mississippi State University Extension Service, Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association, the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and the Mississippi Plant Selection Committee.

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and Master Flower Show judge, has been active in the Openwood Plantation Garden Club for over 35 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg MS 39183.