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Nobody knows everything!

We like to believe that the experts who write the books we buy, direct us with what we should do on television or on the internet, and write knowledgeable articles will always give us correct information. But there’s plenty of garden advice even the experts get wrong. We forget that these people are only human and can make mistakes, too.

So what is some of the garden advice that even the experts get wrong? Here are some misconceptions or poor advice I’ve run into.

“What has grown well for the experts will grow well for you.” Or maybe not. I know some of the top garden book writers who are positive which plants will grow well and which won’t. Yet after gardening for many decades, I can say for certain that just because a plant flourishes in one area does NOT guarantee it will be happy even in an area that appears to be similar. I’ve found this true particularly in Southern California where soils, humidity and temperatures vary widely – sometimes even within the same piece of property. One expert – with several top-selling garden books — assured me that a plant I know will not grow well inland in northern Los Angeles County MUST thrive because it does so well in the inland San Diego area. The person is highly respected in professional gardening circles – and wrong!

“Famous landscape designers and architects don’t make big mistakes.” Most of us who design gardens work hard not to make mistakes. A good designer or professional gardener will stand by his or her work and make right any errors. But all are human. There are a few designers who are highly esteemed (and extremely well paid) who prefer to keep up the illusion they know everything. I have been called in twice to fix mistakes made by two of these. I do not know if they genuinely believe themselves to be perfect or that is part of their effort of branding themselves. Just don’t buy into the illusion. Nobody’s perfect!

edible front yard

Raised vegetable gardens can look lovely and be productive. This yard is grown by Rosalind Creasy.


yellow aphids

Yellow aphids infest milkweed

Aphids have spindly legs and cannot climb back up stems once washed off with water.” I have been guilty of giving out this advice myself since it has been spouted by garden gurus forever. While washing off some aphids in my greenhouse a friend pointed out several of the little insects boldly trundling straight up her arm. “Those legs don’t act spindly or weak on me,” she observed. I have to agree.

“Ladybugs will solve all your aphid problems.” I was directly assured this by arguably the best known television garden celebrity. Ladybugs (and their immature forms) are excellent control for eating pests like aphids. They have ravenous appetites for aphids and will be an enormous help in the garden. But not only do they tend to miss insects hidden in tight folds of leaves, they will fly away to other feeding areas, often before the job is fully done. Enough pests can be left behind to spawn a new infestation in no time. This is also true for other natural predators like the praying mantis. These are excellent Eco-friendly tools for the garden. Please do use these natural pest fighters! Just don’t expect miracles.

cutting tree limb

Major pruning of tree limbs is best done in the autumn and winter months, but different trees require different pruning techniques

“Most tree trimmers know what they are doing.” Certainly all the butchered trees I see daily deny this belief. Trees are large and special organisms. Proper treatment and pruning is a science. If you want yours to grow strong and healthy, lasting for many decades, spend the extra to hire a good arborist. There is a reason these people spend years in their specialty. It may look easy to just chop off limbs, but trees take a long time to mature and their growth can impact your whole property. Just because someone knows a few of the “tricks of the trade” does not make him or her into a tree expert.

“Nurseries know all about the plants available.” Most nurseries do know about the plants they stock, but even experts in specific areas – such as fruit trees – are sometimes unaware of what other growers or nurseries are developing and selling. A very fine tree grower recently assured me that the ultra-dwarf fruit tree variety I have doesn’t exist. Happily, ignorant of this misinformation, my fruit tree is thriving and growing nicely into the tree it really is.

“If you follow the rules, your garden will always look great.” First of all, rules are always changing. Secondly, all living things go through periods when they don’t look great. Even plants need to take a rest every now and then. Nature makes her own rules and will always send the unexpected – and often uncontrollable — bit of weather, genetic weakness, pest attack or plain old serendipity to interrupt your plans. Love your garden for the amazing, constantly-changing beauty it has to offer. Nature doesn’t do “perfect”!

The moral of this story is you need to do your homework. With the internet, you have a tool to research your questions. Experts are people who have put much of their life into learning their trade. But they are still only human and they, too, can make mistakes. So get multiple answers when you have questions and accept that much of the fun of gardening is in the experimentation and the lessons you can learn with your own experience. You can figure out how ‘you can grow that’  with your own trial and error experiments. Use advice from others for guidance (most of it is very helpful) , then focus on your own learning journey as a gardener.