Get It Growing’s Heather Kirk-Ballard talks sustainable landscaping at LSU Science Café

(04/27/23) BATON ROUGE, La. — The lack of diversity in home landscapes is cause for concern for LSU AgCenter consumer horticulturist Heather Kirk-Ballard, but she has a simple solution — plant more trees and native plants.

Kirk-Ballard was the featured speaker for LSU Science Café on April 26 at the Varsity Theatre where she talked about sustainable landscaping. She said most home landscapes are made of 75% or more of lawn and nonnative plants.

National Arbor Day is April 28, and Kirk-Ballard challenged the audience to plant a tree to commemorate the day and to improve the sustainability of our landscapes. She said monoculture can lead to issues in our environment.

“The lack of biodiversity can leave systems vulnerable to pests, disease and changing condition,” she said.

Many of the plants used in traditional landscapes are not well adapted to the area. She said those plants need a lot of maintenance and can contribute to higher carbon emissions.

Kirk-Ballard’s neighborhood flooded in the 2016 floods that ravaged areas of Baton Rouge.

“Climate change is having a significant impact on our backyard habitats,” she said.

Her recommendations included planting large trees and native shrubs, perennials and annuals that are drought and disease tolerant. She also suggested including edible plants in the design. She outlined the benefits of these types of landscapes:

  • Increase pollinators.
  • Improve the local food web.
  • Manage watersheds.
  • Remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Highlighting Arbor Day, she said planting trees can have the biggest impact.

“They sequester carbon, mitigate flood waters, provide wildlife habitat,” she said. “Trees can intercept rain and create frictional resistance as water passes over land.”

Large mature trees can also lower heating and cooling costs.

Kirk-Ballard said with 83% of the U.S. land in private hands, homeowners can make small changes that collectively can have the potential to make big impacts.

Kirk-Ballard emphasized the need to use stress-tolerant plants in Louisiana landscapes.

“You have to be tough to live here as a human, but also as a plant,” she said.

She discussed the Louisiana Super Plant program and recommended plants in that program as ones that can stand up to Louisiana’s climate.

LSU Science Café is a public outreach event sponsored by the LSU Office of Research and Economic Development. It is held on the last Tuesday of each month.

Heather Kirk-Ballard in front of flowers

Heather Kirk-Ballard

4/27/2023 7:35:12 PM
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