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William Hageman, Chicago Tribune (MCT), Published February 17 2012

Digging through the good, bad gardening advice: Book aims to weed out often flawed tips, myths

Sometimes it seems as if there are as many gardening books as there are dandelions in spring.

And the advice offered in them can be just as useful.

“I buy tons (of gardening books) and I get tons to review,” Meleah Maynard says, “and I’m really struck by how often I read things I know aren’t true or are only partially true. I think in many cases the (authors are) just repeating something they have heard over and over and believe.”

Maynard is a master gardener and journalist. She and Jeff Gillman, an author and associate professor in the department of horticulture science at the University of Minnesota, are setting gardeners straight with “Decoding Gardening Advice: The Science Behind the 100 Most Common Recommendations” (Timber Press). The book looks at various pieces of advice and divides them into three categories: good, debatable and just wrong.

A fellow gardener, Maynard says, noticed that most of the advice is in the “debatable” section.

“That’s absolutely true,” she acknowledged. “When you do a speaking event, ‘it depends’ comes out of your mouth constantly. It sounds like you’re waffling, but it really does depend.”

We talked to Maynard about the book and the reasons behind it. She did not waffle.

Q What prompted the book?

A I live in a neighborhood where there aren’t a lot of experienced gardeners. So I get a lot of questions. Is it true I have to divide my plants? Is it too late to move my plants?

Q What other questions do you get?

A Watering is a big one. That can be tricky. You need plants to get about an inch of water (a week) from you or rain. Set out a tuna can as a rain gauge and keep track of the rainfall.

Q Was there a section that was especially fun?

A Trees. Jeff knows a lot about trees. He’ll plant them in all these different ways, different steps, does this soil or that soil, to see what will work best. ... A lot of gardeners have commented on things such as how deep they are planted.

Not many years ago people planted young trees deep to make them stand stronger against the wind. But now we realize that’s not good for the tree.

Instead of going deeper, the roots eventually will come up, looking for the nutrients near the surface. They encircle the tree and choke it. If you buy a tree at a garden center in a container, it’s probably already planted too deep. So you have to scrape away till you get to the root collar, where you see roots coming out as a bump; that should be at or just above the soil level.

QSome good advice for beginners?

A If there was one piece of advice I could give a beginning gardener, it would be to feed the soil so the soil can feed the plants. Pouring fertilizer on plants in bad soil is like giving a starving person a Coke or some other buzz-inducing product. It’s a nice burst of energy in the moment, but it does nothing for long-term health.