Photo courtesy of Kristin Getter

In early June, Michigan State University announced that it would be hosting its annual trial gardens despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (You can read more here). Below, Kirsten Getter, director of MSU’s Horticulture Gardens, shares how that was accomplished. The full Q&A with Getter and trial gardens director Daedre McGrath is available at

Greenhouse Management: What is it like working at a university amid a pandemic?

Kristin Getter: As a director, for me, I have to get approval to do everything. For instance, if I wanted to have people in the greenhouses in March to keep the plants alive, we had to get approval. We had to get approval for the staff to work in the gardens too. It’s a lot of paperwork. [For the trial gardens,] we could only have one employee there at a time and normally, we’d have students that do watering and other tasks for us. It’s been a lot of back to basics. Of course, there’s good reason to take all of these precautions.

GM: Was there a concern that the trials weren’t going to happen this year at all due to COVID-19?

KG: We were very concerned that we weren’t going to be able to do it. Because the trials are so important to the industry, we decided to cancel some other things first because with limited staff, we just couldn’t do everything. So we canceled our spring plant sale — that’s our major fundraiser — and that freed up a ton of time.

We just kept being persistent with our administration and making the case that this is really, really important. They finally agreed. We came up with a good argument, especially considering that Spring Trials was canceled and such.

GM: What other changes have you made for the trial amid current events?

KG: We’re moving our plant trial field date for the industry, which is normally in person and in August. That’s now going to be virtual. We’re not canceling our field day or changing the time of year when it happens. Our trial gardens are still open to the public, too. It’s a gateless garden, free admission. It’s open all the time for visitors. ... We are still participating in the Michigan Garden Plant Tour too. The only difference is we aren’t doing guided tours like we normally do. We won’t have a volunteer greeting people like we normally do. Information will be on the site and visitors can take a self-guided tour at their own pace.