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Gardening on the Internet

Posted 11/2/2015

When you are trying to grow anything, especially when you are confronting the challenges posed by the Mojave Desert, asking for the best horticultural information is not just a casual question. It is critical. I like to think that I am well versed in horticulture, but I need to rely on others if I do not know the answer to a problem. When I was in graduate school I spent a lot of money on textbooks, but they are not necessarily the best places to find the immediate, practical material that makes it possible to get a plant into the ground and keep it alive. There are times when books, whether they are textbooks or written for the home gardener, simply do not have what we need. There may be occasions when you might not have access to the Master Gardener help line. If it were a weekend, for instance, or you have lost your phone.

Now that I am as dependent on computers as virtually everyone else in the world is, I do many searches for materials on the internet. This includes horticulture searches. Years ago, I was at a national meeting of horticulturists, where a topic of conversation was ‘how to get all our fact sheets’ on the web. The thinking was that by putting the whole range of horticultural materials on the web, we would eliminate some of the duplication you find there now, and increase access to good, research-based data. That was the birth of eXtension, a good site to ask questions.

All over the internet, there are so many websites, with so much information, but not all of it is particularly reliable. You have probably noticed that I am using the terms “internet” and “web” interchangeably, although we all know that these are not the same things.

Because sifting through the internet can feel like a superhuman task, I thought I would take a few minutes today and talk about using the web to find appropriate gardening info.

First, not all the materials on the internet are screened for accuracy before they are posted. Just because you could find it with Google™ does not mean that it is correct. Fortunately, I have not noticed many garden writers writing misleading advice.

On a slightly more serious note, it is important to point out that while the information one finds there may be correct, it is not necessarily useful. The internet is a very cosmopolitan tool. You might see guidance on plants that could be perfectly helpful for gardeners in Minneapolis, or Miami, or Manila, but would not help to grow anything in the desert southwest.

For instance, if you look up ‘gardening’ on the internet, you will find hundreds of millions of sites. A surprisingly large number of them will be from England. You probably know Britain has a terrific horticultural tradition: wonderful gardens and the world’s premier flower show. It also has over 40” of rainfall every year, and the temperatures almost never reach much above 80 degrees F. Much of the country has decent soil, the kind where it is possible to dig, and that soil tends to be mildly acidic. Obviously that does not sound even remotely like the Las Vegas Valley. Or Caliente or Tonopah, for that matter. What might be very useful to someone in one climate could easily be useless in the Mojave.

There are many websites are from commercial enterprises, which often have very good gardening information. On the other hand, quite a few of them are more interested in selling a product than in educating the public. This only makes sense; they are in business. When looking at a “.com” website, use your own good common sense to avoid taking something that is basically an advertisement as received wisdom.

If you are interested in something very particular, some of the more popular plants and flowers have societies with websites. Type “begonia society” in your search engine and you will get 328,000 hits!

The best information on the internet is usually research-based, and that is where good commercial sites, and even the sites put up by garden clubs, get their materials.

In order to get the most use out of an internet search, when you type in your search criteria into the engine, be as limiting as you can. Otherwise, you will get an overwhelming 240,000,000 hits for “gardening” or 772 million for “gardens.” Look for the sites that are from universities in the general southwest area. Do not ignore the others, but the information you get from the “.edu” sites is more likely to have been reviewed, and based on actual research.

Since temperatures are now dropping enough to consider planting a winter garden, it is a good time to use your computer to dig up information for the best growing practices.

Email or call Angela O’Callaghan, Social Horticulture Specialist, at 702-257-5581.

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