Each spring we're bombarded with gardening advice -- not all of it sound and not all of it applicable to our unpredictable climate. National publications and TV programs are common sources of garden information, but they're geared to a much broader audience, not just those of us who deal with the special challenges of gardening in Minnesota. So where can we find good, reliable information?
If speaking with someone who's knowledgeable ranks high on your list, you have several options. In the metro area, you can contact the Extension Service's Yard & Garden Line at 612-624-4771 and leave a question. A local master gardener will call you back at no charge. The Yard & Garden Line also allows you to speak with a staff member at the Bell Museum of Natural History about discouraging back-yard wildlife, such as mice, moles and snakes, and attracting other critters, such as butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.
Many larger nurseries and garden centers have help desks, where trained personnel can answer your questions. And on peak weekends during the garden season, some garden centers have master gardener volunteers available.
And don't discount the advice you can glean from experienced gardeners in your neighborhood.
Nowadays many gardeners turn to their computers for help. Over the past few years, Internet gardening sites have multiplied like dandelions. Many garden-related Web sites are excellent, but others are full of information based on their authors' personal opinions, which may or may not be based in fact.
One of the easiest ways to assure the accuracy of information on the Internet is to look for university Web sites with an "edu" domain. Material found on these sites will be based on research and years of documented experience. Even then, it's a good idea to stick with institutions located in climates similar to ours.
The University of Minnesota's Extension Service Web site, www.extension.umn.edu/, offers hundreds of fact sheets and bulletins written specifically for our growing conditions. It also has a "Ask A Master Gardener" feature, which allows you to post a question, then check back to find your answer online. You can also visit the Yard & Garden Line (look for the daisy on the right side of the screen) for journals of current insect and disease problems, plus a twice-monthly electronic newsletter.
Another University of Minnesota Web site, the Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series, shows how to create and care for healthy, attractive landscapes that will stand the test of time. The site is divided into four sections; design, plant selection, implementation and maintenance. It helps you choose appropriate plants for specific sites and has useful articles on topics such as dividing and replanting flowering perennials or constructing raised garden beds. Find the Web site at www.sustland.umn.edu/.
Beyond Minnesota's offerings, Janet Evans, library manager for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, has assembled a comprehensive listing of reliable gardening-related Web sites, several of which contain valuable links to others. You can find her article at www.infotoday.com/searcher/mar01/evans.htm. Evans recommends the Web sites from Ohio State University, webgarden.osu.edu/ and Purdue University, www.ppdl.purdue.edu/ppdl/ask_expert.html. Cornell University is another good choice for information that can be useful here. Go to www.explore.cornell.edu/ then look for "home gardening" by the orange daisy-like Mexican sunflower on the right side of the screen.
Be sure to bookmark your favorite gardening Web sites so you can find them easily.