Melissa LaPlant named manager of Charles Hutson Horticulture Greenhouse at Southeast

Friday, April 21, 2017
By line / Cutline:Melissa LaPlant poses for a photo at Hutson Greenhouse on March 29 in Cape Girardeau.
Andrew J. Whitaker

As she unloaded flats of tulips for an upcoming department banquet, Melissa LaPlant brushed soil from her shirt and talked about how excited she was to be manager of the Charles Hutson Horticulture Greenhouse at Southeast Missouri State University.

"It's like coming home," she says, and it's not hard to see why.

LaPlant has a degree in horticulture from Southeast, and her years as a private landscape designer and at Sunny Hill Nursery and Florist in Cape Girardeau prepared her well for her role at the greenhouse. While attending Southeast, LaPlant worked at the greenhouse for almost three years, under previous manager Denise Pingel, who retired in December.

"Denise was a fantastic grower," LaPlant says, and she intends to carry that forward. LaPlant says Pingel started several programs that are beneficial for students and the university community, and she's appreciative of all the work Pingel did. LaPlant does intend to bring her extensive retail experience into the picture, as well.

The greenhouse has three growing houses, each with a mobile bench system and irrigation, and a capacity for hundreds if not thousands of plants. LaPlant says the houses were built in about 2004, and the first two are devoted to retail plants. The third house is for experimentation and for plant trials.

Melissa LaPlant removes tulips from a truck at Hutson Greenhouse Wednesday, March 29, 2017 in Cape Girardeau.
Andrew J. Whitaker

Right now, Laplant says, they're hosting rice plants until the recently-built Malden greenhouse is ready to receive them.

"Rice isn't easy," she says. "It's a testament to the talent of our students that these plants are so healthy."

That, and a section devoted to Dr. Sven Svenson's plant-identification course, keep several other ongoing projects company. Propagation experiments take up another table, as do Future Farmers of America clubs' entries into competitions.

LaPlant has big plans for the greenhouse, including a pot-your-own plant station already set up near the entrance in the head building, and experimentation with different varieties of plants available for public purchase.

"We'll have mums again this fall," LaPlant says, referring to the program of growing thousands of chrysanthemums in beds outside the greenhouse. "They'll grow through the summer and we'll have them available starting around Labor Day."

Melissa LaPlant poses for a photo at Hutson Greenhouse Wednesday, March 29, 2017 in Cape Girardeau.
Andrew J. Whitaker

They're also looking to develop a growing program for bulbs, like hyacinths, tulips and others. LaPlant wants to include native plants as well, and some starter-size shrubs and trees.

As to what advice she has for home gardeners, LaPlant is adamant on several points.

"The number one killer is over-watering," she says, whether the plants are indoors or out. "Just because it droops doesn't mean it needs water."

LaPlant says hydrangeas are especially notorious for drooping in summer, but that's the plant's nature, she says. Drooping can be a signal of both under- and over-watering, she added.

"If it's in the ground and established, unless there's a severe drought, it doesn't need water," she says, mentioning she's seen trees killed by people's well-intentioned daily watering.

A view from room 2 at Hutson Greenhouse Wednesday, March 29, 2017 in Cape Girardeau.
Andrew J. Whitaker

Under-watering houseplants in winter is a better idea than watering too much, she says.

"You can always add more water, but you can't take water away," she says.

"Do some research," she says, suggesting people look online or ask plant experts about the plants they have and the plants they want to grow. "Knowing your plant is important."

LaPlant mentioned ficus trees as having a reputation for being difficult to grow because they drop their leaves, but she says that reputation isn't the entire story.

"Ficuses drop their leaves because of light changes, and other reasons," she says. "It's the nature of the plant."

Nematanthus Wettsteinii goldfish plant at Hutson Greenhouse Wednesday, March 29, 2017 in Cape Girardeau.
Andrew J. Whitaker

Above all, she says, she wants people to remember a plant is a living organism. "It's not a piece of furniture or an object," she says.

Plants inside room 2 at Hutson Greenhouse Wednesday, March 29, 2017 in Cape Girardeau.
Andrew J. Whitaker
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