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Thousands Visit Morris Bedding Plant Trials


Steve Poppe, University of Minnesota Scientist, West Central Research and Outreach Center

In the past, no other segment of the floriculture production industry has enjoyed public interest and use of its product more than bedding plants (annual flowering plants). Bedding plants are an indispensable item for landscape use, presenting an array of flowers and foliage that add color and texture to the landscapes of homes, apartment complexes, shopping malls, public buildings, city streets and parks.

The University of Minnesota supports this growing industry through annual flower trials conducted at Morris, St. Paul and Grand Rapids. In 2008, we evaluated annual flowers from eighteen major plant companies. Our gardens are open to the public and industry for selfguided tours throughout the growing season, providing a unique opportunity to compare performance of bedding plant cultivars under regional conditions. The public's response to the 2008display gardens at all locations was very positive. Several thousand people visited these sites during the summer. Numerous educational programs and garden tours were provided at all sites, highlighting the outstanding annuals in our trials.

Photo 1: Thousands of well-labeled annuals and perennials make the gardens a great educational resource. Dave Hanson

The three annual flower test locations represent three very distinct climates. The St. Paul site has cool springs and hot summers and offers a good test of plants in a large metropolitan area. The Grand Rapids site has a short growing season and cool summer temperatures, and the Morris site has typically hot, dry summers with more wind than the other two sites.

Annual flower trials evaluate plant height, width, and uniformity; flower size; flower and plant quality characteristics; and disease resistance for a wide variety of annuals. Cultivars are grown from seed or are vegetatively propagated. They are planted and rated periodically for field performance. Home gardeners and commercial bedding plant producers can identify cultivars best suited for their locations from evaluations of over 400annual flowers.


New and recent annuals and perennials are obtained from leading industry members to determine their performance in our climate. Dave Hanson

All three locations have been All America Selections Display Gardens, (AAS) since 1990, and grow the AAS winners from the past five years. The AAS Award recognizes a flower or vegetable variety proven to be superior to all others on the market. An AAS Display Garden provides the public an opportunity to view the new AAS winners in an attractive, well maintained setting. Additionally, Display Gardens provide educational AAS programs during "open house" or "field day" events during the peak season for garden flowers and vegetables.

A goal of the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) in Morris is to establish a regionally recognized public research garden. The WCROC offers an aesthetically-pleasing garden where interested gardeners can learn and share ideas, and students can work and learn about plants and the environment. Recent and on-going projects support our goal of providing research and evaluation of horticulture plants in an exciting and enjoyable setting. Examples of such projects and events include:

Horticulture Night – Horticulture Night has become the WCROC's premier regional event, attracting over 1,400 visitors annually. It is held the last Thursday in July from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. Visitors participate in walking tours of horticulture research and display gardens and enjoy special landscape and garden demonstrations. In addition to tours and displays, young and old enjoy dozens of fun, hands-on activities. Horticulture trade show vendors keep visitors updated on the latest plant materials, garden supplies, landscaping and lawn care products, equipment and available services.


Photo 3: Shrubs such as roses are also featured in the garden. David Zlesak

Pomme de Terre Overlook – This new fifteen acre overlook connects the WCROC's agriculture, horticulture and renewable energy research with the people and natural resources of west central Minnesota. The trail system connects the existing children's garden, research and display garden, woody arboretum, and restored native prairie area with the Morris city bike / walking trail system and its largest city park. The overlook enhances the WCROC's status as a regional and statewide natural resource educational destination.

Low Input Sustainable Turfgrass Trial - The University of Minnesota Turfgrass Science Program is developing low-input turf for the Upper Midwest. We are evaluating the potential of native and non-native turfgrass species for use as turf in low and medium maintenance situations. There is a great need for more information about turfgrass mixtures in low-input management situations (reduced mowing, no irrigation, less fertilization, etc.).

We established a low-input turfgrass evaluation trial at Morris in the fall of 2007. The study examines the usefulness of 10 grass species with 3 replications of both monocultures and mixtures at various management levels. The trial is mowed monthly at a height of 3 inches during the growing season, clippings returned. No irrigation, fertilizer, or pesticides are applied. Data collection includes turfgrass quality, stand density, weed pressure, drought tolerance, vigor, diseases identified and evaporative transpiration recorded. Dr Eric Watkins from the University of Minnesota, Department of Horticultural Science, is coordinating this experiment and results will be shared after the 2009 growing season.

High Tunnel Raspberries - In 2008, we experienced our first growing season with an experimental trial of fall-bearing raspberries in our high tunnel plastic hoop house. This project is the first to experimentally assess high tunnel raspberry production in Minnesota.


Photo 4: High tunnels are being studied for their use in season extension of primocane fruiting raspberries. David Zlesak

Minnesota growers of horticultural crops are constrained by the short growing season and cold winter temperatures. Techniques enabling growers to extend the season for marketing later into the fall would be a significant economic benefit. Researchers have estimated between 20 to 100% loss of fruit on primocane fruiting (fall-bearing) raspberries when freezes occur before September 15th in Minnesota. Unheated high tunnels, consisting of a metal frame covered by polyethylene, have allowed horticultural producers to extend the production season of certain crops.

The primary goal of our high tunnel raspberry production research team is to minimize the impact of farming practices on human health and the environment. Eliminating fungicide and herbicide use in raspberry production and minimizing insecticide use will result in cleaner water and safer food. In addition, we aim to:

  • Determine the length of season extension offered through the use of high tunnels in Minnesota

  • Determine the effect of high tunnels on plant-growth and fruit quality

  • Evaluate three fall-bearing cultivars (Autumn Britten, Caroline, Joan J) and two plant spacing's to determine optimal choices for high tunnel grown raspberries in Minnesota!

Horticulture Night- July 30, 2009 (5-9PM)

West Central Research and Outreach Gardens, State Hwy. 329, Morris, MN

Come for a fun-filled, educational evening for the whole family. There will be garden tours, demonstrations, food, vendors, and more. Please call 320-589-1711 if you have questions.

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