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 Horticultural 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 2023 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™.
Organic Management for Horticulture Crops
The demand for fresh, local, and organic produce continues to rise, while area growers are seeking to produce quality fruit and vegetables. Here at the West Central Research and Outreach Center, one of the goals within the Horticulture Department is to support Minnesota's small fruit and vegetable growers through applied research. We've tackled many of the growing concerns that face producers: weed pressures, pests and disease, soil health, maximizing profit, and cultivar selection. Our hope is that our research findings can be helpful to those seeking to start or improve their own growing systems. Find information on high tunnels, biodegradable mulch, strawberries, and more. Organic Management for Horticulture Crops.
Small Fruit & Vegetable 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:
- Bell pepper variety trials
- Determining how June-bearing strawberries (.pdf) 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.
- Interested in using a living mulch with your annual strawberry system? Check out our latest research using cover crops (.pdf) in between strawberry rows to help control weeds.
- University of Minnesota Day-neutral Low Tunnel Strawberry project (.pdf)
- 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. Research is conducted in partnership with the MN Landscape Arboretum. 2022 Woody Shrub Trial
Our natural prairie surroundings offer the unique opportunity to educate the public on restoring prairie landscapes and creating native pollinator habitats. In 2018, we began renovation of 17-acres to return the site to a native prairie. 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 forbs and grass, and oil seed crops containing canola, echium, cuphea, and calendula. Read more about our research with pollinator habitats.