Linda Tomlinson

Gardening: Finding accurate information online

The Internet is a great source of information and misinformation for everything and gardening is no exception.

Not all sites are created equal. Start by looking at websites linked to brick and mortar colleges and universities that run horticultural programs. The URL or address line will state the schools name and edu. Government publications and web sites include gov. in their address. and .com, .net and .org are domains that can be bought which means the information may or may not be accurate.

Information that is freely shared on Facebook or other social media platforms should always be fact checked. Ignore sites that use poor grammar, spelling or appear to be selling products they are promoting as their information could be biased.

Keep in mind that there isn’t just one correct way to garden so there will be different opinions, even by the experts. Read their explanations.

A post about not raking leaves until the temperatures reach a certain temperature circulated last year and is once again on social media.

The conservatory of Canada suggested that people rake most of the leaves but leave a thin layer behind to break down and to hide some insects to provide food for birds.

Oregon State University gives a more complicated response. They explain that insects overwinter in three places: Underground, partly exposed covered by leaves and above ground attached to plants or other surfaces.

They acknowledge that if insects are in the leaf litter when it is removed that they are unlikely to survive but go on to say that few beneficial insects overwinter there. Bees tend to overwinter underground or in hollow stems.

Information from the University of Alberta suggests that to protect insects one should leave the lawn for a couple of weeks after the snow melts as well as leave the wood pile intact and dead hollow stems on plants intact.

Both universities suggested leaving an area of the yard for insects. Oregon State mentioned that an area of native plants where the old foliage and leaf litter is never removed could provide a home for many different insects.

U of A suggested having an area in the yard that consisted of old logs, twigs, stumps and dead leaves to provide insect habitat.

Not keeping up with the latest research can lead to misinformation. Once, all newly planted trees were staked. Now, trees are only staked if they are top heavy or the area is very windy.

Researchers found that newly planted trees whose tops sway in the wind developed anchor roots quicker than plants that are staked.

In the last few years, recipes for a vinegar solution weed killer has been making its rounds online.

While it is true that vinegar or acetic acid will kill plants and is licenced as a herbicide, it is at a stronger concentration than the homeowner can buy. Commercial applicators used a solution of 10 to 20 per cent acetic acid while the grocery store vinegar is typically five per cent.

When used as a herbicidal vinegar it will burn and kill top growth but not kill the roots. Acidic acid has the best kill rate on young plants according to a newsletter from University of Illinois’s College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

When reading posts online, be sceptical. Look up the information through reputable sources.

Linda Tomlinson has gardened in central Alberta for over 30 years. She can be reached at

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