July 21, 2011
New shade house helps Northwest grow plants, enhance Missouri Arboretum
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MARYVILLE, Mo. - The planting season is complete at Northwest Missouri State University, but work on University's landscape and grounds never ends.
As the home of the Missouri State Arboretum, the Northwest campus has earned a reputation as one of the most beautiful campuses around, featuring more than 1,300 trees with about 150 species represented. While it attracts its share of visitors, the arboretum also serves as an outdoor classroom for students wanting to study plant growth and other environmental issues.
"Having the arboretum recognizes the decades of good tree care and good tree planting here at Northwest Missouri State," said Lezlee Johnson, associate director of landscape services. "We have really emphasized the diversity of tree species in the arboretum and I think that parallels the diversity that we aim for in our population at Northwest."
Staff members on Northwest's landscape services team are always looking for new tools and techniques to help improve the grounds and the way they do their work. This year, landscape services workers at Northwest implemented a shade house to store plants and protect them from direct sunlight before transitioning them to floral beds.
For several years, Johnson said, Northwest had hopes of building a shade house, which is similar to a hoop house consisting of a skeleton of metal arches. A mesh fabric wrapped over the structure reduces the amount of sunlight on plants to about 80 percent or less while allowing air to circulate around the plants.
"We propagate almost all of our annuals and almost all of our perennials ourselves at a great savings to the University," Johnson said. "In order to improve our plants that we out-plant into the flower beds at the University, we wanted to give them a couple days to two weeks, depending on the plant, to acclimate to the outdoors. They do a little better if they have just a few days to get used to the real world - kind of like kids going to school."
Walmart, which had stopped using the structure, donated it to Northwest last year. The shade house measures about 25 feet wide by about 50 feet long.
"This has helped us grow the plants that we grow better," Johnson said, adding that the University continues to purchase plants and materials from Walmart. "We really want to give them some recognition for the way they've improved our horticulture program here at landscape services."
Almost all plants planted on Northwest's campus this year - including petunias, Coleus, Celosia, Dianthus, and a new plant called Pumpkin on a Stick - were housed for about a week in the shade house before crews began planting during mid-May.
Still, the shade house remains full with extra plants that can be used in new flower beds or as replacements and additions to existing beds.
"Our groundskeepers are always, always looking for ways to make improvements in their areas," Johnson said. "We know that's really well-received by the people that live and work here."
Northwest was named the official Missouri Arboretum by the Missouri State Legislature in 1993, but its roots as a tree-friendly campus date back to the institution's earliest days when Thomas Gaunt used the property as a tree nursery. After the college's founding, groundskeepers - starting with Northwest's first groundskeeper, J.R. Brink, in the 1920s - planted fast-growing, short-lived trees with slow-growing, long-lived trees, adding beauty and shade to the new campus.
Over time, the sturdy slow-growing trees became established, and the fast-growing but weak trees were removed. During the 1970s, when Dutch elm disease wiped out American elm trees on campus, groundskeepers began planting a wide variety of trees in hopes that a single disease would never again wreak so much havoc. Biodiversity remains a goal for plant accession today.
"This is our outdoor classroom," said Adam Stone, a lead groundskeeper at Northwest. "We have such a variety of trees from all over the world here, just like we have students from all over the world."
New trees are planted each year and others are removed due to decline or changes to the campus landscape. Northwest added some trees to its native plant holdings this year, including persimmon, while replacing some sourwood and yellowwood trees. Crews also added a row of columnar spruce trees just north of the J.W. Jones Student Union, replacing a row of Pyracanthas that weren't thriving. "We wanted to create more visual interest," Johnson said.
A fir tree was added north of the University's new entrance sign as part of a landscape plan designed around the sign. Northwest also worked with the city of Maryville and Maryville Middle School to plant a spruce tree at the triangular island at Dunn and Fourth streets.
Johnson said a GIS component also is in the works to help groundskeepers better maintain the trees and make information about the arboretum more accessible to the public.
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468