The National Earth-Kind Rose Team recently received the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Superior Service Award in the team category.

The award, presented Jan. 8 during the annual Texas A&M AgriLife Conference in College Station, is given to staff who demonstrate outstanding performance or provide exceptional service to AgriLife Extension, an educational outreach agency of the Texas A&M University System.

AgriLife Extension team members include: Steve Chaney, horticultural agent for Tarrant County, Fort Worth; Dr. Greg Church, horticultural agent in Collin County, McKinney; Kimberly Conway, horticultural agent for Cherokee County, Rusk; Dr. Steve George, ornamental specialist, Dallas; Hurley Miller, AgriLife Extension administrator for North District IV, Dallas; Dr. Roy Stanford, agricultural agent for Orange County, Orange; and Allison Watkins, horticultural agent for Tom Green County, San Angelo.

Other team members include Dr. Derald Harp, Texas A&M University, Commerce; Nick Howell, Iowa State University; Dr. Wayne Mackay, University of Florida; Dr. Allen Owings, Louisiana State University Extension; Dr. John Sloan, National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, Illinois; Dr. David Zlesak, University of Wisconsin; and Kathryn Zuzek, University of Minnesota Extension.

Proactive, research-based environmentalism lies at the heart of the Earth-Kind Rose program, according to George, the team leader.

“Most experts agree that the four greatest environmental concerns regarding American landscapes are that some homeowners often waste irrigation water, misuse fertilizers, misuse pesticides and allow tree leaves and wood chips to become an increasing burden in our already overcrowded landfills,” according to the award documentation.

The team chose roses as the “flagship” plant for research and educational efforts Although a popular flower, roses are generally considered to be disease-prone and “chemically dependent,” requiring 18 to 20 pesticide applications a year in many areas, as well as difficult to grow, requiring large inputs of water, fertilizer and labor.

“The Earth-Kind program identified beautiful, low-maintenance roses whose use would greatly reduce the need for irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides, and would also help to reduce pressure on our landfills,” George said.

Earth-Kind rose testing was conducted in nine states and four foreign countries. George reports that, to his knowledge, Earth-Kind Roses has become the fastest growing and most popular university program of its kind in the nation.

“It was truly an international effort,” George said. “We have shown across many climates and soil types that Earth-Kind roses will give outstanding landscape performance with little maintenance. They also provide a 70 percent reduction in irrigation, total elimination of commercial fertilizers, almost total elimination of pesticides on the plants, and that a mulch of tree leaves and wood chips will serve as a super-slow-release fertilizer, the use of which should significantly reduce pressure on our landfills. This program increases quality of life, improves plant varietal selection, and provides great environmental protection by conserving water and safeguarding air and water quality.”

George also said there are many people who contributed to the program who could not be listed on the official award documentation for various reasons.

Foremost among them was Debbie Benge-Frost, a retired horticultural agent who served in Ector and Midland counties for many years, whose contributions were vital to the success of the program.

And there are many others, including county agents, nursery professionals, park personnel, Master Gardeners and rose society members whose contributions were essential as well, he said.

“What a great team this is,” George said. “It’s the strength and tremendous appeal of the Earth-Kind message that has made possible the creation of this truly national team.”