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Decoding Gardening Advice: The Science Behind the 100 Most Common Recommendations Paperback – 14 Feb 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Timber Press (14 Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1604692200
  • ISBN-13: 978-1604692204
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.4 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 68,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Written by an associate professor of horticulture and master gardener, this cuts through the myths and explains why. --The English Garden

I liked this book, with its good-humoured, pragmatic approach and its quirky layout - it's a great bedside or kitchen table book for dipping into. --The Professional Gardener

About the Author

Jeff Gillman is an associate professor in the Department of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota. His previous books include The Truth about Garden Remedies and The Truth about Organic Gardening. Meleah Maynard is a journalist, editor, and master gardener. She writes regularly for many publications, and her garden and horticulture stories have appeared in magazines such as The History Channel Magazine, Gardening How-To, Garden and Deck & Landscape.

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Format: Paperback
Decoding Gardening Advice looks at the top 100 pieces of advice given [in the USA, though most also apply to the UK] to see whether they're good, questionable or downright bad. Unlike most advice we see in books or on the TV - which have an unwritten or unspoken assumption they're all good - the reasoning behind their categorisation is given.

So thinking about the advice I've seen or researched recently, on the good side we have...
. Stop fertilising during very hot weather to reduce plant stress
. Water deeply and infrequently to encourage a strong root system
. Do not plant trees too deeply

... and on the debatable side there's...
. Follow spacing recommendations on plant labels
. Always stake young trees
. Plant vegetables in rows

...and then there's just plain wrong...
. Always add extra nitrogen to the soil when wood mulch is used
. After pruning, dress tree wounds to inhibit decay and insect infestation
. Use gravel or rocks at the bottom of containers to improve drainage (how often do we see that?)

There's eight sections to peruse:
Pest, disease and weed control
Annuals, perennials and bulbs
Trees and shrubs
Vegetables and fruits
Lawn care

Some of the advice will seem obvious because it's been dinned into us for years as being good horticultural practice, but I still welcome the explanation of why that's so. I'm sure there's plenty of people out there who won't know it's the right thing to do, just as I'm also certain there's quite a few surprises in there for seasoned gardeners too.

Potential readers should note that this is a text heavy book with little in the way of illustration.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 15 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Deconding Gardening Advice The Science Behind the 100 Most Common Recommendations 29 Dec. 2011
By T. rooney - Published on
Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed this book. As a long time experienced gardener I found that the explanations about why do to or not to do something very clear and concise. I loved the concept of dividing the chapters in to the Good/Debatable/Wrong categories. As a Master Gardener often answering a gardening question begins with 'well it depends'. Because the Debatable section is usually the largest in each chapter, it is easy to to understand why so many of my answers have always begun with 'well, it depends'. This book will be a great reference for any level of gardening ability/interest. If you are a long time gardener you will find the reasons behind the things you are doing (or should not be doing). If you are a new gardener you will find clear answers, clear explanations and gentle guidance into a pursuit that can be as big or little, as friendly or intimidating as you want it to be. The amount of gardening information can be overwhelming, but this book is written in such a way that you can quickly find the answer to a specific question. Or you can spend enjoyable hours just reading it. The "Real Dirt" notes are also interesting bonus nuggets of information or direction. The fact that the advice is based on scientific research lends the book validity. And as all good gardeners are aware, and the authors point out time and again, your experience may be different, you can try anything, it may/may not work for you but now you will have the facts and can work from that knowledge.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Digging up the facts about gardening guidance 11 Feb. 2012
By Tim Tune - Published on
Format: Paperback
If you've ever questioned a commonly repeated gardening tip and considered submitting it to Mythbusters for analysis, don't bother. Just buy this book, which more than likely addresses your suspicion.

What gardener hasn't been drilled by neighbors, radio talk show hosts, newspaper/website columnists and the garden center guys with supposed horticultural wisdom such as "deadhead to encourage bloom" or "always mulch gardens"?

Decoding Gardening Advice - The Science Behind the 100 Most Common Recommendations digs to the roots of such guidance and exposes what's right, what's questionable and what's incorrect. Authors Jeff Gillman, associate professor of horticultural science at the University of Minnesota, and journalist/master gardener Meleah Maynard examine a wide range of gardening tips from the ground up.

Decoding Gardening Advice is organized into eight chapters covering broad topics such as soil, water, mulch, trees and shrubs, vegetables and fruit; and lawn care. Each chapter examines common guidelines on the topic, arranged in sub-sections of "Good Advice," "Advice That's Debatable" and "Advice That's Just Wrong."

Along with their judgment of good, debatable and wrong, the authors explain what happens if the advice is followed, offer instructions on how to correctly follow good advice, present an alternative to debatable or wrong advice and wrap it up with a concise summary.

What seems missing from this book are pictures, a staple for gardening tomes. Except for a small drawing to decorate each chapter's table of contents, the only other artwork is black-and-white head shots of the authors. But there are several helpful charts.

Even without pictures or the flashy special effects you might see on Mythbusters, there are some twists that add a bit of drama. For instance, strict organic gardeners may wince at some of the authors' conclusions. Gillman and Maynard deem debatable the mantra to "use organic fertilizers rather than synthetic fertilizers," saying that organic remedies generally cost more and may not be as effective. They also conclude that using compost tea is "just wrong," its benefits are unproven and it "has the potential to make people sick" because it can contain bad bacteria, including E. coli.

Most of the book's conclusions aren't so dramatic, however, and much of the advice gardeners have practiced forever is validated. With its plain, accessible language and occasional humor, this reference book might just help relieve some of the confusion caused by not knowing whether seemingly iron-clad rules really work.

By the way, the authors say that deadheading is good advice. However, they conclude that "always mulch gardens" is debatable.

Tim Tune is a freelance writer.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
much advice, not so much science 1 Mar. 2012
By FeliciaP - Published on
Format: Paperback
First let me say, I think most of the advice in this book is spot-on. If you're looking for advice that works, and don't really care if it's based on science or Gillman and Maynard's latest stint with the ouija board, then you'll be a happy reader. But if, as the subtitle promises, you DO care about the science of gardening, you'll be frustrated. This is, essentially, a book of advice on how to approach other people's advice. And since there are lots of good advice books out there, and this one doesn't really break any new ground, it's hard to recommend.

So my main problems are these:

The text --- It is, literally, poop-colored. Legibility was sacrificed for a dubious aesthetic choice. Is black print really so bad?

The visuals --- There are none. No graphics, no illustrations, no photographs, no nothing. Just page after page of poop-hued typography.

The subtitle, and this is my main gripe --- it's a cheat. The way the book is presented, it reads as opinion and anecdotal evidence, not science. Gillman may BE a scientist, but that mere fact doesn't actually render his take on any given subject "science." Anecdote and personal experience, however expert, are still just that. The entries in this book that are clearly data-driven are the exception. By contrast, there are almost endless references to Gillman's and other gardeners' "experience." This anecdotal evidence may be true, useful, and ultimately provable, but anecdote is actually the opposite of science, and this book isn't subtitled "the anecdotal evidence and expert experience behind the 100 most common recommendations." The authors claim the mantle of scientific authority, but don't do us the honor of employing the actual scientific method. Maybe they worried readers would be bored if they got all sciency on us.

I'm happy to grant that much of what Gillman and Maynard present as truth may very well have genuine scientific support, but if it does, they don't let on. What they present as objective fact could just as easily have been pulled straight out of someone's favorite orifice; there's simply no way to know, at least not from this book. Which, in other words, makes the book exactly what it purports not to be. And which leaves us, as is the case with all advice, feeling like we're just supposed to take their word for it. That's "appealing to authority," and that's not science either.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
How to deal with contradictory or mythical garden advice. 10 April 2012
By allanbecker-gardenguru - Published on
Format: Paperback
Decoding Gardening Advice: The Science Behind the 100 Most Common Recommendations

The benefit of this book to gardeners is that it takes advice out of the realm of folklore, and places it under the spotlight of horticultural and botanical science.

The authors maintain that the most serious drawback to successful and effective gardening is that people are ill informed. They believe that a lot of gardening advice is confusing, dubious, or bad. Some well meaning gardeners unknowingly twist the facts, others are ignorant of them, and still others innocently hold on to stale-dated knowledge that no longer stands up to contemporary scientific scrutiny.

Is it possible that unsuspecting gardeners, confused when they are bombarded with contradictory advice, consider gardening a joyless activity? The authors believe so; and that has been their impetus to write this book.

Eight major gardening subjects are covered in an examination of the one hundred most commonly received garden recommendations. The topics are related to soil, water, pest, disease, and weed control, mulch, annuals, perennials and bulbs, trees and shrubs, vegetables and fruit, and lawn care.

In order to evaluate the usefulness and worthiness of the most often-received guidance, the authors classify conventional gardening information into three categories: - advice that is good, advice that is debatable and advice that is just wrong. The reader will be amazed to learn how much erroneous information has been perpetuated as garden gospel, the amount of information that is neither true nor false, and how much folklore is considered wise garden advice.

In the chapter on soil, an example of good advice is - Create an environment that is favorable to earth-worms. Earthworms are nature's tilling machines. They do a great job of making nutrients, air, and water available to plants.
In that same chapter, debatable advice is to fertilize perennials and shrubs every year. We do not see a reason to fertilize perennials more than once every few years if the soil is good, meaning you add compost or other organic material on a regular basis.

Closing the chapter on soil is advice that is considered just wrong: add sand to clay to improve drainage. ...when sand and clay are mixed together they blend in such a way that they create a dense, heavy mess - one with a consistency akin to wet concrete.

Advice that is good is confirmed with scholarship and research. Advice that is debatable, because science and experience can neither confirm nor refute it, is treated as a grey area for which there is no right or wrong answer. In such situations, choosing one way or another is a matter of personal preference. Advice is deemed bad when it is contradicted by science, research, or fact-based experience.

For each one hundred recommendations, the authors explain every practice, the consequences of following the advice under scrutiny, how they believe the garden task ought to be executed, and a summary opinion or recommendation.

There is a new generation of gardeners, who do not wish to toil in their back yards; nor do they wish to spend a lifetime exploring and testing conventional advice in order to determine the correct way to do anything. These contemporary hobbyists find no pleasure in discovery. They are the antithesis of the traditional gardener who finds joy in trial and error. Members of this non-traditional generation want to do it only once; and they need get it right the first time.

This manual, therefore, will provide accurate information to help them make wise gardening decisions. As well, it will be iclarifying to those who have been bamboozled with botanical folklore that is closer to fiction than the truth. The authors were prescient in choosing to write this book. We should be grateful.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Very helpful (and entertaining) for gardeners of all experience levels 24 May 2012
By OrchidSlayer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
With so much conflicting gardening advice out there it is difficult to know what to believe. As a Master Gardener, I have been trained to look for scientific proof, not just hearsay. The trouble is, sometimes the scientific proof is outdated and often hearsay is all I can find.

This book answered many of my questions in an entertaining and easy to understand manner. In fact, I picked up the book for what I expected to be an hour but didn't put it down until it was finished.

As the cover states, it discusses 100 of the most common recommendations. The book is very well organized by topic (soil, water, etc.) and within the topic by good advice, advice that's debatable, and advice that's just wrong. There is also a great index in the back, making it easy to look up whatever question I need answered.

I especially liked the "Debatable" sections as it gives both sides of issues that may have more than one correct answer. For example, a very intelligent and skilled gardening friend told me that it was important to change the potting mix in my pots each year. I started putting the old mix in the bottom of my pots but used fresh mix in the top half. This book explains the pros and cons of reusing mix and when it is not advisable. I also make my own deer repellant spray and was surprised to read when that may not be the best idea (read the book to find out why!).

I didn't expect to learn nearly as much from this book as I did. I know I will frequently refer to it and will keep it by my side when staffing our "Ask A Master Gardener" booth as it really does answer questions we are repeatedly asked.

The information is presented in non-technical terms and is great for all gardening levels. I will be buying more copies to give as gifts as it is the perfect way to share important money- and earth-saving information that I have been harping on (Quit throwing so much fertilizer everywhere! Add compost!) in a non-preachy way. I know it has already made me a better and more confident gardener. Very highly recommended.
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