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Bringing research to blossom with U of M Extension Master Gardeners

February 6, 2014

Master Gardeners assist researchers by maintaining and evaluating plots, such as cold-hardy roses.

Minnesota gardeners have more options for shrub roses than ever before. The University of Minnesota's Department of Horticulture, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Extension educators, and Research and Outreach Centers all play a part.

But did you know that Extension volunteers are part of the team as well?

Kathy Zuzek, Extension horticulture educator, researches the hardiness of roses. Before new varieties were developed, few roses could tolerate our climate. Without Extension Master Gardeners, Zuzek would have to clone herself many times over to conduct her research.

During one multi-year study, Zuzek worked closely with volunteer Master Gardeners who maintained plots and evaluated results, enabling her to test the plants in the state's various climates and conditions. "Using my key categories, they evaluated the plants on a three- to four-week repeat cycle throughout the growing season for several years," she says.

The research was conducted at sites around the state. Master Gardeners in Kanabec County evaluated flower dimension, form, color, fragrance and blooms on 17 rose varieties at Mora Community Gardens. They also monitored for diseases and defoliation.

Master Gardeners don't lose their green thumbs when there's snow on the ground. They use the winter months for continued learning, preparing educational materials and sharing research discoveries with their local communities ahead of the next growing season.

Other research projects Master Gardeners have assisted with recently include:

  • biochar, a co-product of bioenergy production, to determine use as a soil amendment
  • cold hardiness in vegetable varieties
  • ash tree inventory for an emerald ash borer study
  • phytonutrient production to grow healthier vegetables

Master Gardeners were in on the ground level for a research study of biochar, a soil amendment created during the production of biofuels.

"We trust the training and knowledge base of our Master Gardeners," says Zuzek. "They are as passionate about the field as any of us who teach or do research."

As volunteers, University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners receive training and perform at least 25 hours of work in their communities each year, helping with public projects and sharing their learning with other gardeners. For more information on Extension's Master Gardener program, including how to become a Master Gardener volunteer, visit

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