Online gardening tips can make a difference in planning and planting out your garden.
While perusing all the new items at a horticultural tradeshow this past month, my mind began wandering as I tried to think of the most important items technology has contributed to help make the gardener's life easier and more enjoyable.
Myriad plants have been found or developed to enhance the garden and decrease required maintenance. Research has discovered that some gardening chemicals are detrimental to the environment, removed them from use and provided others that are safe.
Engineering has progressed to the point where a powerful gas engine is small enough and light enough to power small hand tools, and these power tools now sell for an affordable price.
All these technological offerings are great, and I look forward to even more, but the one item that I have to give the Blue Ribbon to for being the most beneficial to my gardening, bears three little letters: www.
I practically had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the computer before I ever used the Internet. Then I saw the amount of information available to each of us, literally at our fingertips. This source of truly useful information seems endless, especially if you know how to look for that information.
Start Your Search Engines
Your local public research university is the best place to start researching online gardening tips on the Internet. Most institutions have research and other fact sheets posted on their websites where anyone can view information appropriate for his or her garden. If you live in Kansas, for example, you are better off finding out what annuals grow best in your area from Kansas State University, rather than Mississippi State University.
I have bookmarked my local university's webpage, which is www.hfrr.ksu.edu/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=583. This site is similar to many other institutions with pages for publications, about common pests and for newsletters talking about timely developments in the garden. Publications that previously required a trip to the extension office are now available electronically here.
Google, Yahoo and Lycos are all in the running when the conversation turns to which search engine is best. But if you are a gardener, the granddaddy of them all is PlantFacts, or PlantFacts.OSU.edu/web/.
Created and maintained by Ohio State University, the PlantFacts search engine utilizes information from nearly 50 different universities and governmental departments to bring the facts you are looking for to your computer screen.
The same information can be found on other search engines, but there is less extraneous stuff to wade though on PlantFacts. For example, ‘chili pepper' typed into Yahoo will bring up 5,170,000 hits, and the first page of 10 websites includes a rock band, a store selling linens and a magazine. The same term typed into PlantFacts returns only 176 matches, and the first page gives you sites from the University of Minnesota and Clemson on growing chili peppers, as well as recommended varieties from Colorado State University.
The Natural Resource Conservation Service maintains a website, Plants.USDA.gov/java/, that I also use on a frequent basis. The site is a plant database about nearly everything that uses photosynthesis in the life cycle — from pond moss to the California redwoods. You can find information, and in many cases photographs, on nearly any plant and its distribution within the United States. A variety of tools are available on the site, including state-by-state plant distribution, what plants are considered noxious weeds in your state, and more. If there is a downside to this site, it is that there's too much information; a person can easily be sidetracked by all the taxonomy, morphology and physiology details.
Propagate Gardening Ideas
In addition to all the information available to us on the Internet, this tool can be used to find ideas to bring into your own garden.
This summer I wanted to find a feature to help soften a plain wall adjacent to my patio area. After searching for various planter ideas, I stumbled upon the notion to place a cedar potting bench along the wall. The bench would serve two purposes: the utilitarian — a place to do my potting — and the aesthetically pleasing — bringing the scale of the wall down and including it in the outside living area. After searching for bench ideas I found the one I liked best on a website that sells plans for home projects. Spending $7.95 on the downloadable plans and another $100 in lumber, I had the perfect bench for a lot less than the purchase price for ready-made, even if I could have found a similar style for sale elsewhere.
Now I'm searching through different fencing ideas to create the perfect privacy fence for my garden, and pergola ideas to create shade on the patio area after the loss of a large tree. The winning solution will probably be a culmination of many ideas I have seen on the web.
Bring New Plants Home
Ordering plants on the Internet has unique advantages and disadvantages.
Not long ago, gardeners looking for specific plants would travel far and wide. Traveling from nursery to nursery or hoping to find a special plant from a mail-order nursery was the only option. Today, with the use of the Internet, specialty plants can be tracked down and ordered while sitting at your desk, and then delivered to your door within days. Many of these Internet nurseries will include on their sites the availability of products. Gone are the days of mailing in the order only to receive a reply several weeks later that the item was sold out.
There can be disadvantages to ordering plants in this manner. As with any transaction, do some research into the company before ordering online. Numerous gardening blogs and forums can be found in which gardeners give their honest opinions of companies they have dealt with. Also make sure that you are providing your payment information to a secure site that will not be seen by hackers. If you are not sure that it is safe, most Internet companies provide a telephone number so you can place your order by phone. I'd be leery of those that don't want you to be able to contact them in person. And pay attention to the company's geographical location, as well as the season. A freight truck is not climate-controlled, so make sure that a live plant is not coming through Death Valley in the middle of summer, or that your calla lily bulbs won't sit on a truck in Wisconsin in December.
The Internet is an extremely useful tool for the gardener. Even if you don't have access to it at home, most public libraries have computers you can use for this purpose. If you're like me, you'll find the information so abundant, it might actually distract you from the garden.
Mike Lang is a lifelong resident of Kansas and is currently the landscape manager for a 1,000-acre university campus by day and caretaker of his own quarter-acre piece of the world the rest of the time.