top of page

Master Gardener Seed Trials – Choose the Best Varieties

Julie Harris, Dakota County Master Gardener

It’s March and you may be thinking about starting vegetable or flower seeds for your garden this summer. First, you have to decide what to grow - beans, basil, zinnias, tomatoes? But there are several different varieties of each of these plants. So, how do you know what variety to plant? You can look through the seed catalogs or go to the garden store and peruse the many different varieties on the racks. Confused? The University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners can help.

Master Gardener Seed Trials – Choose the Best Varieties

The UMN Extension sponsors Annual Master Gardener Seed Trials to find the best varieties of various vegetables and flowers. In 2023, 235 Master Gardeners from 51 counties, participated in the Seed Trials. Seed Trial participants test 6 different varieties of 8 different plants against each other (6 vegetables and two flower varieties; including one herb). The collective results of the trials are compiled at the end of each growing season and each plant is ranked. Winners are the top performers in each trial. The rankings are published each year by March – in time to help you, the home gardener, learn about and obtain the most highly ranked plants to grow in your garden – or to purchase when harvested. This will be the 42nd year of the Seed Trials’ existence, so there is ample data on many varieties to inform the home gardener.

In Dakota County, Master Gardeners manage two Seed Trial Gardens; one in the First Presbyterian Church Community Garden, South St. Paul and one at St. Joseph’s Church in Rosemount. Some individual Master Gardeners also participate by testing plants in their own gardens. Two Dakota County Master Gardeners – Marc Battistini and Janice Gestner – are among the group at UMN Extension who select which plants will be part of the trials. 

Master Gardeners receive the seeds from the UMN Extension and grow the plants from seed. The plants are planted in the ground or transferred to the gardens in the spring according to planting instructions. Teams of Master Gardeners prepare the soil, plant the seeds or seedlings, water, weed, and monitor diseases and insects on the plants over the summer. Taste tests are performed when the plants are ready for harvest. Data is kept throughout the summer on each plant variety regarding: flavor, disease and insect tolerance, productivity and germination rate. At the end of the growing season, the data is given to the UMN Extension, which compiles the statewide data and produces the annual report.

Dakota County Master Gardeners who work the gardens also provide horticultural education to community members. Produce is donated to a local food shelf.

Complete results of the trials are available here. In 2023, the top ranked plants in each category were: Paste Tomatoes – Cipolla’s Pride; Green Pole Beans – Seychelles; Red Carrots – Malbec; Mustard Greens – Mizuna; Small Watermelon – Mini Love; Purple Basil – Amethyst Improved; Melampodium – Derby; and Pink Cleome – Mauve Queen. You can find a complete list of all of the seed trials since 1982 at the same site. 

In 2024, Master Gardeners will be testing 6 varieties of Swiss chard, Asian long beans, stem broccoli, cilantro, shallots, snacking peppers, helichrysum (strawflowers) and centaurea (bachelor buttons). Look for the results of those trials in winter 2025.

Dakota County Master Gardeners also test plants for the PanAmerican Seed Company. These plants include annual flower varieties and some vegetables. Typically, the seeds grown in these trials are plants that PanAmerican is testing in various test trials around the country to help them decide which plants can be successfully grown and marketed. Data on these plants is compiled periodically over the summer and a report is sent to PanAmerican at the end of the growing season. Currently, the primary trial garden is located in Rosemount.

Volunteer Master Gardeners around the state, including Dakota County, participate in various projects which improve horticulture and provide gardening information that will be useful to the home gardener. The vegetable and flower trials are one of these projects. Hopefully, you can use this information to grow happy, healthy vegetables (or flowers) for your enjoyment.

Photo Credits:

Photo 1 – University of Minnesota Extension; Susan Hickey

Photo 2 – Robert Hatlevig

Photo 3 – Robert Hatlevig

Photo 4 – Robert Hatlevig

Photo 5 – Jean Chrysler

Photo 6 – Jean Chrysler

bottom of page