By Kathy Conner Cornell
VCE Southside Master Gardener
I notice what people place around their mailboxes and I sometimes wonder if they considered their Mail Carriers when plant choices were made. Not only do Mail Carriers have to put up with dogs and other pesty animals but an unmovable item like a plant should not cause them trouble. This is another example of how important it is to put the right plant in the right place.
Turf is a good plant choice around a mailbox. It is important to keep it mowed and free of weeds such as poison ivy.
First and foremost, leave thorny plants to another part of the garden. If you must plant a rose behind the mailbox, you should assure that the bush is kept away from the mailbox to avoid scratching someone’s arm. Blackberries, raspberries and prickly pear cactus are other plants best left away from the mailbox. Remember, little plants soon become big plants. I will share with you a story about prickly pear cactus. My husband had invited me for a weekend at his beach house. He was mowing the lawn so I decided to do some weeding. I was sitting on the ground and scooting back as I cleared an area. I just happened to scoot on a small prickly pear cactus. Small didn’t mean it was free of needles. Trust me, it was rather humbling to have my future husband take tweezers and pull needles out of my derrière.
I was reading suggestions on landscaping mailboxes and many recommended vines like Mandevilla. First off, this vine will grow up the post and over the mailbox as will most vines. Mandevilla will bloom from early summer through to frost. The blooms are very attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Certainly, the butterflies and hummingbirds are innocuous enough but the bees can sting. This can be a real safety issue if your Mail Carrier has a bee venom allergy. You will also need to be committed to cutting the vines away from the front of the mailbox. A better idea would be to place the vines on a trellis in another part of the garden where wildlife and people alike can enjoy their beauty.
Herbaceous perennials were another popular recommendation for mailbox plantings. Once again, many perennials and annuals for that matter attract bees and wasps. This increases the chances of a bee or wasp deciding to set up housekeeping in your mailbox. This is a quote from the USPS Domestic Mail Manual (DOM) “if the mailbox is not safe to serve, the carrier can return the mail to the office, inform their supervisor and have the customer contacted immediately for continued city or rural delivery”. In other words, if you do not clear out the nest in a timely manner, the Postal Service will stop delivery of your mail.
Even if you just left the grass around the mailbox, there is always the chance that a poisonous plant like poison ivy will spring up. Note the wording from the USPS about safe access. Poisonous plants are not safe and can be very harmful to people like me who can get a rash from just looking at poison ivy.
If your mailbox is attached to your house, don’t think you are getting a free pass. If you have containers near the mailbox with flowers that attract bees and wasps you might want to rethink. Consider too, if your pot placement is a tripping hazard for your Mail Carrier.
So, what are some good plant choices? Turf is always an option. When I was going to school, my landscape design instructor said why would you want to draw attention to something that is not attractive. But I can appreciate the desire to make the mailbox look appealing. Short ornamental grasses such as Blue Fescue or Mondo Grass especially the black-leaved dwarf type can be striking. Carex is another option, it looks grass like but is a sedge. My perennials instructor taught me how to differentiate between the grass like plants with this saying “Sedges have edges, rushes are round and grasses have joints when the cops aren’t around”. Sedums are also an option. These are all drought tolerant plants which is another thing to consider. I am only scratching the surface here. There are many choices out there but think about the person in front of the mailbox when you choose.
In case you are wondering, my husband was never a Mail Carrier. While we all are practicing ‘social distancing’ and Halifax County buildings including the Halifax VCE Office are still closed to the public, due to COVID-19, if you have gardening questions, you can best reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you can’t email, you can call and leave a message at the Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at 434-830-3383, giving us your name, telephone number, and nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is checked daily and someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. Keep washing your hands, wearing your mask, and consider your Mail Carrier when you landscape your mailbox. Happy New Year and be safe and stay healthy in 2021.
Caption for picture: Turf is a good plant choice around a mailbox. It is important to keep it mowed and free of weeds such as poison ivy.