Native grasses highlight Master Gardener seminar

(01/23/19) West Monroe, La. — Restoring native plants and landscapes was a highlight at this year’s Ag Expo gardening seminar in West Monroe on Jan. 17.

The program was presented by the Northeast Louisiana Master Gardeners Association, with speakers including Charles Allen, botanist and retired biology professor from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Also speaking on the program was Tammany Baumgarten, a Master Gardener in New Orleans and owner-operator of BaumGarden Landscape and Design.

The keynote speaker was Dwayne Estes, professor of biology and curator of the Austin Peay State University Herbarium in Clarksville, Tennessee.

The annual seminar is held in conjunction with Ag Expo; this year, the program was all about prairie grasses.

“This is our 10th annual seminar, and we have grown steadily through the years,” said AgCenter horticulture agent Kerry Heafner. “We’ve covered a number of topics through the years with a wide range of speakers from diverse backgrounds.”

Allen said he has found that the big keys to prairie creation or re-creation are patience and perennials.

“We have to remember that herbaceous perennials grow above-ground stems yearly, die back to the ground during winter and regrow the following spring,” Allen said. “A common mistake is to think that when the above-ground stem dies, the entire plant is dead.”

Baumgarten is the president of the Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans, a newly formed organization dedicated to promoting and preserving native plantings in urban settings. Her presentation was titled “My Weeds, My Bugs and Why They Matter.”

“I think the average gardener has the ability to change the ecological function of their own yards by choosing native plants and by choosing sustainable ways of maintaining it,” Baumgarten said.

In addition to his university work, Estes also serves as the executive director of the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative. It is a nonprofit organization with the mission of understanding, preserving, restoring and promoting the grasslands of the Southeast through education, outreach, research, consultation and conservation.

Estes said evidence shows that a large section of the southeastern United States was once vast prairies.

“The problem is many of these prairies are now gone. And without the assistance of working groups, they may be gone forever,” he said.

There is a need to change course and try to save some of the native plants before it’s too late. The survival of the environment is at stake, he said.

“The loss of native habitat is leading to the loss of birds. It’s leading to the loss of insects, and it’s leading to the loss of mammals,” Estes said.

Most American history classes teach about how the early settlers encountered vast hardwood forests where they had to chop down trees to build log cabins, open roads and clear fields, but that’s not the case, Estes said.

“Nearly half of the Southeast was actually vast, wide-open prairies,” he said. “We are pushing to return some of these areas back to their original state.”

Groups are working to bring back these prairies in some areas that most people wouldn’t imagine, like in the middle of Chicago, Estes said.

“Where these prairies are being brought back, in addition to the return of plant life, we are also seeing a resurgence of different insects, birds and other animals,” he said.

In addition to the speakers, attendees visited with vendors who were selling books, plants and trees. A variety of free vegetable and flower seeds was also available.

The Louisiana Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program of the LSU AgCenter designed for people who have an interest in gardening, want to learn more about it and who want to give back to the community, Heafner said.

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Dwayne Estes, professor of biology and curator of the Austin Peay State University Herbarium, discusses the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative and native plant conservation at the Ag Expo gardening seminar in West Monroe on Jan. 17. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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Tammany Baumgarten, a Master Gardener in New Orleans and owner-operator of BaumGarden Landscape and Design, gives a presentation titled “My Weeds, My Bugs and Why They Matter” at the Ag Expo gardening seminar in West Monroe on Jan. 17. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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John Coykendall, a Master Gardener at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, signs his new book, “Preserving Our Roots,” at the Ag Expo gardening seminar in West Monroe on Jan. 17. He also shared his expertise on collecting seeds that are nearing extinction. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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Charles Allen, botanist and retired biology professor from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, discusses the importance of creating and re-creating open prairies during the Ag Expo gardening seminar in West Monroe on Jan. 17. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Kerry Heafner takes questions from Master Gardeners during their annual seminar, which was held in conjunction with Ag Expo in West Monroe on Jan. 17. The theme of this year’s seminar was native plants and landscapes. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

1/23/2020 7:40:36 PM
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