Wholesale plant grower Rick Webb is a bit of a revolutionary when it comes to his topic: native shrubs and trees.
“There are just so many questions,” he said. “Native to where? And to when? Einstein had it right — it’s all about space and time.”
Webb, who has more than 35 years of experience in the field, earned a degree in ornamental horticulture in 1979, then went back to school for a second degree in plant science. All the while, he worked in the landscaping trade.
Now his business, Louisiana Growers in Amite, specializes in plants native to the inland Gulf South.
Webb will talk about the topic at Parkway Partners headquarters at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Paleobotanists have studied North American plants going back thousands of years. “For practical purposes, though, when I talk about native species, I am referring to plants that existed here before European colonization,” Webb said.
Among the shrubs and trees that Webb considers native are some familiar species: red maple, red buckeye, fringe tree, mayhaw, possumhaw holly and Southern wax myrtle.
“A number of these plants are starting to show up at nurseries, and some landscape companies have begun using them,” said Webb. “But I think it is important that we start to think not only about what plants to use in the landscape, but how they function.”
“It isn’t necessarily to reduce maintenance demands — native plants can take just as much care as any other plant when they are getting established the first year,” he said. “But having a wide variety of plants makes the landscape more hospitable to wildlife and pollinators and adds four-season interest. The leaves of a deciduous azalea, for example, will yellow and provide fall color, before they drop for the winter. Then in the spring, the leafing out of the bare stems is breathtaking. You don’t get any of that if you only have evergreen azaleas in your landscape.”
Webb proposes using a wide variety of natives and installing them in groups of three or five — and never in a straight line.
“You want curves,” he said. “Maybe a circle or another shape for an accent area, but forget about getting out the hedge trimmers and pruning plants into squares and balls. For sidewalks and edges, there are native grasses — five different species of Muhlenbergia (Muhly grass) are native to Louisiana, for example. And you can add wildflowers for color.”
Another reason for incorporating native plants into the landscape has to do with preserving the planet’s biodiversity and ecological balance.
“We point fingers at the people who are destroying the Amazonian rain forests, but Europeans completely eradicated the tupelo swamps and longleaf pine grasslands when they arrived in North America,” Webb said. “Now, we’re trying to replace what was cleared.”
As local governments call for using native plants to help manage storm water, Webb said he sees consumers and the plant industry becoming increasingly interested in and accepting of native species.
“It’s not rocket science,” Webb said. “It’s a whole lot more complicated.”