General garden advice is generally hogwash

Erin Schanen

Gardeners be warned: ’Tis the season for overly generalized garden advice. It’s not difficult to spot, and you should ignore almost all of it.

The only really good garden advice is highly specific either to a particular and small area — your county or city, not your growing zone — or a specific topic. All the rest of the advice should really be considered a guideline that you file away in the far reaches of your brain and feel absolutely no guilt in completely ignoring.

You can usually spot this kind of advice in general online articles with titles like “Five things you must do to have a great garden” or “Stop making these garden mistakes.” These articles are always meant for a nationwide or often worldwide audience so there is no specificity to them. And like most generalizations, they are generally hogwash.

Take, for example, the popular advice to plant in odd numbers of three or five. Like most advice, this is well-intentioned but overly simplified. My advice is to stick with a minimum of five of one annual or perennial planted in the ground. After five, plants should grow in a mass so individual plants will be indistinguishable and odd or even numbers don’t matter. And after you buy those plants, double or triple the number so you can repeat the planting elsewhere in the garden.

Some perennial garden advice has finally been exposed as completely unfounded but manages to persist in the land of recycled internet content. Plant a $5 plant in a $10 hole — a reference to spending more on amending the soil than on the plant — is advice to be fully ignored. Amending planting holes creates little sinks of goodness that negatively affect a plant’s likeliness to stretch roots beyond the hole or, in the case of clay soil, can create a bathtub-like situation that will have plants dying of root rot.

If soil needs amending, then the entire garden can be amended and the $10 hole problem no longer exists.

The same goes for adding a layer of gravel to the bottom of pots, which inhibits drainage and raises the water level in a pot rather than increasing drainage. If you need more drainage in a pot, get one with more holes, or amend the potting soil to add drainage.

The list of gardening advice that you should ignore is much longer than the list of advice to heed. If you’re ever in doubt, and looking for an online answer, add “.edu” to end of your search engine query, which should help you find better qualified information than “The 30 best garden tips of all time.”

And the very best advice I can offer is to remember is that you get to make the decisions in your own garden. If you want to grow one of every plant you can find, do it. The next best advice is to ask a local gardener, not Google.


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