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South Centers

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


2017 Highlights of Fruit Research Projects and Extension Programs at South Centers

By: Gary Gao, PhD, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor

Our team had a very good year in both research and extension in 2017. We conducted several successful Extension programs at OSU South Centers in Piketon. We also participated in many regional, statewide, national and international programs. In 2017, Dr. Gary Gao authored or coauthored and published 13 fact sheets, one Extension bulletin, and five refereed journal articles. We received a new grant from the Ohio Department of Agriculture and USDA to work on blackberries, hardy figs and hardy kiwis (kiwiberries), and another grant from Ohio Grape Industries to continue our work on wine grapes. We added a Thermo Fisher Ultimate 3000 UHPLC and a MSQ Plus Single Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer to our fruit research lab. We also added several new members to our team.

Fruit Educational Programs at South Centers in 2017:

We conducted the Ohio Cane Fruit Pruning Workshop on March 16, 2017, Ohio Blueberry, Bramble, and Wine Grape Field Night on August 22, and Ohio Commercial Grape and Wine Analysis Workshop on December 14, 2017. These programs were well received by attendees. Dr. Gary Gao, Dr. Lijing Zhou, Ryan Slaughter, Dave Scurlock (HCS-OSU), Patrick Pierquet (HCS-OSU) and Todd Steiner (HCS-OSU) were the featured presenters at some of these programs.

Dr. Gary Gao also participated in several programs throughout Ohio and other states. Dr. Gao gave two presentations at the 2017 OPGMA Congress in Sandusky, Ohio, two more at the Southwest Specialty Crop Conference, one poster presentation at 2017 Annual Meeting of American Society for Horticultural Science, two presentations at Annual Meeting and Professional Improvement Conference of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents, and several presentations at the county fruit training program in Delaware, Lorain and Richland counties.  

Specialty Crop Research Projects:

We made good progress with our container production research of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Blueberry bushes grew very well in containers after we increased dosage of fertilizers and acidification of irrigation water. Several types of containers were used in our study. Raspberry bushes produced lots of fruit while blackberry bushes had a significant amount of fruit as well. We will finish our container fruit production project in September 2018 and share all production data in a summary report.

Our grafted blueberry project went quite well too. We were able to secure sparkleberry plants from different sources in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, and Oregon. Jiangbo Fan, Ryan Slaughter, and Lijing Zhou were able to collect some sparkleberry plants from a few state and national parks in Indiana and Missouri. We are hoping that a few promising sparkleberry plants will emerge as good rootstock for blueberry plants in Ohio and beyond.

We received a new specialty crop block grant to continue our work on blackberry production, and start examining hardy figs and hardy kiwis for Ohio.  Blackberry production using rotatable cross arm trellis continues to draw attention from growers.  This highly specialized training system is quite complicated.  We will establish a plot of blackberry using this system and hope to teach growers how to manage this system well.  We will initiate a comprehensive study of hardy figs and hardy kiwis as alternative cash crops for Ohio.  Both fruits are very tasty and highly nutritious.  We will test which cultivars are best suited for Ohio and how to grow them for maximum profitability.

Extension and Research Publications

Dr. Gao’s fact sheets are posted on OhioLine at  You may want to check them out.  Dr. Gao’s fact sheets concentrated on backyard production of tree fruits and small fruits, tomatoes and soil testing.

Dr. Gao revised the award winning “Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide.”  This OSU Extension bulletin is available for sale from the CFAES Publications at To find this bulletin, you can try searching “940” or “fruit.”  This publication can also be purchased from OSU Extension offices throughout Ohio.  Please call for availability before you visit an extension office. “Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide” can also be purchased from Amazon.

In 2017, Dr. Gary Gao published three journal articles in the Journal of Forestry Research, one in the Journal of Food Microbiology and two in the NACAA journal.

Dr. Gao is one of the contributing authors of a new book entitled “Blackberries and Their Hybrids.” This book was edited by Dick Funt and Harvey Hall and published by CABI.  It is available for purchase at or from Amazon.

Our Fruit Research and Extension Team at South Centers Is Growing too!

Our fruit research and extension team at OSU South Centers has been growing.  Dr. Lijing Zhou was hired as a research associate in July, 2017.  Mr. Yanling Chu of Jiangsu University of Science and Technology in China joined our group in September, 2017 as visiting scholar.  Dr. Jiangbo Fan was hired as a postdoctoral researcher jointly by Dr. Gary Gao and Dr. Ye “Summer” Xia of Department of Plant Pathology at OSU.

Ryan Slaughter, a research assistant, has been with our fruit team since 2014.  He has been Gary Gao’s “right hand man” for quite a few years and will continue to be a key member of our group.  Wayne Lewis, Farm Manager, also participated in many of our project activities.  Wayne has been quite instrumental our grape high tunnel project and vineyard maintenance.

Our Fruit Team is International in More Ways Than One!

In addition to having international members on our fruit team, our fruit research and extension team leader had reached China.  Dr. Gary Gao formed strong collaboration with Henan Agricultural University, Northeast China Agricultural University, and Shanxi Agricultural University in China.  He gave four international presentations in China in 2017 and visited many fruit and landscape plantings there.  His international experience certainly helped him generate many new ideas for his fruit research project in Ohio.  His active collaboration efforts also led to four refereed journal articles.


We would like to thank Ohio Department of Agriculture (Lori Panda), USDA (NIFA, SCRI, and Agricultural Marketing Services), and Ohio Grape Industries Program (Christy Eckstein) for their financial support of our fruit research projects and extension programs.  Our sincere appreciation also goes to many wonderful colleagues at OSU South Centers.  They are Marsha Amlin, Charissa Gardner, Rafiq Islam, Wayne Lewis, Paul O’Bryant, Dean Rapp, Duane Rigsby, Beth Rigsby, Sarah Swanson, and Dr. Tom Worley.  We are also thankful for the support of our colleagues from the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at OSU.  They are Patrick Pierquet, Dave Scurlock, and Todd Steiner.