Myths abound in the world of horticulture. Some are based in fact, but have become exaggerated over the years; others had their genesis in the farmer’s field with little application to the home landscape; still others have been promulgated by the industry to sell products or services that will “guarantee” a successful garden. Linda Chalker-Scott has developed a missionary’s zeal in her search to bust these myths in the interest of sound, sustainable gardening practices.
An extension urban horticulturist and associate professor at Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University, Chalker-Scott has had the opportunity to study both the technical literature and the practice of horticulture. In a series of short articles in these two books, she lays out the myths, analyzes them, and presents her conclusions in a concise and readable fashion, with a summary “bottom line” for those who don’t wish to read the full story.
Myths concerning soils and fertilizers receive a good deal of treatment here. The most sustainable solution is to eschew amendments when planting (native soils are usually best for landscape plants), avoid excessive use of organic materials (except in intensively cropped food gardens), keep the ground covered with plants or organic mulch (which will slowly release nutrients into the soil as it decomposes), and always have soils tested before adding fertilizers of any kind—synthetic or organic. The result will be healthier soils, sturdier plants, and less leaching of nutrients into local waterways.
Chalker-Scott strongly recommends selecting trees that will fit the volume of space allotted them; this will avoid the disfiguring practice of topping trees that have gotten too large. Tree staking is a mystical practice for many. In most cases, newly planted trees are better off not staked.
Among her other recommendations are to avoid the need for pesticides by developing a diverse community of plants and encouraging healthy soils. Make sure purchased compost does not contain heavy metals or chemical residues; homemade composts are often the best. Vitamin B1 supplements are a waste of money. Companion planting lists are more entertaining than useful.
The Informed Gardener series is full of fascinating, science-based information that provides the basis for sound horticultural practices, and will help gardeners to more successful and sustainable gardens—probably reducing the costs of gardening in the process.
Richard G Turner Jr, editor