When I first started gardening (well, after a few mistakes) I started looking for gardening advice online. We live in a world where information is so easy to come by. It’s almost too easy. I remember when I use to go to the library for reports in grade school and use the copier machine to print sections of old encyclopedias after spending a few hours reading through the books. I don’t miss that. But the amount of information we have at our fingertips now can be overwhelming. And sometimes it can be distracting. So when you’re looking for gardening advice online, be mindful – and consider the following 5 tips.
1. Be wary of seasonal and monthly planting guides that don’t mention hardiness zones.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen articles giving gardening advice on what I can grow in spring or fall or July or Septemeber. When I first started gardening and started looking for what I could grow during a certain season or month, I was amazed by how many articles I found online telling me what I should grow. That’s great, right? Because we can so easily find information at a click of a button. Maybe.
If you’re a beginner gardener, you’re not going to know what you don’t know. You’ll figure it out, but it might take a couple of seasons before you realize something isn’t working. The issue was that whoever wrote those articles didn’t know where I lived. They didn’t know my unique climate and average temperatures. And even worse, I didn’t know where the authors lived. Gardening is not independent of your specific climate. You see, those articles mentioned absolutely nothing about hardiness zones.
Some information isn’t location-specific. Your soil quality matters no matter where you live. Organic methods don’t change based on where you live, but the pests you might have issues with can vary with where you live. But what’s really important is when you decide to plant and what you decide to plant is dependent on your hardiness zone.
My advice? Find out what your hardiness zone is and why it matters, and then only use planting guides that match your hardiness zone. Never use a planting guide without a hardiness zone.
Exceptions: soil quality, composting, organic methods, crop rotation, general plant care, etc.
2. Know the region as well as the hardiness zone for plant varieties.
Knowing your hardiness zone is huge! But, it’s still not everything. Your specific region matters as well.
For example – Joe, from Garden of Luma lives in hardiness zone 9b. Same as myself. But our climates are different. He can grow fruit that I can’t because his location is arid while mine is humid.
You’ll want to know where someone lives before planting the variety of tomato or other fruit or vegetable that they recommend you should grow. For me, I would want to get gardening advice from a person in Zone 9b who lives in Florida. Even then, there would be some variation if they were on the coast vs inland. But it would be close enough for me to be comfortable going with the recommendations of when and what to plant and then making slight changes for future seasons.
To learn about what grows best in your unique area, you can look up your local Cooperative Extension Office. Or find someone who lives in your general area.
Speaking of Florida… if you live in Central Florida you can check out my Florida Planting Guides (zone 9b)
3. Your soil quality will make a difference when following gardening advice.
Alright, so you’ve done your research, you know your hardiness zone, you’ve defined your general region, and you’ve found an internet source that aligns with you. But for some reason, their vegetable garden is thriving and yours looks like, well, you’d rather not say. And you just don’t understand how your garden doesn’t look like theirs.
I suppose the heading already gave it away – your soil quality will make a difference. Just because you live in the same general area and plant the right things and the right time does not mean you’ll have automatic success. Unfortunately. You’ll want to look into what good quality soil is and then see if you have it. Adding organic material is typically helpful for your soil quality and texture. Composting, organic fertilizers, and cover cropping are helpful methods for improving your soil. You can also check your soil pH and soil texture to continue improving your soil.
4. Everyone has their own experiences.
Different regions have different common issues, disease, and pests. Humid climates will have different experiences with tomatoes compared to drier climates. Someone who has only been gardening for a few years may not have run into the same issues that you have. Someone who has been gardening for MANY years may not have run into the same issues that you have. Don’t let someone else’s experiences, or lack thereof, invalidate your own. Gardening includes a lot of factors, and a good bit of them we have no control over. What we can control is how we react to those factors.
If someone hasn’t experienced what you have, keep looking. Chances are someone else has stumbled upon the same issues as you, but it might take some time to find them.
5. Know your values when it comes to growing produce.
Organic. GMO. Fertilizers. Synthetic chemicals. These are words that get tossed around in the gardening community. And the community that eats food (which hopefully includes you 😉 ).
You’ll find different sources, articles, books, and people who have different beliefs on how to grow food and what food to consume. You’ll find both ends of the spectrum of organic vs. conventional and a variation in between. There’s USDA Organic, and then there are others who believe even that is too lenient.
I grow organically. But I can’t make anyone believe what I believe. I recommend doing a little research. Look at both sides. Weigh the pros and cons. Decide where you’re at in your journey. Do you just want to try to have a garden to have the experience of growing food? Does it matter to you how you grow your food or what it is you’re consuming? Do you think it makes a difference? Whatever you decide, be informed. Don’t base your life decisions on a clever meme you find on Facebook.
PS – I didn’t start right out the gate with organic gardening. I just wanted to grow something. I wasn’t really aware of what organic gardening was. And then I thought that buying seeds with the USDA Organic label was all there was to it.
PPS – There’s more to it than that 😉
Bonus: Cross-check the gardening advice you find.
There’s a lot of information out there. And while it’s important to not get overwhelmed by all that information, it’s also important to filter what you decide to believe as truth. Experience is a great tool. I’m all for experimenting with gardening advice that you find online to see if it works for you. A lot of what I try in my garden is from research that I put to the test. But I would still recommend cross-checking the information you find with other articles or sources before you spend too much time or money on a gardening method.
Have you ever ran across information online that was wrong, but you didn’t know it at the time? I’d be curious about your stories! Share below!