In 1860, journalist Horace Greeley famously said, "I would not live in Minnesota, because you cannot grow apples there." In the decades since, University of Minnesota plant breeding programs have brought the world the Honeycrisp apple, Latham raspberries, and cushion habit chrysanthemums, and changed the landscape of Minnesota for the better.
Since cold hardy research began at the University over 125 years ago, more than 400 varieties have been released including apples, grapes, trees, flowers, and grasses. U of M researchers have expanded plant options for Minnesotans, driving economic value and bolstering the state’s nurseries, orchards, and vineyards.
Today, our researchers combine traditional breeding techniques with cutting-edge technology allowing them to use data and genomics not available to researchers in the past. Their work produces high quality varieties developed to thrive in Minnesota and other cold climate environments.
The Minnesota challenge
Minnesota's climate presents unique challenges to gardeners, farmers and nurseries. Temperature fluctuations rival those of any state in the nation, from hot, sometimes dry summers to extremely cold winters that occasionally leave the land bare of insulating snow.
For more than a century, University of Minnesota researchers have worked to develop, grow and evaluate the best plants for conditions ranging from USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4b in the south to Zone 2B in certain locations in the north.
Advancing plant genetics and education
Most of the cold-hardy varieties showcased on this website are the research discoveries of faculty and staff in the Department of Horticultural Science in the U of M's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS). Undergraduate and graduate students work alongside many of these researchers to learn about plant breeding and genetics and gain valuable research experience.
Research across the state
University of Minnesota cold-hardy breeding and evaluation research takes place across the state at University-owned research centers as well as commercial growing settings like orchards, vineyards and producers’ fields.
The Horticultural Research Center (HRC) in Victoria, MN, about 35 miles west of Minneapolis, is one of the leading institutions in the Upper Midwest for fruit and woody landscape plant breeding and conservation of rare and threatened native plants. The 230-acre site is located adjacent to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and serves as the research arm of the CFANS Department of Horticultural Science and the Arboretum.
The HRC is part of a network of 10 Research and Outreach Centers maintained by the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) where researchers and field technicians conduct agronomic and horticultural trials in varying climate and soil conditions.
Many of the Research and Outreach Centers serve as sites for horticultural breeding and cold-hardy testing. Key partners in our horticultural breeding programs include:
- North Central Research and Outreach Center (NCROC), in Grand Rapids, is the northernmost land grant horticultural research center in the continental U.S. and serves as a valuable USDA Zone 3 cold-hardiness testing site.
- West Central Research and Outreach Center , in Morris, is a flower and fruit evaluation site. The center is also home to public display gardens that showcase many of our MN Hardy varieties.
- Sand Plain Research Farm , in Becker, is the primary irrigation research site and hosts blueberry trials.