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Assistant professor, students participates in national rose research project

April 1, 2011

Assistant Professor of Plant and Earth Science David Zlesak, who has been intrigued with breeding roses since he was 13 years old, is the Northern Earth-Kind Rose Trial coordinator for UW-River Falls.

The Earth-Kind project began in the early 1990s at Texas A&M University. The project’s goal is to practice environmentally friendly landscaping methods by limiting the use of fertilizers, pesticides and water.

“People were concerned about the environment, family exposure to pesticides or just wanting to have their yards be environmentally friendly,” Zlesak said. “And there really wasn’t that much research out there in terms of research that’s been done to really support recommendations; people were making recommendations and they were all over the board. But they weren’t necessarily research-based, or consistent or made sense. So that began the opportunity for Earth-Kind.”

The Northern Earth-Kind branch began in 2007. Roses were selected as the first plant to be tested.

“Roses came to the top because they are the national flower, people love them and there is a lot of variability among them,” Zlesak said.

In 2009, around 1,200 plants were donated from locations ranging from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kansas and the mountains of Colorado.

“Nurseries over the years have wanted to get their roses into the pipelines saying if our rose can get an Earth-Kind designation for our region, that it’s free marketing and great exposure,”  Zlesak said. “So over the last few years I’ve gotten a lot of roses. I have gotten 300 on my doorstep just this week from a nursery.”

One of the public Earth-Kind trial gardens can be found in the Mount Saint Benedict Monastery garden in Crookson, Minn.

“There are a variety of roses planted, for a four year trial, that are planted randomly by our cemetery. They are not watered artificially or anything; it’s in a natural setting,” said Sister
Carolin Adams, the grounds and garden keeper at Mount Saint Benedict Monastery. “Once a month someone comes to count the blooms and determine disease resistance and which roses are being eaten by the deer that come through.”

Zlesak said that he hopes to continue working with the landscape crew on campus to plant new varieties and to get more publicly accessible spots on campus.

“Its great for the public to come and see them,” Zlesak said. “We have planted roses randomly around in the back plots on campus that were planted last summer, and students helped with that and helped with data collection and management.”

One of the students that helped Zlesak with his research last summer was senior Ryan Grajkowski.

“It was an excellent experience. If I can do any part to help the horticultural industry to better know what cultivars are well suited for our Wisconsin environments, I’m more than happy to help. I think the best part will be at the end in a couple of years when the research shows what plants are best suitable for our area, hopefully most if not all of them,” Grajkowski said. “Hands-on work is always great and I’m usually game to get my hands dirty and plant some plants.”