Garden Myths

Just Because It’s on the Internet Doesn’t Make It True

I’m sure there is now more false horticultural advice online than accurate information. I don’t want to seem mean, but that’s especially true of Pinterest and Facebook. Sometimes the suggestion is just so ridiculous you can’t imagine anyone following it (starting a rose cutting in a potato, placing little mirrors in the garden to scare away slugs, etc.), but apparently people do. 

Before you waste your time, energy and money (yes, some homemade recipes are actually quite costly) on something that doesn’t work, why not check out the advice on a site you can trust?

I like to think I’m fairly careful in what I advise on the site, but I suspect the safest places would be sites run by botanical gardens, agricultural colleges and (in the US) cooperative extensions, sites where they’re used to researching things thoroughly. And I think I’m in love with Linda Chalker-Scott, whose Horticultural Myths page is wealth of carefully verified gardening information. 

Among others:

• Never trust a site that is selling you a product. Do read what it proposes (hey, it might be a great product!), but then check out the back story on a few other sites (never just one) that have no commercial interest in the product. 

• Too many exclamation marks (!) is often a clue that the site is clueless!!!!!

Rainbow tomato seeds are widely sold, but the tomatoes that grow look nothing like the picture. Photo:

• Sites with photos of plants in unlikely colors (true blue roses, different coloured tomatoes on the same plant, jet black strawberries, etc.) are likely to be lying to you. 

• Sites not specialized in gardening (women’s magazines, for example) offering lists of gardening tips (10 ways of doing this, 15 of that, etc.) have probably never tested any of them. Most are likely going to be totally useless tips they’ve stolen from someone else’s equally untrustworthy site.

• Don’t trust hardiness zones on brand-new plants. If they’re new to the market, they will not have been tested. There was once a long-standing tradition that plants had to be thoroughly tested before they were launched, but I don’t think any nursery has done that in 20 years! They just hybridize new varieties and push them into production. You can try such plants (sometimes they’re hard terribly to resist!) but then consider yourself part of a vast experiment and be prepared to replace the dead ones.

Finally, any garden hack that sounds too good to be true probably is. Check it out before wasting your time on it … and risking your plants’ health to boot!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

3 comments on “Just Because It’s on the Internet Doesn’t Make It True

  1. I am part of the Master Gardener family here in the US. You are correct – Cooperative Extension offices are a great place to seek help from. In most cases there is a hotline staffed by MGs with phone number, email or walk-in options where you can ask any horticulture or nature question, and they will do the research for you for free. Thanks for reminding folks.

  2. There’s another danger hidden behind the “hyper hybridization” mentality, and that is the heavily hybridized flowering plants we’re developing and creating are often useless to pollinators. Some plant breeders have sacrificed pollen and nectar in favor of the showy blossoms that we like, but these are invisible or inedible to pollinators, thus reducing their food supply. That’s why it’s important to plant native plants and flowers that your local pollinators recognize as food or habitat, so they can survive in this mad-scientist world we are creating with our plant breeding efforts.

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