What's a gardener to do--there's so much misinformation out there!

primula.jpg (42736 bytes)
Primula denticulata, one of 500 species, virtually all of which that grow outdoors, prefer damp, shady conditions. These have been grown from seed in a sunny frameyard and shaded from the sun by 50% snowfence latticework.
Author photo.

1pt.gif (86 bytes)Though the internet is well known for its breadth of "opinion pieces," it's not just the web that is subject to increasing amounts of incorrect information. Propaganda, or more specifically, misinformation seems to be rampant now too in radio and TV gardening programmes, in talks and lectures and even books--all are guilty. Let me sight some specifics.

Countless examples of slip-shod writing/editing occur in a brand new book from a major Canadian publisher, written by a master gardener. Many of these errors could well lead readers in absolutely the wrong direction. The sentence having to do with pruning hedges, in chapter 4, "Trees, shrubs and vines" for example, can only be considered extremely misleading: "Old evergreen plants such as yew, cedar and juniper will not sprout from bare interior wood, and they are best replaced with a new hedge."

The facts are: that applies to junipers, as well as spruce, pine, false cypress and others she doesn't mention, but it does NOT apply to yews and cedars, especially oriental cedar (arborvitae [Thuja]). Yews (Taxus) take several years, but respond well to extremely heavy pruning. In five or six years the bare main branches will be totally covered in new growth. If you have ever seen the oriental arborvitae (Thuja orientalis) hedge surrounding the herb garden at The Niagara Parks Commission Botanical Garden and School of Horticulture, you would be amazed at how much that hedge has been trimmed. (And, from as long ago as when I was a student and participated in the first major cut back in the early 60s.)

On a recent TV programme about indoor gardening (airing on the specialized gardening channel), I was amazed to see the host actually recommend rooting fuchsia cuttings in water; and say that potting soil used for indoor plants should have "a balanced pH, and contain a balanced fertilizer."

Allow me to set the record straight. Most cuttings will root in water. However, only a very few (such as common tropical plants like the heart-leaf philodendron) of these rooted cuttings will grow well when they are transferred to soil or another growing medium. Cuttings rooted in water have roots orientated to water, and these often do not survive in soil. Also, plants need air at their roots as much as they need water, in order to grow. That's why plants growing hydroponically, do not have their roots immersed in water continuously.

I'm not sure that anyone can tell me what a "balanced pH" is. Actually, I think it's an oxymoron. And as to a balanced fertilizer, I see and hear countless "experts" using that term. Apparently they don't know that almost all fertilizers sold now are balanced. The definition of a balanced fertilizer is one that has a percentage of each of the three primary ingredients. The only exceptions currently being sold would be the likes of super phosphate 0-20-0, and a few high nitrogen formulations such as 38-0-0 and 45-0-0. All the others are balanced fertilizers.

Just a day before I write this in late March, a well-known radio garden host, broadcasting nationally, responded to a question about primulas (primroses), and where in the caller's garden they would grow best. The question likely arose because plant sellers currently have hundreds of pots of colourful Primula obconica. The caller wondered where best to plant his. The host said yes, "they would take some shade, but probably would be best in sun."

Absolutely wrong! They are virtually all shade-lovers. However, the single most important point about primulas (there are at least three dozen available from plant sellers in various parts of the country, and in total there are over 500 individual species world-wide) is that they demand a constantly moist, high organic matter soil. No mention was made of that point by the host!

I wonder to myself what if anything can be done to curtail this? I certainly don't have an answer.

From the gardening consumers' point of view, how can, especially a new gardener, weigh two pieces of opposing advice, and be expected to come up with the right answer? I wish I had the answer to that as well. I can make a few recommendations. Always seek out as much advice on any one topic as you can. Ask the "credentials" of those who would advise you. Seek advice only from those who should know--people who have been in the business for many years, for example, garden centre managers or at least employees able to boast being a CCHT (Canadian Certified Horticultural Technician). And if you want to settle a debate, write or e-mail me.

Art C. Drysdale
6 Nesbitt Drive
Toronto, ON M4W 2G3
Phone: 416-968-5910