Getting the Best Gardening Advice

Looking for reliable gardening expertise? Here's where to dig up the most reliable gardening information and tips.

Flower garden, shrubs and trees beside red barn

Flower Garden Beside Barn

Your garden's future will be rosy with reliable gardening advice. Photo by David and Nancy Nedveck.



Flower garden, shrubs and trees beside red barnGarden-Tomatoes


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Out-of-date info and conflicting recommendations abound just about everywhere, in print or online.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. 

Alison Pockat 1 December 26, 2012 at 2:37 pm

This is absolutely true. It is amazing the number of ‘experts’ out and about both on the web and down the street. Just because someone has a piece of ground or a pot flowers, their experience is just that – experience. This does not make them an expert in anything other than their own personal situation. For useful and dependable advice, seek out people who are actually trained in the profession. For example: a landscape designer will seek to give advice, but they are unlicensed and as such may not actually have any experience or training in the field – they may not not even have finished high school. A master gardener, has a minimum of training through the extension service and can give some advice but they are by no means as trained beyond a couple of hours of classroom time and their own life experience. If you really need expert advice concerning your garden or the plants on your site, you will get better advice from someone who is actually educated as well as experienced like a botanist, horticulturalist or landscape architect.


Ann Wied 2 January 7, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Alison – Thanks for supporting the importance in finding a good, accurate source for gardening advice. I agree with most of your comments but have to say that master gardeners are a great source of accurate, solid information. Becoming a master gardener in Wisconsin requires that a person attend 36 hours of classroom instruction, pass an exam and volunteer for at least 24 hours of service — we WANT them to assist us in answering the many questions we receive each year. States vary in the amount of training, but most require a minimum of 30 hours.


Peggy Stenglein 3 February 5, 2013 at 9:41 am

I’m from the school of asking someone who has first hand knowledge in the field of ‘whatever’. Many people confuse formal educationand knowledge, with intelligence and common sense, and they are two very different things!
Asking someone with formal know how is great, and the local universities, and ag. offices are great, but the old timer at the local auction or feed store, most likely has real world experience. I’ve gotten my best advise from old timers, and old wives tales!


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