Looking for reliable gardening expertise? Here's where to dig up the most reliable gardening information and tips.
By Ann Wied
Waukesha County, Wisconsin
In the garden, questions can pop up almost as fast as weeds: What kind of plant is this? Why are my tomatoes splitting? When and how should I divide these perennials? Today, more information than ever is at your fingertips: in books and magazines, online, via radio call-ins, TV shows and more. But not all of it is sound advice! Before you decide to change a tried-and-true gardening method or try a new recommendation, first consider the source. There’s nothing like flipping through the pages of books and magazines for gardening ideas and beautiful photographs.
But before you follow any advice, it pays to know something about the author’s background and geographical focus. Obviously, Minnesotans won’t benefit much from advice written about gardening in Florida!
The Web, of course, has become the No. 1 place to research just about anything, with instant results. But be cautious: There’s no guarantee that all or even most of those 2.4 million results will yield reliable advice.
To narrow your search results, try adding university or extension to your search terms, and select sites that end in .edu or .gov. Sites maintained by a university or a state or federal government department will likely point you to solid information rather than folklore.
Most valuable will be the sites of cooperative extension offices or other research-based institutions in your state or region. Those from distant states may be less helpful. You can also narrow your search by adding the keyword “society.” This can lead you to plant enthusiast sites that offer hard-to-find info on exotic species, like orchids. Just be aware that some info posted on these sites may be subjective and less than reliable.
What about the .org or .com sites? An organizational or commercial website may or may not have accurate information. Again, check the author’s background in your topic. And remember, commercial sites want you to buy their products, so their experts’ recommendations may not be unbiased.
Out-of-date info and conflicting recommendations abound just about everywhere, in print or online. When you’re unsure which answer to trust, remember that you can always find free, reliable information tailored to your area with just a phone call or email to your county extension office.
About our expert: Ann Wied is consumer horticulture educator for the UW-Extension in Waukesha County, Wisconsin.