How do I weed through the bad tips?


Spe­cial to the Whig

Any­one seek­ing gar­den­ing in­for­ma­tion could en­counter ad­vice via con­ver­sa­tion, so­cial me­dia posts, video seg­ments, mag­a­zine ar­ti­cles and a num­ber of other for­mats. While some touted prac­tices may be based in solid ex­pe­ri­ence, many are per­pet­u­ated with­out any real data to back up the sug­ges­tions.

If you’re go­ing to in­vest your time, money and ef­fort into your yard, wouldn’t you pre­fer to achieve the de­sired out­come through the most ac­ces­si­ble, ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive way? A num­ber of sci­en­tists are try­ing to pub­li­cize hor­ti­cul­tural re­search for the ben­e­fit of ev­ery­day gar­den­ers to help them avoid wast­ing time im­ple­ment­ing pop­u­lar ideas that don’t work well.

One com­pre­hen­sive web page is Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­sity’s “Hor­ti­cul­tural Myths,” com­piled by Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., an ex­ten­sion hor­ti­cul­tur­ist and pro­fes­sor at the uni­ver­sity.

This land­ing page ad­dresses com­mon land­scap­ing top­ics within a num­ber of cat­e­gories, and in­cludes links that open to docu- ments de­tail­ing myths or com­monly shared tac­tics, such as com­pan­ion plant­ing, stak­ing new trees, plac­ing rock or pot­tery shards at the bot­tom of con­tainer plant­ings, in­stalling land­scape fab­ric and ap­ply­ing bak­ing soda, com­post tea, milk or ep­som salts.

In these doc­u­ments, Chalker-Scott ex­plains “The Re­al­ity” as doc­u­mented by pro­fes­sion­als who have tested the the­ory us­ing in­dus­tryrec­og­nized pro­ce­dures. Fi­nally, she fol­lows up with, “The Bot­tom Line,” where she presents a sum­mary of points, in­clud­ing best prac­tices for achiev­ing the orig­i­nal goal.

For ex­am­ple, by click­ing, “The Myth of Frag­ile Roots,” you’ll read that avoid­ing root dis­rup­tion while plant­ing con­tainer­ized trees and shrubs can hide prob­lems that could be pre­vented at plant­ing. The au­thor in­sists that wash­ing soil from the roots, prun­ing away flaws, and spread­ing the bare roots into na­tive soil will lead to the best re­sults, ac­cord­ing to care­fully ex­e­cuted study. You can visit Chalker-Scott’s slide show on the topic at for more de­tailed in­struc­tion.

Also ad­vo­cat­ing for use of ar­borist wood chips as a mulch, she lists a va­ri­ety of ben­e­fits to the soil, plants, gar­den and gar­den­ers. She also dis­misses con­cerns with ev­i­dence sup­port­ing her po­si­tion and pro­vides an­swers to a host of likely ques­tions or sit­u­a­tions. There are a num­ber of com­pelling top­ics and in­ter­est­ing find­ings if you are reg­u­larly en­ter­tained by read­ing about plants, soil and best prac­tices for the home land­scaper.

Fur­ther re­sources in­clude gar­den­pro­fes­, a blog that Chalker-Scott shares with other plant sci- ence aca­demics, as well as a Face­book group by the same name for more wide­spread dis­cus­sion.

Per­haps you would like a touch of con­flict and drama while you learn?

An ad­min­is­tra­tor at Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­sity dis­agrees with Chalker-Scott about the mis­sion of her po­si­tion with the hor­ti­cul­ture ex­ten­sion.

If you join the Face­book group, be sure to read the de­scrip­tion and pinned post be­fore jump­ing into the dis­course to avoid vi­o­lat­ing the ex­pressed in­ten­tions. The over­rid­ing mes­sage is to be skep­ti­cal of home­reme­dies, buzz-words and folk­lore that hasn’t been ver­i­fied via sci­en­tific method­ol­ogy.

While much of the fun of gar­den­ing can be a sense of rogue ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, it cer­tainly helps if those ef­forts are met with fre­quent suc­cess. These re­sources aim to help you im­prove your chances.

Each week, a Ce­cil County Master Gar­dener will write in to share their gar­den­ing ex­pe­ri­ences or an­swer a gar­den­ing ques­tion. To sub­mit ques­tions to the Master Gar­dener, send them to ce­cil­mas­ter­gar­


This week’s guest colum­nist, Karen S. Rita, warns against faulty gar­den­ing point­ers and high­lights sev­eral on­line re­sources.

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