Land & Environment

USU Professor Honored for Research, Sustainable Landscape Horticulture Program

By Ysabel Nehring |

Assistant Professor Youping Sun's research is focused on sustainable landscape plants and a sustainability program he developed was key in his being awarded the American Society for Horticultural Science 2022 Early Career Achievement Award.

The American Society of Horticulture Science (ASHS), recognized worldwide as a leading organization for horticulture science and technology, recently honored Utah State University Assistant Professor Youping Sun with its Early Career Achievement Award primarily for a sustainable landscape horticulture program he developed.

Sun was invited to give a presentation on the program at the ASHS’s annual meeting after being selected to participate in the society’s Early Career Competition this year. As the 2022 winner, Sun’s paper about the sustainable landscape horticulture program will be published in HortScience, The Journal of the American Society for Horticulture Science, or HortTechnology.

Sun’s earlier accolades include an ASHS Outstanding Ornamental Publication Award in 2018, being invited to compete for the ASHS Early Career Achievement Award in 2019, being named the USU College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences Faculty Researcher of the Year in 2021, and the ASHS Nursery Crops Distinguished Achievement Award in 2021.

“Water conservation has become critically important throughout Utah and the Intermountain West, one of the driest and fastest growing regions in the U.S.,” Sun said.

In his presentation’s abstract, Sun notes that Utah set a statewide goal of using 35% less water per person by 2050 as compared to water use in 2000. He adds that a significant portion of the decrease must come from reducing irrigation in urban landscapes, which accounts for 50-65% of current urban water demand. Sun also incorporates finding from his research on landscape plants’ reactions to saline irrigation water — important work because water supplies in many places experience rising salinity levels.

Sun’s sustainable landscapes program has two major objectives:

  1. Better understanding of plant responses to environmental stressors such as drought or salinity, and
  2. Promoting the use of native plants for water-efficient landscaping by developing more efficient propagation methods and sustainable management practices.

The program’s goal is to help people create aesthetically appealing landscapes that utilize research-based maintenance techniques and incorporate native plants.

The ASHS encourages new ideas by hosting competitions, including the Early Career Competition, which is open to new faculty and professionals within the first five years of service in their current position.

Sun, an assistant professor of landscape horticulture in the Department of Plants, Soils and Climate, used his expertise in plant propagation and water conservation to develop the program when he began working with USU in 2017. He was invited to compete in the Early Career Competition after receiving nominations from his peers.

In his role as professor, Sun runs a research program, mentors undergraduate and graduate student researchers, and teaches two classes: plant stress physiology and plant propagation.

“As a university faculty member, one of my responsibilities is to foster the development of creative, independent-thinking individuals with the necessary knowledge and problem-solving skills to succeed in their future careers,” Sun said. “To achieve this goal, I enjoy meeting with students in my class to get to know their interests, backgrounds and career goals, and I constantly invite these students to obtain experience in research programs in our department.”

Plants, Soils & Climate Department Head Paul Johnson attributes Sun’s success to his talent, hard work and enormous energy.

“Youping really strives hard to give students a good, hands-on experience, and his students can feel that,” Johnson said. “Dr. Sun has been very important to the Center for Water-Efficient Landscaping group, connecting well to other universities in the West and Utah-based companies; he is an excellent scientist and an asset to the Utah nursery industry.”

“Working in landscape horticulture with an emphasis in water conservation is an exciting and active research program area with many challenges,” Sun said. “As a passionate researcher in this field, I enjoy addressing these challenges and finding ways to support growers and landscapers and positively impacting the environment.”


Ysabel Nehring


Youping Sun
Assistant Professor
Department of Plants, Soils and Climate


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