Early Years

Beginning in 1952, the School of Agriculture at WSU-RF was authorized to grant a nonteaching degree in agriculture. Although there was no such major as horticulture listed, the nonteaching degree enabled students to assemble a concentration of 26 credit hours of course work in any one program. The 26 hours plus additional required courses from other programs provided a total of 45 credit hours for the major. Horticulture was one of the areas available for concentrated study at that time.

The next manifestation of the horticulture program came in 1969 when the major was given the name Plant Science with options for Crops and Horticulture; however, the official Wisconsin State University printout listed Horticulture/Plant Science as the major.

The name of the Crops option was later changed to Agronomy and for several years in the 1970’s a Science option was also listed. The Science option was designed specifically for students intending to go on to graduate school. This option required fewer courses in Horticulture and Agronomy, and substituted a heavier concentration of courses in math, chemistry and physics.  The Science option was dropped beginning with the 1981-83 catalog. Students planning to go to graduate school were required to take the same courses as students in either of the programs, and were counseled to take the extra math, chemistry and physics or other desirable pre-graduate school courses under the 32 hours of elective credits. Beginning with the 1981-83 catalog, the Plant Science major listed sub-majors in Horticulture and Agronomy.

Starting with the 1986-87 academic year the Plant Science Major was split into two separate majors, Horticulture and Agronomy, following approval of the Bachelor of Science degree program in Horticulture by the UW System Board of Regents. Under the quarter system 41-43 credit hours of general education courses were required for the Horticulture major. In addition, 15 credit hours of general studies in agriculture were required with an additional 59-60 credit hours within the Horticulture field.

The university made the change from a quarter system to a semester system in 1990, and the curriculum was modified accordingly. General Education courses comprised 41-43 credits, general education in Agriculture required 15 credits, 60 credits were required in the major including 30 Horticulture credits, and 30 credits from related courses such as entomology and genetics filled out the remaining requirements.  An additional 10-13 credits of electives brought the total to 128 credits to graduate.

In 1995, the Plant and Earth Science Department, of which Horticulture is a part, was selected as the “Regents University of Wisconsin System Outstanding Academic Department”.

Recent Years

In 1997, in response to industry trends, two academic options were made available to Horticulture students; the Professional option and the Landscape Design and Contracting option. The curriculum requirements were further modified to fit into the new university policy which required a minimum of 120 credits to graduate. The major required 41-43 credits in General Education, 12 credits in the Foundation courses within the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, 60 credits within the major including 30 credits in Horticulture and 29-30 credits in related areas. Nine credits of electives made up the balance of the 120 credit minimum. Since the implementation of the two options there has been a steady increase in the number of students entering the Landscape Design and Contracting Option.

Since 1997, the curriculum has satisfied the requirements for Professional Horticulturist Certification through the American Society for Horticultural Science.

In  the fall of 2005 the University adopted a new set of General Education requirements.  General Education now accounts for 38 credits with an additional 6 credits of all University requirements for Diversity and Global Perspectives.  In 2005 Horticulture and Crops faculty developed a new general education course CROP/HORT 120 Plants and Society which falls under the Ethical Citizenship section within General Education.

The Horticulture program has a commitment to providing its majors an education that exposes them to the breadth of Horticulture, not just to a narrow portion of the discipline.  This prepares students to be flexible within the industry over time and enhances their overall credibility as professional horticulturists.  The Horticulture Program has grown from 35 majors in 1986 to 120 majors in 2007.

Several University Program Audit and Review Committees have reported that the strengths associated with the Horticulture program include evidence of excellence in teaching, great support for  students, a strong internship program, an excellent placement record of graduates, and a very active level of faculty involvement in regional and national horticultural organizations, businesses and graduate-level programs across the country.  The program has a strong reputation within the horticultural industries for preparing well-qualified students.  Employers seek to hire UWRF Horticulture students both as interns and as permanent employees.

The Horticulture Faculty and Staff

In 1986 the Horticulture faculty consisted of:
Dr. Robert Tomesh, Fruit and Vegetable specialist .  33% Extension and 67% Teaching.  In 1998 Dr. Tomesh left the program to accept a District UW Extension position.  Bob passed away unexpectedly in 2011.

Bob Tomesh 1987  (left) was involved with research on Wisconsin grapes

Bob Tomesh 1987 (left) was involved with research on Wisconsin grapes

Dr. Lanny Neel, Woody Ornanmentals and Nursery Management specialist.

Lanny Neel 1988

Lanny Neel 1988

Dr. Terry Ferriss, Greenhouse Production and Floriculture Crops specialist.

Terry Ferriss 1990

Terry Ferriss 1990

Dr. Donovan Taylor, Turfgrass specialist

Don Taylor

Don Taylor

Dr. Brian Smith was hired as extension fruit specialist and teaching.

Brian Smith 1992

Brian Smith 1992

In 2004, Dr. Lanny Neel, a long-time tenured horticulture faculty member retired and accepted a position as Director of the World Botanic Garden in Hilo, Hawaii.  The program hired Dr. Susan Wiegrefe to replace him.   The decision was made to have the position focus on plant propagation, tissue culture, nursery management and woody ornamentals in addition to assisting with the Introduction to Plant Science.  The Landscape Design course was removed from the position responsibilities as it did not logically fit with the other required expertise.   Adjunct faculty were hired in order to teach Landscape Design Practicum (HORT 358) – Trudy Ohnsorg  and Intro Landscape Design  (HORT 250) –Diana Alfuth.


Ferriss, Smith, Wiegrefe, Taylor, Alfuth and Ohnsorg were all teaching in the program in 2008.


Greenhouse facilities were built in the 1970’s to support the Plant Science Program.  In 1990-1991 the greenhouse growing space was doubled, a classroom added onto the headhouse, the headhouse was expanded and a computerized environmental control system (Priva) was installed.  Mark Kimball was hired to manage the day to day activities of the greenhouse until he left to work in the campus Physical Facilities.  Mindy Mymudes served as the greenhouse manager for 3 years and when she left in 1995 Dan Waletzco was hired.

A 2002 UWRF Laboratory Modernization Grant for the Greenhouse Complex provided additional updates.  Four new growth chambers in the headhouse, new ebb and flow benches for one greenhouse and upgraded electrical wiring were included in the project.

In response to the increasing significance of biotechnology in agriculture, Dr. Neel established a tissue culture laboratory to support the Horticulture and Biotechnology programs in the 1990’s.  A  2003  UWRF Laboratory Modernization Grant renovated the tissue culture lab facility.  New laminar flow hoods were purchased and the space was enlarged to enable the separation of media mixing, transferring and grow out of cultures.  The lab now conforms well to industry standards.

Additional Information

Every year 10% of Horticulture graduates go on to graduate school and successfully complete MS and PhD Horticulture degrees.  Commonly faculty from other institutions ask if we have graduate candidates as UWRF students have a good reputation and track record.  Schools which have taken our students in the last 7 years include:  Cornell University, Florida State,  Purdue University, University of Minnesota, Colorado State, Kansas State University, and North Carolina State University.


The Horticulture program has attracted several on-going scholarships for Horticulture majors from several organizations including River Falls Garden Club, Wisconsin Green Industry Federation, Wisconsin Lily Society, Wisconsin Garden Center Foundation, and the Wisconsin Florist’s Foundation.  Horticulture students also receive scholarships annually from external scholarship programs through the Wisconsin Garden Club Federation and the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association.

Student Organizations

The Horticulture Society received it’s national charter from the American Society for Horticultural Science in 1978. The Horticulture Society promotes scholarship through guest speakers and field trips and also helps students develop business skills through several fundraising plant sales.  The society also participates in intramural sports, picnics, and other social events.

The organization first received national recognition in1998 when it was selected for the Outstanding Small Horticulture Club Award by the American Society for Horticultural Science.  In 2003 it was selected for the Outstanding Large Horticulture Club Award.

The Floral Crop Quality Evaluation Team was established in 1981 under the coaching of Dr. Terry Ferriss and has participated annually in the National Intercollegiate Floral Crop Quality Evaluation and Design Competition sponsored by the American Floral Endowment and Pi Alpha Xi National.  The team has performed well over the years taking first place nationally in 1992, 1996,1997 and 1998; second place in  2001, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008; and third place in 1986 and 1999.

Pi Alpha Xi – Alpha Zeta Chapter was established in 1985 through the efforts of Dr. Terry Ferriss.  Between 1985-2007, 187 Horticulture students have been initiated into this Honor Society for Horticulture.


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