David McKinney

david mckinney head shot
Title: Garden Review Board Member
Education: Colorado State University
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
Expertise: Landscape Management, Controlled Environment Horticulture, Perennials, Trees, Shrubs, Plant Pests Pathogens & Disease, Native Plants, Entomology

David McKinney currently works as the Curator of Collections and Grounds at the Iowa Arboretum & Gardens. He has a strong background in horticulture outreach and education, including teaching horticulture to over 500 undergraduate students and 200 master gardeners in a laboratory setting. His experiences include being the coordinator of extensive perennial plant trials, managing demonstration gardens, and currently managing a diverse plant collection across 160 acres. He has a passion for ecology with interest in native perennials, trees, and shrubs as well as their relationships with wildlife. David has earned three degrees in horticulture across diverse fields.

• Manages 140+ acres of native woodland and prairie at the Iowa Arboretum & Gardens
• Manages 40 acres of gardens as the Curator of the Iowa Arboretum
• Managed landscapes across 80 acres as a Horticulture Specialist at the Denver Zoo
• Over two years of intensive research on annuals in growth chambers and greenhouses as part of graduate research
• Coordinated gardens with over 1500 varieties of perennials while collecting phenology, growth, and survival data
• Coordinated extensive perennial trials as part of Colorado State University’s Flower Trial Program


As part of his undergraduate studies, David McKinney spent over three years with the Colorado State University Flower Trial Program coordinating several gardens. This program developed strong plant identification skills, an extensive understanding of individual plant management practices, and exposed him to the world of public education and outreach. David meticulously cared for over 1500 plant varieties and was able to communicate their attributes (both positive and negative) to the public.

As part of his graduate degree, he learned how precisely controlling the growing environment can make plants behave however a grower wants. This included education and research in plant environmental stress physiology, light, temperature, and gas exchange to influence plant growth in both growth chambers and in the greenhouse.

During his time at the university, David spent 8 semesters teaching over 500 undergraduate students’ introductory horticulture, plant propagation, plant identification, and pest/disease identification. He then worked for the Denver Zoological Foundation as a horticulture specialist, where he managed landscapes across 80 acres of public gardens and animal enclosures. As part of his experience, David began an intensive pest management program in the DZF tropical conservatory by hand rearing beneficial insects. This work, combined with undergraduate entomology coursework and a certificate in Hymenoptera identification, lead him to rigorously research pollinators, predatory insects, and common horticulture pests.

David has since relocated to the Iowa Arboretum & Gardens where he now supervises the management of 20+ acres of restored tallgrass prairie, 100+ acres of native hardwood woodland, and 40 acres of gardens and arboretum.


David earned three degrees from Colorado State University, two of which are Bachelors of Science and the third a Master of Science. His undergraduate degrees are in Horticulture and Environmental Horticulture with concentrations in Floriculture and Nursery & Landscape Management respectively. This background gave David a strong foundation in greenhouse, nursery, and landscape management while sparking a passion for plant identification, garden building, and ecologically inspired planting design.

He went on to earn a Master of Science degree in Horticulture with an emphasis in Controlled Environment Horticulture where he learned critical thinking and research skills especially in the subject of plant physiology and environmental stress physiology. David’s research focused on measured growth responses of annual bedding plants to elevated carbon dioxide concentrations, as well as any photosynthetic acclimation that may have come as a result of high carbon dioxide. He also interned for five years as an aid to Colorado State University Horticulture Extension learning skills in outreach, adult education, and educational program building.

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