Grandma Always Said: How To Research Gardening Questions Effectively

IMG_20170228_123941189“Roses won’t do any good without blood.” my grandma always told me as, small girl, I watched her dump buckets of chicken blood over the roots of her roses in rural Wisconsan. Of course, she also told me roses planted during the waning moon would die straight away.
My grandma’s gardening practice was full of these details: fish heads in the holes dug for new lilacs, red thread tied around apple branches to protect them from blight. I still keep her copy of The Farmer’s Almanac fondly among my folklore books….but I don’t get my garden advice from it.
Gardening is a mystical business, half art and half science. Folklore abounds, and any gardening question will have five answers, three of them odd or downright off the wall.
The internet has not helped this issue in the slightest. Type ‘kill weeds in the garden’ into Google and you’ll get hundreds of answers, ranging from reputable to rapaciously folksy to alarming in the extreme. For example, I once read a recommendation for turpentine and salt to kill prickly lettuce around peonies. You get the idea….
So how does a gardener sort through the chaff to find the information they need in this muddle?
Here’s a quick checklist of the Four Research Rules, to help you vet your sources!

Reputable URL

When doing a web search, focus on URL’s with an ‘.edu’ ending. This means that an educational body has collected, researched and put out the information for public education and it should be fairly unbiased. If the site ends in .com, chances are a company is involved, and that can skew answers towards ‘buy this to fix your problem!’ The research is also more reliable on educational websites than on your garden-variety blog.

Reliable Information: The Most Accurate Information For Today

As with any other field, information on best garden practices changes with time. I generally ensure that my garden books are no older than 1970, and prefer books printed in the 90’s or later.

Repetition: It Makes Reputation

If only one source or one gardener is talking about a method, you might want to be wary. Best practices tend to spread, so if there’s no existing research on a method of doing something, you might want to try it as an experiment but don’t  rely on it until it’s proven.

Research!
If your source isn’t citing other sources or is using anecdotes to endorse a recommendation, buyer beware! Look for solid research, sources that you can look up yourself and references to specific studies, field trials, or specific experimental examples of the product/method/concept being applied. Some garden books are written poetically and that’s fine, but make sure there’s solid research under the fine words.

Happy garden researching!

-Olivia Wylie, Master Gardener

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