Updates on Climate Ready Landscape
Plant Research and Extension

By Lloyd Nackley and Kym Pokorny

In 2020, Associate Professor Lloyd Nackley of Oregon State University embarked on a multi-state research initiative, examining the adaptability of 30 ornamental plant species to evolving environmental conditions. This vital project aims to pinpoint plants resilient to the challenges of heat and drought, a critical pursuit for Oregon’s thriving $1.32 billion nursery industry. The unique four-year study spans six universities, conducting field trials across a range of climates from Arizona to Washington.

The chosen plants, selected by an advisory group of nursery growers and landscape designers, undergo meticulous evaluation for growth, visual appeal, flowering timing, flower density, physiology, and heat tolerance. At NWREC, these plants are strategically grown in randomized blocks, subject to controlled irrigation to minimize stress.

Engaging industry professionals and stakeholders is at the core of this research. Each summer, 30-50 experts, including nursery professionals and OSU Extension Master Gardeners, participate in anonymously evaluating the plants. Their valuable feedback, collected amidst the challenging August heat, plays a pivotal role in assessing plant performance based on growth, aesthetics, flowering, and heat tolerance.

Noteworthy mentions included drought-tolerant roses, showy ninebarks, and some beautiful flowering shrubs from around the U.S. The project, more than anything, sparks conversations about cultivating stunning gardens with reduced water usage. Nackley emphasizes dispelling concerns about plant viability amid changing water availability while highlighting the beauty of plants that thrive in such conditions. For ongoing updates on this research, visit the Nackley Lab blog at Oregon State University.