Don’t Depend on Facebook Garden Advice

Colorado Columbine_YankeeBoyBasin-CO_4741 11 x 14

I finally had to unsubscribe from our local gardening Facebook group. It was just too painful. While there was much group wisdom (especially when it comes to identifying mystery plants), a significant portion of the advice being handed out by various self-proclaimed experts was just plain wrong. I got tired of cringing, and I didn’t want to be THAT person who acted as if they knew it all. I don’t, but I’m learning.

Hemerocallis - Daylily

A lot of the recommended practices may work in other parts of the country, but not here. Take our soils, for example. No, we don’t need to add lime—our soils are already overloaded with calcium. Similarly, you can’t effectively lower our relatively high pH—just choose plants that like it that way, such as daylilies or geraniums. Egg shells won’t help your plants (they’re just adding even more calcium). Neither will molasses, Epson salts (our soils have plenty of magnesium), and there’s such a thing as too much compost.

Tagetes_Marigold_DBG_LAH_7897Then there’s the advice on “natural” pest control and fertilizers. Most of the so-called remedies simply don’t work, and some can make the problem worse. Marigolds don’t repel insects. No homemade pesticide can distinguish between “good” and “bad” bugs. Vinegar and dishwashing liquid won’t kill weed roots (and how is detergent “natural”?) Your personal experience doesn’t take the place of a properly constructed study.

I was particularly agitated when, in response to a question on transplanting a shrub, one commenter advised the person to first lop off all the leaves “to keep the plant from drying out,” then dig an oversized hole and bury the poor plant as deeply as possible “to make sure the roots are ok.” They were then told to backfill the hole with pure potting mix and, finally, to water it with a B1 solution “to prevent transplant shock.”

None of that was good advice, and the combination would be sure to kill the plant. Plants store emergency food reserves in their roots, but transplanting typically requires cutting off many, if not most, of them. Without those reserves, the plant must depend on photosynthesis for energy and growth. But cutting off the leaves deprives the plant of that food source—no leaves, no photosynthesis. Burying the plant too deeply deprives the remaining roots of oxygen (and often water), killing them. So now you’ve eliminated both the roots and leaves—how is the plant to survive?

Even if it does, filling the hole with a different soil mix will lead to circling roots, rather than roots that grow outward into the native soil. They won’t cross that boundary. Why should they, when it’s nice and cozy in the hole? And adding B1 is useless, in spite of the claims on the bottle.

Tomato seedlings_LAH_9886What finally pushed me over the edge was reading the recent thread on seed starting. We live in Colorado, mostly between 5,500 and 7,500 feet in altitude. Our average last frost dates are in May. Yet, a number of very excited people mentioned how they were already starting squash, cucumbers, and other warm-season, fast-growing vegetable seeds. I knew that in a month or so, these same people would be asking for advice on leggy seedlings, or pleading for recommendations on sources of additional seeds so they could try again.

viola-x-wittrockiana_pansies_dbg_20100417_lah_2623This is the time to start slow-growers—onions, geraniums, pansies, and the like, but for the rest? Patience, gardener. I know it’s hard to wait, especially if you’ve recently moved from a more benign climate, but starting too early just wastes time, seeds, and supplies.

It’s hard to find good gardening advice. Stay skeptical. Look for research-based gardening groups, published studies in peer-reviewed journals, university websites, and the various extension services (although they’re not always up to date either), and stay teachable. Over the years I’ve had to relinquish some long-held beliefs and practices (such as double-digging) in the face of new evidence. Part of the fun of gardening is learning new skills that will result in healthier plants, a better harvest, and a more beautiful landscape.


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