(01/24/23) WEST MONROE, La. — Three horticultural specialists showed the value of growing native plants in the landscape during the 12th annual Northeast Louisiana Master Gardener Seminar recently in West Monroe.
This annual meeting, held in conjunction with the Northeast Louisiana AgExpo, featured native plant professionals including David Creech, part-time director of the Stephen F. Austin Gardens in Nacogdoches, Texas, along with LSU AgCenter horticulturists Heather Kirk-Ballard and Damon Abdi.
Markaye Russell, AgCenter Master Gardener coordinator, said the goal of the meeting is to get more people interested in growing native plants in their landscapes.
“This meeting draws people from throughout the region and really the tri-state area,” she said. “There’s a lot of interest in growing natives, and the numbers we have here today attest to that.”
Kirk-Ballard, who was the opening speaker, discussed the benefits and disadvantages of natives as well as exotic plants.
“We are used to seeing azaleas, camellias, roses and crepe myrtles, but they are not native to the Southeast region,” she said. “They do well here, but they were brought here.”
She said human developments such as agriculture and subdivisions in urban areas have caused some habitat fragmentation, which is displacement of native animals.
“There are natives that you can plant to repel certain animals as well attract those that will keep balance in the ecosystem,” she said. “What this means is designing landscapes with wildlife in mind.”
Creech said the freeze that occurred back in December opened the eyes of a lot of people to the value of having native plants in the landscape.
“When I drove up to the West Monroe Convention Center, the first things I saw were gardenias, dead as a hammer, and the crepe myrtles were looking pretty rough with the bark scale,” he said. “If that doesn’t convince you to look at native plants as tough survivors because they’ve been here for thousands of years.”
Creech said the benefits of growing native plants beside exotics in the landscape is enormous.
“We are advocating for everyone to have a backbone of 80% native plants that are durable and can survive the freezes, the floods and the heat,” he said. “The other 20%, you can grow whatever you want.”
He said there are too many exotics that have problems, and the recent freeze was really an eyeopener.
“I’m from Nacogdoches, Texas, and we’ve been devastated — in 2021 and again in December when it got down to 9 degrees,” he said. “So it was tough on the plants because they weren’t acclimated.”
Abdi, a researcher at the AgCenter Hammond Research Station, said his goal is to develop sustainable landscaping practices that improve green spaces and water management in a variety of environments.
“We want to get native plants into the landscape that are aesthetically appealing and work with the site,” he said. “After all, a lot of native plants are perfect for this environment because they’ve always been here.”
Abdi is designing landscapes that bring out the best traits of natives and harmonize them to create the most ecologically sustainable landscape that stays true to the roots of the region.
LSU AgCenter horticulturist Heather Kirk-Ballard discusses the benefits and disadvantages of natives as well as exotic plants in the landscape during the 12th annual Northeast Louisiana Master Gardener Seminar held recently in West Monroe. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
David Creech, part-time director of the Stephen F. Austin Gardens in Nacogdoches, Texas, answers questions about native plants before his presentation during the 12th annual Northeast Louisiana Master Gardener Seminar held recently in West Monroe. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter horticulturist Damon Abdi discussing ways to develop sustainable landscaping practices that improve green spaces and water management in a variety of environments during the 12th annual Northeast Louisiana Master Gardener Seminar held recently in West Monroe. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter