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OMG writers that don't know anything

February 23, 2019
last modified: February 23, 2019

I keep seeing garden type articles in online things like Gardenista, who have absolutely no clue about what they're writing.

I just read one that said that if treated very well, a cactus could live up to ten years. Most cacti have a lifespan that may reach a hundred years. Of course, given many people's gardening-wisdom, maybe ten is a stretch. And given that treated well, probably meant plentiful water and fertilization and maybe insufficient light...yeah, ten would be a stretch :)

Also given that many cacti and succulents will self-propagate (like pups or plantlets from kalanchoe), you could say indefinite lifespan by cloning.

Comments (26)

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    Unfortunately, that is just the sign of our times :-) It is dead simple to get something published online - we do it everyday here on GW - and there is NO filter for accuracy!! Garden blogs and YouTube are some of the worst offenders and the amount of incorrect information spewed from these sources is astounding. For every accurate posting, there are likely 15-20 that are inaccurate to varying degrees, from just a single misstatement to complete garbage!!

    I really only look for plant info from reputable institutional sources, preferrably science based. MOBOT is one that genenrally offers very good information, as do most extension service publications (.edu). But even they are not infallable and up to date on all issues.

    In the days before the Internet and discussion forums and blogging etc, information was mostly gathered from reference books. Now anyone who has ever stuck a plant in a pot considers themselves a reference :-) And it is usually the novice hobby gardeners that get taken in by the misinformation out there as they do not have the experience or the education to discern fact from fiction.

    dbarron thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • dbarron

    True, as you know GG, I can probably discern fact from fiction. I am not sure if the Internet is a boon for information sharing or a bust for disinformation due to the low bar of entry. My tolerance for BS is pretty low these days too.

    I just potted up a half dozen cacti/succulents from a order that arrived yesterday and am just now eyeing some gesneriads that need to be potted up. Nice to do this when there's not much gardening going on outside. Oh, my chirita/primulina/deinostigma tamiana (pick a name and leave it) which is suppossed to be short-lived, is now on it's eighth year and looking to go indefinitely.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    "I am not sure if the Internet is a boon for information sharing or a bust for disinformation due to the low bar of entry."

    LOL!! IMO, it's a lot of both. You can find out pretty much anything you need to know from the internet and often with lightening speed. But it does take a degree of existing knowledge and/or experience to be able to successfully separate the wheat from the chaff :-) I - like you - try to do my part to just provide the 'wheat' whenever possible, based on my years of horticultural training and experience. But it's a lot like sticking one's finger in a leaking dyke.........

    I too have a very low BS threshold :-)

  • hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

    Happens in person, too. Attended a talk by a Master Gardener who cheerfully created a succulent gift planter using a glass jar with pebbles in the bottom "for good drainage". No, there was not a drainage hole in the bottom of the jar. One could only sigh and suppress a scream.

    I'd already corrected the speaker several times on very basic things. No, Echeverias are not native to Spain and Italy. No, that's a Euphorbia, not a Kalanchoe. No, Aloe is a genus, not a species. I didn't want to be disrespectful, but come on. The person really didn't know what she was talking about.

    dbarron thanked hoovb zone 9 sunset 23
  • dbarron

    Yeah, I used to encounter this sort of thing with teachers and professors too. I know I'm not always right, but I usually try to phrase things as 'I think' or 'from my experience'. Irritating when someone states misinformation as a fact! Though again, we've probably all been guilty of it. I try not to.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    One of my pet peeves with Master Gardeners is that they are usually not "masters" at all!! 80-100 hours of horticultural training over a broad range of subjects doesn't make you a master of anything. It is just tickling the surface. I have an honest to goodness college degree in horticulture and although pretty knowledgeable, I am still a long way off from being a "master" :-)) That is a very unfortunate title for a great program that seems to go to a lot of MG's heads. They complete the course of study and immediately think they are experts.....NOT!!

    At one of the nurseries I used to work at, management banned the Master Gardener clinics for a season because they were giving out such poor and often incorrect advice. It took some intervention with the local program directors to make sure that those who staffed the clinics were the most experienced and knowledgeable of their graduates.

    dbarron thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • PRO

    A very high % of gardening and container gardening books, and nearly all you'll find on racks at the check-out line of grocery and home improvement stores are written by the same people that attended master gardening training so they had a certificate for their wall, not for the information. When I took the classes about 20 years ago, there were 2 people in the class who sat in back and knitted and visited through every class; and, since the test was open book and we were given a week to complete it, they passed, got their certificates, and were never to be seen again. Work on our community service half of the bargain? Hail no! Many gardening books are published by a vanity press op and are full of old myths, and if they're very creative, maybe another one or two brand new myths the artist can claim original credit for.

    I always find it interesting that books that focus on houseplants or container gardening are all about specific cultural care practices for each individual species. If you set cacti and carnivorous plants aside, and maybe half of the succulents, you'll find that all (ok - a huge %) of the rest of the plants want almost exactly the same thing - a moist but not wet/soggy soil, appropriate nutrition, the right light and temperature. That's about it - short book. For the most part, plants don't vary much in what they prefer, but they do vary widely in what they can tolerate. Since the grower's only job is to identify currently limiting factors or potentially limiting factors and correct or head them off before they're made manifest, it would be much more helpful if the author spent the lion's share of the book addressing these potentialities and how to avoid them.

    Finally, almost all houseplant book authors work from the assumption that you'll be working with a water-retentive soil you have to do battle with for control of your plants' vitality. "Your plant likes to be root-bound", "Never fertilize houseplants in the winter", "To avoid over-potting, only pot your plant up one pot size at a time", "Plants don't grow bigger in bigger pots" ...... All these myths and more arise from the assumption you'll be using an inappropriate medium.

    If you want to see what I mean, do a search: "houseplant myths" and see how many are wrong or left unqualified to the degree the suggestions are true only where certain specific (yet unidentified) conditions prevail.


    dbarron thanked tapla
  • dbarron

    Then there are the rare plants where it is actually wise to not overpot (including some succulents)..but usually only because of increased chance of water retentive rot, though there are many that flower better when pot bound.

    For the most part, it's about being able to interpret what your plant wants to tell you.

  • PRO

    It goes w/o saying that from the plant's perspective it's always wise to avoid over-potting, but whether or not your plant is or can be over-potted is a function of soil choice. If the soil holds little to no water, the potential for over-potting is little or none. You can put a tiny seedling in a hundred gallons of media without ill effect(s).

    It's also a given that some plants bloom better due to the stress factor caused by tight roots. While the grower appreciates the extra blooms, it's still a stress and limiting to the plant, so The Plant Would Prefer Not to be Rootbound.

    If your plant is trying to tell you something other than, "Look at me! I think I'm looking great", it's already suffering from a stress factor it was our job to prevent. I agree that part of gaining green thumb status is being able to identify and correct limiting factors, but better still would be getting to the point where we can anticipate the potential for limitations to develop so we can eliminate them from ever becoming a factor.

    Getting back your OP, these are the sort of topics one seldom finds being discussed in the gardening books at checkout stands - at least I've never found these topics qualified to even a minor degree, and they're certainly important pieces of the growing puzzle. They're simple kens, but unfortunately the pieces are most often found here and there in other texts or articles, the scope of which are more narrowly focused such that they provide the details that enable a working knowledge of the larger concept. A few good texts, like those that discuss soil science, nutrition, and physiology would be more valuable than a thousand books written by the types of authors mentioned in your opening; as you already knew, or you wouldn't have broached the topic.


    dbarron thanked tapla
  • stupidlazydog CT zone 5b/6a

    I agree with all the comments about the Master Gardener classes and the like. Years ago, when I was training to become a hort judge for the GCA, I was at a judges workshop talking with other judges about doing volunteer work at the Arnold Arboretum and the workshops I had attended there. When I mentioned how talking with the horticulturists there made me realize how little I knew, one of the people I was with said "oh don't say that" as though I should not admit to not knowing everything. My theory is, that the more you learn, the more you realize how much left you have to learn. One program does not make you a master anything.

    dbarron thanked stupidlazydog CT zone 5b/6a
  • nancyjane_gardener

    And that goes for people here too.

    Some insist that things should happen a certain way.

    I do things that aren't anywhere near what I've read here and have pretty good luck with my instincts. I am blessed with wonderful soil in my new place and lovely weather (most of the time)

    I had planned on taking the Master gardener's classes when I retired, but never got around to it.

    My decision not to was sealed when I moved here and didn't really have a gardening space and a new MG offered to share her yard with me. The garden was wimpy at best compared to my former raised bed garden of 18 years. I "found" a space at my new place and everything went wild last year!

    I think it's experiment and see what works well for YOU! I still read many articles and give some ideas a try and roll my eyes at others.

    Whatever works! Nancy

  • dbarron

    What is really getting my nerves up is people that come here supossedly to ask advise, get it, then post they're going to go ahead in direct opposition. Why do they even bother to ask if they don't want to listen? Or even if they want to ignore it, why tell me they're ignoring it? Just thank me and go do whatever they want.

    I agree with you NancyJane about trying different things. I bought like 20 cyclamen coum tubers and planted them in various places to gauge their reactions to my 'habitats', only one made it..but hey I now have a good idea where to place them if I try again..and the one is lovely.

  • PRO

    I don't think I've ever seen anyone suggest that "things should happen a certain way". I've seen a LOT of "this is how things happen when you do this, this, and this, do what you want with the information". If someone says, "It works for me" or "Whatever works" all it means is the person is content with how things are currently turning out for them. By all means, stick with what you're comfortable with, but it's wrong to disallow that there might be a better way, because there always is; and, there are a lot of other gardeners who can learn from hearing what the better way is and why it's better. I've been at GW for a long time, and from what I see, when someone suggests there's a better way, they're almost always trying to help, not diminish the person they're trying to help.


    Statement: "I water every weekend and fertilize at the first of every month."

    Reply (abbreviated version): You might find it better to check for moisture deep in the pot with a tell, and only water when the tell comes out nearly dry; and it would be better if you tied the frequency with which you've been fertilizing (then explain why).

    Statement: My mother always did it this way and she had plants that were 30 years old all over her house and they were all perfectly healthy, and it works for me, too.

    Reply: It might work for you, but a plant might appear healthy to grower A and look very unhealthy to grower B. And there is an invisible factor that's called loss of potential. A plant can be suffering a loss of more than half of it's potential without the grower being able to tell what's occurring ....... until the limitations are corrected. At that point, what the grower attributes to a growth spurt is actually a measure of how limiting some practices are. The plant has simply returned to how it's been growing all along.

    Statement: You're an azz - I'm doing fine w/o your advice.

    Reply: I stopped offering you advice a post or two prior, and changed my commentary to illustrating why the rest of the readers would be better served to use a different strategy.

    I've seen this sequence play out thousands of times with nothing different other than the words.

    What is really getting my nerves up is people that come here supposedly
    to ask advise, get it, then post they're going to go ahead in direct
    opposition. Why do they even bother to ask if they don't want to listen?
    Or even if they want to ignore it, why tell me they're ignoring it?
    Just thank me and go do whatever they want.
    A fair % of growers arrive here looking for an instant and easy fix. Some are not willing to invest any effort in their plants other than watering. So, when you offer spot on advice that's a simple fix for an obvious problem, they're going to wait for the advice they want to hear. Absent that, they'll take the path of least resistance.

    Example: The grower has been watering weekly and has a plant with burned leaf tips and margins. When all symptoms are considered and images viewed, the diagnosis is over-watering and/or a high level of salts in the soil solution. The best advice is to flush the soil to reduce dissolved solids in the soil solution, get the watering under control by using a tell and watering on an 'as needed' basis, start using an appropriate fertilizer, and try to get to the point where you can water correctly (all of this is explained in detail).

    There is no reply for several days, until someone posts, "You're over-watering", to which the immediate reply is, "Ok. I'm going to start watering every 2 weeks". And you're sitting there shaking your head.

    Confirmation bias sometimes pays a part, too. Example: Grower A's plant has chlorotic leaves and thinks the plant needs Mg. We found out the plant has just been repotted in a commercial soil so the odds there is a Mg deficiency is about nil. This is explained along with the dangers of dosing the plant with something (Epsom salts) intended to deliver a single nutrient (I know it also has Fe, but the grower is only interested in Mg) and how adding one nutrient in excess can cause a deficiency of another nutrient ..... and on and on. You know that after the post is written, someone else, a beginner or someone who doesn't like you and feels compelled to disagree with everything you say, is going to agree with the OP and suggest it IS a Mg deficiency, and he'll act on the advice that confirms his bias.


    dbarron thanked tapla
  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    Sometimes instincts are fine :-) And sometimes instincts or anecdotal advice can produce disastrous results. Or at the very least, less than optimal results. If that is all you want or are happy with, then by all means ignore any advice to the contrary.

    But there is a great deal of science behind gardening and it behooves any gardener to pay attention to and understand the science. And that's what one tends to find with extension service publications and online articles and other science-based sources. Pruning is done a certain way to produce certain results and to prevent adverse effects like disease and insect-welcoming stubs or the production of water shoots. Not amending individual planting holes has been proven to reduce soil interface issues, improve water percolation and assist with plant establishment and root production and spread. Ignore these suggestions at your peril!

    I think sometimes those who post questions and then ignore the advice or do the complete opposite are only wanting validation of their premise to begin with. It really doesn't make any difference what supportive evidence to the contrary they are supplied with....they just wanted their viewpoint confirmed.

    And we can add to this list those posters who pose a question online, receive all manner of good suggestions or advice but never acknowledge any of the comments and are never heard from again.

  • dbarron

    Lol, there's that GG, maybe we should make a policy of engaging the OP before ever providing any information (lol).

    However, that just makes more hassle for us :(

  • einportlandor

    OK, I feel compelled to respond to the Master Gardener bashing. I don't doubt some of you have had bad experiences, but I've had bad experiences with volunteers and professionals from many disciplines and I don't denigrate them as a group.

    I became a Master Gardener after 40 years of gardening in several geographic regions but I don't consider myself an expert, and most MG's I've worked with don't either. I found the training rigorous (university staff with PhD's in entomology, soil science, etc.) and the advice protocols sensible. A couple of things to keep in mind:

    1. MG's are volunteers. As with any volunteer group, expertise among members varies widely because, although we've completed the same training, we come to the program with different backgrounds. Some have professional experience in landscaping, forestry, food production, etc. Others are home gardeners who want to learn more.

    2. MG's primary job is to connect home gardeners to reliable information. To that end we have access to extensive libraries and reference materials that we use to research questions and share with clients. Most of the time we get it right but rest assured no one will die if a we misidentify the insect that is chewing holes in your kale.

    3. The MG service is free and available to anyone regardless of their financial means. Most people are not able to hire landscapers to tell them they need to spray their apple trees or move the tomatoes out of the shade.

    4. MG's are not landscape designers. The state of their yard has no bearing on their training or effectiveness. My yard is sometimes a weed patch, but I have no hesitation suggesting ways to manage a caller's weed infestation.

    I'm sure the quality of Master Gardener programs varies widely from region to region but I've been very impressed with mine, and I speak as someone who managed people, projects and programs for many years. The intent of the program is to encourage home gardening and help gardeners be successful by providing science-based information. It's free and available to anyone. Not a bad deal in my book.

  • dbarron

    I haven't been impressed with MGs either, but I come with high standards. I will agree they probably know more than the avg non-professional.

  • nancyjane_gardener

    I'm sorry if I stirred things up! I'm not against MGs(In fact I'm going to get one over here to help with de-lawning my Ca yard)

    I was just saying that some people are stuck on certain ways of doing things and those things don't always work for different situations!

    Happy Gardening! Nancy

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    "In fact I'm going to get one over here to help with de-lawning my Ca yard"

    I don't know how different things are in CA, but here in WA (where the program was started), MG's are not permitted to "work" or consult with private individuals at their homes, except as friends. In their capacity as MG volunteers, they can only do community service type activities - fielding questions at the extension office or by telephone, hosting/manning the MG clinics at nurseries, plant sales, etc. and working with community gardens. And they cannot accept payment for their services.

    IOW, you cannot get a MG (working in their capacity as a MG) to "help with de-lawning" or anything else to do with working/advising/planning/designing one's personal garden. What these graduates are allowed to do using the MG title is very restrictive and is only with extension service authorization. They cannot even use that title to promote or describe themselves in their private gardening business, should they have one.

  • Paul MI

    I find that very odd, GG. Generally with certifications, one of the perks of having gone through the time and trouble obtaining a cert, is being able to make use of that certification -- both personally and job wise. Had never heard that before about the MG program.

    As far as advising people what to do, and wondering if they will follow the advice given, same thing happens outside of the forums as well. For a number of years, I have helped a vendor I know at some of the orchid shows in my state. I always get at least one person asking about watering orchids with ice cubes. While it is something that can be done, there is the question of should it be done. (My opinion is "no".) But some folks have had success with that method and so if it works for them, so be it. Then there are the inevitable Qs as to how many times a week or month should they water. Many aren't thrilled when I refuse to say "water X times per week/month" but rather emphasize that it all depends upon their personal growing conditions.

  • rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

    It's my understanding that someone who has their MG certification can work anywhere they want to, but can't use their credentials as a way to get work or to advertise. I've known plenty of working landscapers and gardeners who took it upon themselves to complete the course but never used it as a way to get more work.

  • ewwmayo

    At times, I find it a bit discouraging to post information and suggestions here. Some days, I try to put some helpful information or tips but it often ends up in an argument/not so pleasant discussion.

    I often wonder how much depth growers will really care about specific topics and if my posts will be a useful resource or be classified as misinformation because it doesn't match up with the myths.

    dbarron thanked ewwmayo
  • dbarron

    I could have writen what you said ewwmayo, it seems like trying to help is looking for a fight so much of the time. It's very very discouraging and I keep thinking I should just walk away and reduce the stress in my life :(

    Considering that I have had questions and probably will have more at some point, I hate to do that. I want to pay back. I want gardeners to succeed. *sigh*

  • rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

    ewwmayo and dbarron, I think that this forum needs people like you so please don't give up on the Gardenweb Forums. I absolutely despise it when some individuals insist that there is no pathway to healthy, thriving plants but theirs.

    In truth, part of the fun and joy that some of us experience in growing indoor plants is in simple experimentation. Good results should be shared. If I have ever been one of those who have used my education and experience as a means to stifle the exuberance of others, shame on me.

  • nancyjane_gardener

    GG, I went to a 2 hour talk on de-lawning (or whatever it's called) my yard that was put on by a MG. These type of classes( and on orchids, vege gardening, lawn care, etc etc) are held at libraries throughout the county on a weekly basis. The woman conducting this talk said the Sonoma Co MGs offered a free 2 hour consultation on how to get rid of your lawn and re-do your sprinkler system.

  • junco East Georgia zone 8a

    In Georgia, one of the categories of volunteer hours for Master Gardeners is "consulting" with private homeowners, giving design and maintenance information. The stipulation against using the MG certificate in advertising for a private business is followed here.

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