How gardening advice is like parenting advice
I am a voracious reader and never met a problem or circumstance that could not be enhanced by a book, or so I thought. When I was pregnant, I got my hands on all kinds of parenting and child-rearing books and read and read... The end result is that I was completely baffled by what I read (and, eventually, amused by the whole idea of other people telling me how to reproduce and raise my kid!). There was so much contradictory advice out there! Sleep with your baby, never sleep with your baby…use corporal punishment, never use it…never let your baby cry itself to sleep versus let your baby cry it out…introduce solids early to get them to sleep, exclusively breast feed for the first six months, formula is terrible, it is OK to supplement with formula! ARGH!
In some regards, though to a lesser extent, gardening advice shares this quality. For years I have read about the great benefits of wood chip mulch- it looks nice, keeps the weeds down, keeps moisture in the soil, eventually aid soils fertility when it breaks down. Now I read (and hear on garden podcasts) that wood chip mulch is positively evil- it harbors mold spores, diverts water from the soil, and ties up soil nitrogen when it breaks down. Did I mention voles love to tunnel under it? But I like wood chips! What to do? Compromise. I mulch walking paths with wood chips and mulch flower, fruit, and of course, veggie beds with compost or other organic matter (until I read this is wrong!).
Another bit of questionable advice: manure is a great soil amendment, and heats up your compost pile, encouraging decomposition and increasing fertility. What do I read now? Manure should be used as a specialty fertilizer, it can unbalance the soil (too much phosphorous I think), can harbor diseases and weeds seeds and, if the farm animal owner uses a certain type of weed killer (cyopralid and aminiopryalid sold as Forefront, Reclaim, Stinger, Hornet, Transline, Confront, Lontrel, Curtail and Millenium Ultra) in grazing fields or buys hay contaminated with it, the manure from horses who eat that hay or grass can kill your garden (by preventing seeds from sprouting for years, even killing mature plants). I am avoiding manure for now, until I can either find some from organically-raised animals or tested manure. Back to regular old compost!
Pruning? I have always read to prune only when a tree is dormant, but I have recently heard from a respected source “the best time to prune is when you have the time and the tools” (Don Schmidt on “The Dean of Green” podcast). I still would highly advise against late summer or fall pruning, as it can stimulate new growth which will just get killed by winter cold in our temperate climate, thereby weakening the tree or shrub.
Last one: it is OK to keep the burlap on the root ball of a balled-n-burlapped tree or shrub. It was thought that the burlap will help keep that all important root ball together and will eventually decompose. New advice? Cut away and remove that burlap, along with any twine or wires you can. Leaving these materials on will only encourage the tree roots to continue to grow in a circular pattern, eventually choking the roots (also more recent advice- don’t amend the soil in a planting hole for a tree or shrub- it just encourages the roots to stay and in that nice, amended environment and choke).
So, if you hear of any more contradictions in garden advice (even from me!) Let me know!