Rose Research at Iowa State Evaluates Sustainability

AMES, Iowa -- Rose research at Iowa State University historically has had hardiness and disease resistance as its focus. Dr. Griffith Buck, known for developing more than 90 varieties of winter hardy and disease resistant roses for Iowa, and other early researchers set the stage for current trials being conducted at Iowa State.

Summer Wind Buck roseNick Howell, ISU Horticulture Research Station superintendent and a former student of Buck’s, continues the strong tradition of rose research at Iowa State. “There are literally dozens of roses advertised as superior low-maintenance landscape performers for our region, but they don’t live up to those claims,” said Howell. “The Earth-Kind® trials that we are conducting are helping identify the most consistently beautiful, low-care, pest tolerant roses for our region.”

Earth-Kind®, a program developed by horticulture specialists with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, is a system of growing and evaluating landscape plants (initially roses) for their sustainability in the landscape. Careful selection of plant varieties based no not only their ornamental characteristics, but their sustainability in the landscape, is a key component of this system. It is the plant evaluation aspect of Earth-Kind that is the focus of current rose research at Iowa State University and the content of Howell’s website,

As part of the Northern Earth-Kind Rose Trials, trial plots were established at the Iowa State University Horticulture Research Station in 2008. Evaluation of trial plants started the second season and continued on for a total of three years. “We collected annual data on percent winter damage and vigor, and monthly quality data - examining flowering, plant form and disease and insect damage,” Howell said. “The winners of the Northern Earth-Kind Rose trial will be published on the website this summer.”

Winners have exhibited superior plant performance with little or no inputs of water, fertilizers, pesticides and labor, according to Howell. When growers see the Earth-Kind designation on roses at the nursery, they can have confidence that the roses are appropriate for a sustainable landscape.

The Iowa State Earth-Kind website lists Earth-Kind roses, varieties that have earned the Earth-Kind designation from trials conducted in other parts of the U.S. “Some varieties of Earth-Kind roses are adaptable this far north – if the hardiness of the variety matches the region, the plant is a good bet,” said Howell. Winners specific to Iowa and the northern region of the U.S. will be posted under the Winners tab on the website this summer.

The goal of the Earth-Kind trials is to identify the most consistently beautiful, low-care, pest tolerant roses for the region by putting them through multi-year, multi-site trials under a typical landscape environment. Roses in the northern trial also were evaluated at sites in Minnesota, Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas.

More details on Earth-Kind research, history of Iowa State rose research and Buck roses are part of the ISU Earth-Kind website. Additional information will be added to the website as it becomes available – including the winners of the northern trials.

PHOTO: Included in the Northern Earth-Kind trials was 'Summer Wind,' a Buck rose variety that was released in 1975. Summer Wind



Gardening in the Zone: Planting Roses from Iowa State University Extension on Vimeo. Howell demonstrates how to properly plant roses.