Ok. I was wrong. And here’s a free book to make up for it.



What was I thinking, picking on dumb, generic gardening advice for the colder zones only? There’s plenty of boring, meaningless fall gardening advice across all the zones, heck, even across oceans.

A few choice bits:

From North Carolina— Clean out your vegetable garden of overgrown and harvested plants; clean out the weeds while you’re at it.
I hate to think of all the weeds and leftover tomato vines that would be choking the gardens of NC if that hadn’t been printed.

From Australia: Yates has just released its new Dynamic Lifter Advanced for Fruit and Citrus, and this excellent product will ensure your trees produce both healthy growth and abundant crops.
I agree. Why make them buy an ad? Push commercial products whenever you can, and don’t bother to include any evidence for the claims.

From Nevada: Petunias are very showy annuals and so simple to grow.
That’s right. And in Nevada, they know showy.

From Kentucky [about Knock Out roses]: These roses grow well anywhere in the country—from the wintry landscape of Minnesota to the sultry shores of Florida—and come in seven colors and bloom styles to suit every garden and landscaping need.
Why write when you can just copy and paste the press release? Works for me.

There. I know I feel better.

Now, what’s the silliest or most unnecessary garden advice you’ve ever read or heard? Let me know in comments and the winner will receive a copy of The Truth About Organic Gardening, by a writer whose advice I always heed: Jeff Gillman.

OK, Craig wins the book: “annuals—not just for pots anymore” indeed. I am also sending Ginny a special surprise gift for alerting us to that harmful Florida practice.

And I further assure you all that I will continue to (occasionally) call out bad writing, boring content, or advertising masquerading as editorial when I see it in the garden writing world. It’s not about withholding knowledge at all. It is about giving that information in an entertaining manner, inspiring gardeners, and not being afraid of controversy. It’s about passion. What I see in food writing all the time, I’d also like to see in garden writing.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. I used to work for a nursery man who was learned but, shall we say…not so gifted in social skills. I actually used to tell people he was impatient with (impatient with the public…why have a nursery!!!)

  2. I hate people telling me to plant petunias in NV. I am planting hardy perennials instead of tender annuals since that just pisses me off. Tender annuals like every corporate planting in every strip mall in town? Sounds great. Now hand over my catmint and agastache and no one gets hurt.

    But maybe this is Vegas advice, who knows? I hate petunias, anyways.

  3. The silliest thing I was ever told was when, upon learning that I planned to put in beds around the periphery of my yard (I’m surrounded by woods on 3 sides)my own dear mother said “you don’t want to do that, it will be a lot of work” Sigh.

  4. How ’bout this September advice I read a couple years ago:

    “So the fantacizing [sic] for next year has begun and I know just the place for a mass of annual color in my borders – amongst the ruins of early summer-blooming perennials. Annuals in my garden – not just for pots anymore.”

    I know I read a lot of banal advice — especially in the general press. But you know, the number of sophisticated gardeners in their audience is small. There are far more newbies (or potential newbie gardeners) who might benefit from advice that we consider banal. Maybe that’s who they’re trying to reach.

  5. Silliest advice I ever received was to never thank someone when they give you a garden plant from there garden. If you say thanks, the plant will die! Never had that happen but as a young gardener I actually believed this!

  6. I never read the gardening pieces from BH&G, I just thumb through the pictures!

    BTW, this month (September, of course) they had a piece about planting bulbs. Totally generic, blah, blah, blah…

    One day, maybe I’ll find a gardening magazine that’s pretty, interesting, and affordable. Sigh.

    Maybe the people at Cook’s Illustrated can do one?

  7. I do think there are simplistic gardening instructions out there for beginning gardeners out of necessity. Craig is right on that one. If you have never put your hands in the soil you might be afraid. It should be teaming with microbes after all. I already own Jeff’s book and it is filled with great information. I just wanted to put in a penny thought.

  8. Silly me! And here I just started a blog to help brand new gardeners learn how to do things like plant bulbs right side up, with just a touch of bone meal, etc. It would be great if we could all be born knowing what plants rely on their own dead foliage to mulch them over a winter and which ones just might get sick over it. Some of us learned the hard way.

    Fortunately, what we can do is pick a small corner on the homepage of your site and tell the world who you’re there for. That way the experienced gardeners who already know it all will know to stay away from places like gardening-care.

  9. I think the point here is that with so many books and Internet resources for basic instructions, not to mention flyers at garden centers, package directions, etc., newspaper and magazine writers could do something more than repeat tired, banal advice. They should be the ones EXTENDING the conversation. They should have something new and interesting to say.

    My favorite terrible newspaper line? “Set out bedding annuals for fall [or spring] color.” The phrase “set out” irritates me as much as food writers who use “tuck in” instead of “eat.”

  10. Hey, how about the “no advice” given when stores here in northern Florida sell tulips, lilies, and other bulbs. Most of these bulbs don’t do well here because the soil doesn’t get cold enough, even though we usually experience 5 to 10 killing frosts each winter. Gardeners like me, who are transplanted from more temperate regions, have no clue that you need to put these bulbs in the refrigerator for six weeks before planting them. Even then, they won’t come back again the next year. There are no instructions in the stores on the racks and there are no special instructions on the packaging. Indeed, on the packaging, it advises us when to plant them for zone nine. That first fall here, I planted 48 tulip bulbs in various spaces around the yard. The next spring, one (!) leaf sprouted. When I complained to a neighbor, she told me that everyone knows that you have to chill tulips for six weeks. I could have used someone’s simplistic, regional instructions or used that money to purchase bulbs that work for the south.

  11. There’s tons of dumb advice out there–garden magazines have to put some text around the pictures, after all. My favorite, though, is the one where we’re instructed to use a strong stream of water to get rid of aphids. And the whole plant along with them. Just take your fingers (or a wet paper towel if you’re too squeamish) and run them up the column of aphids. Easy, no pesticides, and the plant isn’t smashed!

  12. Just seconding what Amy (Stewart) was saying; I don’t mind advice for newbie gardeners, I mind USELESS advice.

    Like, “build a trellis to block out the view of the neighbor’s garage”, but no instructions on how to build the damn trellis! (Check out Fine Gardening this month for that piece) Dudes, I can think of building a trellis, I would just like to know how to do it, where to get the supplies, what kind of tools I might need, and maybe how much it’s going to cost. I guess I’m not supposed to find this out, I’m just supposed to hire a Landscaper.

    It’s the same stories every month, with pretty pictures, but no substance!

  13. I think there is a way to appeal to all audiences–to say something informative to new gardeners and provocative to old hands in the same piece.

    That’s what makes those gardening writers of a generation ago like Henry Mitchell and Eleanor Perenyi so delightful. They’re sophisticates, but I got loads of information from them when I was a stupid beginner.

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