Helping the habitat: Area gardeners join state program to help foster native plants, fauna

Wednesday, July 30, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ Carolyn Huter stood in her garden in Jackson.

Gardening brings music to Larry Huter's ears.

"Catbirds, mockingbirds, redbirds, bluejays, yellow finches are all enjoyable to listen to. They're good music and basically the reason I'm in for it," said Huter, a property owner certified as a Habitat Helper by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Habitat Helper signs announce to passers-by that specific requirements have been met by property owners to qualify for the conservation program. The program aims to provide native plant food and water sources, plus cover, shelter and places for wildlife to raise their young -- not to mention making the yard pretty.

Planting a variety of native Missouri plants will provide seed and berries for wildlife year-round. Many yards already have some growing. Typical garden decorations like birdhouses or birdbaths in the yard may already fulfill requirements of the program.

Being Habitat Helpers serves more than an aesthetic purpose for the Huters. Larry Huter's wife, Carolyn, believes the exercise she got from gardening helped her battle with cancer. She is now in remission.

"Gardening is good exercise," she said. "You don't think of anything else while you're out here."

Carolyn Huter said native plants have always interested her and "everyone who works with them gets really excited." While plucking out weeds, Carolyn transplants sprouts of native plants to pass along as inspiration to other gardeners.

FRED LYNCH ~ Eldeberry is part of Carolyn Huter's garden.

Native plants have already adapted to Missouri's soils and climate, making extra watering unnecessary. Not adding fertilizer or spraying pesticides saves time and money and keeps hazardous material out of the environment.

Conservation Campus Nature Center manager April Dozier has certified five local gardens: Carol Wilkinson and Gina Statler in Cape Girardeau, Karen Fieser of Millersville, the Huters of Jackson and the Jackson Heritage Association Oliver House Museum. Habitat Helper applications are available at the Nature Center.

Cape County Master Gardeners began establishing an heirloom garden in 2005 on a bare 100-by-112-foot lot at the Oliver House Museum in Jackson. They named the lot Marie's Garden.

"Heirloom plants at that time were dug up from a field and moved to people's gardens," said master gardener Judi Niederkorn. Much like native plants, heirlooms have adapted over time to the climate and soil they're grown in and are often resistant to pests, diseases and weather extremes. Marie's Garden has more than 39 native plant varieties that provide nuts, seeds, nectar, berries and fruit for wildlife.

FRED LYNCH ~ Purple Poppy Mallow bloomed in Carolyn Huter's garden.

Familiar plants that grow there are wild violets, verbena, wild strawberries, coreopsis and black-eyed Susans.

A birdbath and a thistle sock at Marie's Garden fulfill application requirements because they attract and provide food for wildlife.

Planting a native plant rain garden can help habitats by absorbing runoff from roofs, avoiding problems with storm-water systems or erosion. Native plants suitable for a rain garden have dense roots that capture, filter, store and slowly release storm water.

Native plants can help on a large scale as well. Cities have planted native grasses to cut down on mowing costs.

FRED LYNCH ~ American Beautyberry is among the plants in Carolyn Huter's Habitat Helper garden.

Dozier hosted a meeting for area mayors to learn more about how native plants can help communities.

Speaker Scott Woodbury, Whitmire family curator of native plant horticulture at the Shaw Nature Reserve, a division of the Missouri Botanical Garden, in Gray Summit, Mo., promoted native plants as a cost-saving measure by cutting down on mowing.

"On a large landscape mowing is costly," Woodbury said. He said a 25-acre section of land near Interstate 270 and Interstate 44 in St. Louis used to cost $5,500 annually to mow.

"They replaced tall fescue with native warm season grasses and now it costs $500 biannually," he said. "The drawback is it takes time for the grasses to fill out and may look weedy for a couple of years, creating an image problem."

FRED LYNCH ~ Liatrus Gayfeather is part of Carolyn Huter's garden.

At Main Street in Jackson, where access to Interstate 55 is fairly new, Mayor Barbara Lohr and city engineer Kent Peetz had drought-resistant buffalo grass planted in the highway divide. It is the result of a $1,000 grant received in June from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Lohr said the buffalo grass doesn't grow tall and, with less mowing occurring, makes the walking trails safer.

335-6611, extension 133

FRED LYNCH ~ A bee found the blossom of a partridge pea of interest in Carolyn Huter's garden.
FRED LYNCH ~ Purple cone flowers are part of Carolyn Huter's Habitat Helper garden.
FRED LYNCH ~ Witch hazel grew in Carolyn Huter's garden.
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