Horticulture staff at the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) focus on research-based projects in the areas of annual and perennial flowers, chrysanthemums, small fruits and woody plants. The Horticulture Display Garden provides a venue for education and demonstrates landscape design and plant material options for homeowners and gardeners.
Research is conducted in collaboration with the Department of Horticulture Science at the University of Minnesota.
The horticulture program utilizes the Horticulture Display Garden, located across Minnesota Highway 329 from the WCROC's main administration building and features several themed gardens and attractions. All plants are labeled, and interpretive signs are located throughout the display garden.
Annual Flower Research
The objective of annual flower research at the WCROC is to evaluate various annual flower varieties for plant height, width, uniformity, flower size, disease resistance and plant quality characteristics. Evaluations are shared with commercial and amateur bedding-plant growers. Each year, the Top Ten Performing Annuals are selected from the hundreds of cultivars trialed; see the 2017 Top Ten.
Herbaceous Perennial Trials
Herbaceous perennial trials at the WCROC are the first systematic, scientific public trialing system to evaluate winter hardiness and garden performance. Our trials are unique in that we test replicated samples of new seed and/or vegetatively propagated products for a duration of three years (three growing seasons and three winters). The regional conditions at the WCROC give U of Minn. researchers the opportunity to evaluate plants in a prairie transition site with elevated soil pH and extended periods of high summer temperatures. Plants exhibiting superior performance in regional trials generally are recommended as new landscape plant cultivars for the nursery, landscape and greenhouse industries, as well as for the public and are designated as Minnesota Tough & Terrific™.
High Tunnel Research
High tunnels are a great tool for growing warm weather crops in Minnesota. The plastic captures heat from the sun so the growing season can start earlier, end later, and get hotter. These conditions help growers produce high quality early and late season tomatoes and peppers as well as specialty tropical crops like ginger and turmeric. High tunnels also improve crop quality by shielding fruit from rain and hail damage and preventing soil splashing which can cause disease. Read more about our high tunnel research.
Small Fruit Research
Fruit production and research at the University of Minnesota aims to help commercial producers and home gardeners grow high-quality fruits. At the WCROC, our small-fruit projects include:
- Determining how June-bearing strawberries adapt to Minnesota climate conditions.
- Studying day-neutral strawberry varieties grown in a low tunnel system in an effort to extend the growing season, improve fruit quality, and reduce inputs. Follow our research at the U's Small Fruit blog.
- University of Minnesota Day-neutral Low Tunnel Strawberry project (Presentation of the 2015-2016 season)
- Evaluating the survival, growth, pest and disease resistance and flowering ability of prunus fruit (apricots, cherries, plums and tart cherries).
Research evaluations include azaleas and hardy shrub roses, looking at the hardiness, flowering ability, disease resistance and survivability for our hardiness zone (Zone 4). We also have an Earth-Kind® ninebark trial, which evaluates ninebark flowering shrubs using Earth-Kind® protocols (excludes the use of synthetic, natural, organic fertilizers and pesticides and limits the use of supplemental irrigation). The goal of the ninebark project is to determine ninebark species that have strong genetics and require minimal maintenance.
Our natural prairie surroundings offer the unique opportunity to educate the public on restoring prairie landscapes and creating native pollinator habitats. The WCROC, in collaboration with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, created a pollinator evaluation plot near the WCROC Pomme de Terre Overlook. The evaluation plot consists of five different mixes of native forbes and grass, and oil seed crops containing canola, echium, cuphea, and calendula. Read more about our research with pollinator habitats.